“Everything depresses me - including this house.”
We all want to believe that having all the money you could possibly want and all the things that come with can make us happy. For some having money would be a blessing, like me for instance. If I ever won the lottery all my crushing school loans would be paid off, I would have a new car, a new computer, and move wherever the hell I want (either New York City, California or London would be nice). But sometimes having money and whatever you does not make people happy. They can be just as depressed and lonely than those who do not have money. Having everything one could ask for gets one woman in the 1932 Pre-Code film Three on a Match in serious trouble.
Mary Keaton (Joan Blondell), Vivian Revere (Ann Dvorak), and Ruth Westcott (Bette Davis) had known each other since they were young girls in public school together. Mary was the wild girl always getting into trouble and no direction in her life, Vivian was the class valedictorian with the highest grades and the good girl, and Ruth was serious and knew she wanted to go to business school.
Over the next ten years, Mary has gotten herself thrown in a women’s prison for two years, Vivian has gone to a private school, and Ruth to a business school to become a secretary. One day Mary is getting her hair done when she mentions to the hair dresser she ran into an old friend from school and mentions the school she went to. Another hair dresser comes in and says to Mary that the person she is with overheard the conversation and that she also went to the same school. When their sessions are done Mary and Vivian meet up. They get in touch with Ruth and they go out for lunch. Mary is an actress going by the name Mary Bernard, Ruth is working in an office, and Vivian is married to a lawyer but is bored and unhappy with her life getting whatever she wants. Before they leave, Mary lights a match to light her cigarette and shares the match with her two friends. There had been a write up in the paper how a matchstick manufacturer made up the idea that three on a match and one will die to boost his sales. The superstitious implanted idea did boost his sales.
Vivian and her husband Robert (Warren William) come home from a party one night. He can sense that his wife is not happy. She tells Robert that she is unhappy and needs a change of pace and scenery. He wants to take her to Europe for a few months but she tells him it would be the same if he came. She wants to go alone with their son Junior. Robert sees them off on the boat but has to leave in a hurry because a settlement is falling through. Mary comes on the boat to see off a friend and invites Vivian to the party. At the party Vivian meets Mike. After this party Vivian leaves the boat and runs away with Mike with Junior in tow.
For weeks Vivian is missing. Robert does not care so much about his wife than he does about his son. He is worried Vivian is bringing Junior into her mess. Mary knows that Vivian is with Mike in New York City. She knows how hard her friend has been partying and ignoring her son. Mary suggests to Vivian that Junior can go stay with Ruth and Ruth’s sister who has a small daughter but that does not go over very well. She then goes to Robert to say she knows where his wife and son are but that he has to be careful because if Vivian hears he is coming she might run off with Junior. Robert and Mary walk in on Vivian lying in a bed after drinking and doing drugs.
Months go by. Mary and Ruth have been helping Robert out with Junior. He brings the two women with him to his beach house over the summer. He tells Mary that his divorce will be final the following day and he wants her to marry him.
Three years go by. Robert and Mary are married and happy. Vivian sees Mary at a store. She was waiting for Mary to come out so she can ask her friend for money. Mary wants Vivian to come back to the house with her but Vivian does not want to do that. As she walks away Mike comes out from a spot where he was waiting for her. He needs the money to pay off some gambling debt to a man named Ace (Edward Arnold). Desperate Mike goes to Robert and tries to blackmail with information about Mary having been in jail for a while. Robert does not give in he yells at Mike that if any paper were to print that he would sue the paper for libel and throws him out of the office. When Mike walks out into the waiting room, Ruth is there with Junior. Mike gets the idea to kidnap Junior for the money and does so at the park.
Vivian is furious about what Mike did to her son. Ace’s right hand man Harve (Humphrey Bogart) comes to their apartment. He lets Mike know that Ace has heard about the kidnapping and that he and Ace want in on the reward money. But things do not go smoothly. For ten days Mike, Harve, and a few other guys are holed up in the apartment. Vivian is going through massive drug withdrawal. Junior is left alone on the couch in underclothes in another room. Soon the police are coming around more often and no one can leave the apartment. Harve wants Mike to kill the kid so they could leave. Vivian overhears their plan. She tells Junior to go hide under the bed. She makes a fuss and one of the guys checks on her. He reports that Vivian is going crazy putting lipstick on her clothes. All the sudden they hear the window break as Vivian jumps out of the window to the sidewalk below. Before she jumped Vivian wrote on her clothes with the lipstick that her son was in the apartment.
The cast was really good. It was the top tier of Warner Bros. actors. Well, Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis were still minor actors for the studio they still had yet to become big time actors. Joan Blondell was fabulous as usual. Her dry quick wit is always so much fun to watch and hear. Ann Dvorak’s acting I did not think was great but at the same time I think she was good at playing Vivian. Bette Davis really was not in the film too long. She did not have too many lines compared to Blondell and Dvorak. Humphrey Bogart had more lines than Davis did. It was nice to see Warren William as a gentleman I am so used to see him as a bad guy of sorts in Pre-Code films. Edward Arnold was only in one scene.
Three on a Match is considered one of the quintessential Pre-Code films because of the content of a wife running away from her responsibilities as a wife and mother and falling into a drug habit. And also for some of the racy bits of clothing Ann Dvorak wears. The story was interesting with the good girl being the one to fall so far down the rabbit hole of drugs and alcohol. I love Pre-Code films, I have seen a handful and I can definitely see why Three on a Match is considered one of the Pre-Codes. If you can find Three on a Match it is definitely worth watching especially if you like any of the actors or are a fan of Pre-Codes.