I don’t usually watch films for actors for some reason; as a good university-trained auteurist I’m more likely to seek films out by director or by genre than I am by performer. There are a handful of exceptions (I’d never have suffered through that fucking shitpile Closer had Clive Owen not been in it) but I don’t really “do” favourite actors. Apart from Humphrey Bogart. If I were watching this film just for him I’d be disappointed; it’s one of his early small roles and he doesn’t even appear until the film’s three-quarters over, but he owns the film when he’s in it. Unfortunately it’s not about him, it’s about three girls (played by Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell and Bette Davis) who meet about ten years after they all finished school and the diverse routes their lives have taken, mainly Dvorak’s… the girl who has everything where the other two don’t have much, and yet it’s not enough somehow, where begins a new life encompassing adultery, child neglect, and a somewhat tenuously indicated cocaine habit.No real spoilers in saying this can’t end well. Davis hated this “dull B picture”, and her description is not wholly unfair, but no doubt she was also pissy at having the least of the three female roles (and being much the least of the three female players) and being told how great Dvorak and Blondell’s careers would be while her prospects were mediocre at best. At just 63 minutes, brevity is the film’s primary virtue though it still feels draggy even at that; still, interesting to look at the different approach in this film, from Warner’s, to that of the first two films in the set from MGM. There’s a feeling of hardness to Three on a Match that feels authentic coming from Warner’s in a way that MGM’s gambling den in A Free Soul doesn’t quite manage somehow.
Three on a Match (1932)