Three on a Match (1932): LeRoy’s Crime Melodrama, Starring Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak and Bette Davis

Mervyn LeRoy directed Three on a Match, a pre-Code crime melodrama starring Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak and Bette Davis.

Lyle Talbot, Humphrey Bogart, Allen Jenkins and Edward Arnold appear in supporting roles.

Crime is in the background in this melodrama of three friends, who went to the same elementary school, Mary (Joan Blondell), Ruth (Bette Davis), and Vivian (Ann Dvorak).

Reuniting as adults after some years, they light a cigarette from the same match and discuss the superstitions related to it, such as the one that the last to light her cigarette (Vivian), will be the first to die.

Mary is a show girl who has spent time in reform school, while Ruth works as a stenographer. Vivian is married to successful lawyer Robert Kirkwood (Warren William) and has a young son Robert Jr. (Buster Phelps), but she is dissatisfied with domestic life.

When Mary arrives with two men going to a party on the ship, before it leaves, Gambler Michael Loftus (Lyle Talbot) flirts with Vivian and persuades her to run away with him.

Vivian and Michael Loftus run a very shabby life, and Mary, concerned about Vivian’s neglect of her son, tells Robert his whereabouts.

Robert proposes to Mary and they marry the same day his divorce from Vivian becomes final.  He then hires Ruth to look after the child.

Meanwhile, Vivian’s money runs out and Michael owes $2,000 to gangster Ace (Edward Arnold). Desperate, Michael tries to blackmail Robert by threatening to inform the press about Mary’s criminal background. When that strategy does not work, he kidnaps Robert’s boy.

However, Vivian scrawls a message in lipstick on her nightgown and throws herself out the apartment where they are held, leading to the child’s rescue.

Considering it short runtime (63 minutes), the film is tautly but impersonally directed by LeRoy, who moves the action fast, indicating the time changes with title cards.

Two of the cast members would go on to become major stars: Bette Davis after 1934, and Bogart after 1941.

Davis, in blond hair and shapely form, has the smallest part of the trio, and she cannot do much with it. It would take another two year for her to show remarkable talent in Of Human Bondage.

Virginia Davis as Mary Keaton as a child
Joan Blondell as Mary Keaton/Mary Bernard
Anne Shirley as Vivian Revere as a child
Ann Dvorak as Vivian Revere Kirkwood
Betty Carse as Ruth Wescott as a child
Bette Davis as Ruth Wescott
Warren William as Robert Kirkwood
Lyle Talbot as Michael Loftus
Humphrey Bogart as Harve
Allen Jenkins as Dick
Edward Arnold as Ace
Frankie Darro as Bobby
Glenda Farrell as Mrs. Black
Buster Phelps as Robert Jr.
Grant Mitchell as Mr. Gilmore, school principal

Produced by Samuel Bischoff, Raymond Griffith, Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay by Lucien Hubbard, based on story by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright
Music by Leo F. Forbstein and Ray Heindorf
Cinematography: Sol Polito
Edited by Ray Curtiss
Produced by First National, distributed by Warner Bros.
Release date: October 29, 1932
Running time: 63 mins.


I am grateful to TCM for showing Three on a Match on November 5, 2019.