Monday, January 11, 2021

REMAKE AVENUE: Three on a Match, 1932 and Broadway Musketeers, 1938


Mervyn LeRoy directed Three on a Match for Warner Brothers in 1932 with a screenplay by Lucien Hubbard based on a story by Kubec Glasman and John Bright. The film's 63 minutes is packed with the verve typical of LeRoy's work in this era (Five Star Final, Little Caesar, Big City Blues).

Joan Blondell, Bette Davis

The 1919 hit song Smile plays on the soundtrack while a montage of news headlines and historic events confirms the year. We get up close to three of the students of Public School No. 2. Virginia Davis plays Mary Keaton, Dawn O'Day (Anne Shirley) plays Vivian Revere, and Betty Carse plays Ruth Westcott. When Commencement rolls around 30 seconds and 2 years later, we have gleaned much of the character of these youngsters. Ruth is on her way to secretarial school to help out her family. Vivian is going to an exclusive boarding school. Mary is on her way to the reformatory.

Buster Phelps, Ann Dvorak, Warren William

A decade later through happenstance these three are reacquainted. Bette Davis is Ruth who works in an office. Joan Blondell is Mary who is a chorus girl. Ann Dvorak is Vivian, married to the successful and attractive lawyer, Robert Kirkwood played by Warren William. They have a young son, Bobby played by the precocious Buster Phelps. It looks like Vivian has grabbed the brass ring but she is discontented and looking for kicks. Her husband agrees to let her take Rob Jr. with her on a trip to Europe. Kirkwood has depths of understanding. 

Ann Dvorak, Lyle Talbot

Vivian does not take the trip to Europe. The night of sailing Mary is on board seeing some people off. Tagging along is a Broadway gambler called Michael Loftus played by Lyle Talbot. Vivian and the hotshot have an instant attraction and she takes her kid and hooks up with Loftus, leaving no word with her husband as to her or the kid's whereabouts.

Mary and Ruth are aware of Vivian's neglect of her son and arrange for his return to his father. This act brings Robert and Mary into close contact, and they become a happy couple marrying on the day of his divorce from Vivian. Meanwhile, Vivian loses her money and her self-respect in booze and cocaine, Loftus is doing no better. He is in debt to gambler Ace played by Edward Arnold. Henchman Harve played by Humphrey Bogart is looking forward to making an example of Loftus.

Ann Dvorak

Desperate for money, Mike Loftus kidnaps Kirkwood Jr. for the needed two thousand dollars. Ace muscles in realizing there is much more that can be made. While the gang holds the kid, a freaked out Vivian and on edge Loftus hostage, Kirkwood and the police comb the city. It all leads to a tense and harrowing standoff. I first saw Three on a Match at the age of 12 and the unexpected and violent ending made quite an impression.

The montages, the passing eras, the variety of events, and their emotional impact forge an unforgettable movie that feels epic despite its brief runtime. Bette Davis is pert and cute although the character of Ruth doesn't present the opportunity to hint at her memorable future characterizations. Joan Blondell lets us see a heart under the wisecracks because it is necessary here. Ann Dvorak is outstanding as the mixed-up Vivian Kirkwood. Her fall from grace is as completely believable as it is distressing. Three on a Match is a once seen, never forgotten film.





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Broadway Musketeers released in 1938 was the 7th of 8 movies director John Farrow (The Big Clock, Wake Island) made at Warner Brothers Studios during the decade. Don Ryan and Kenneth Gamet's reworking of Three on a Match was a showcase for up-and-comers Ann Sheridan, Margaret Lindsay, and Marie Wilson. Nonetheless, with the same 63-minute runtime as the earlier film, Broadway Musketeers holds the interest but lacks the drive and excitement of Three on a Match.

The movie begins with our introduction to Margaret Lindsay as Isabel Dowling, a socialite with everything money can buy, an attentive husband Stan played by John Litel, and a darling daughter Judy played by Janet Chapman. Do you sometimes get the feeling that some Hollywood writers and directors have no idea how kids really behave? I think so. At any rate, an ideal home life and no money worries are not enough to make Isabel content.

Marie Wilson, Ann Sheridan, Margaret Lindsay

Isabel is about to get a blast from the past when the radio announces the arrest of entertainer Fay Reynolds played by Ann Sheridan. Ann is a singer with provocative accompanying dance moves. No money for bail lands her a 90-day sentence but two old pals come to her rescue. Connie Todd played by Marie Wilson with the sweet vagueness that made her My Friend Irma so popular, doesn't have quite enough money to help Fay. For Isabel, it is chump change. 

The three friends stop off outside the orphanage where they grew up to goggle at the kids haven't seemed to change since their time in the institution. They then head off to an afternoon of lunch and exchanging confidences. They promise to meet each year at this time before going their separate ways. 

Margaret Lindsay, Richard Bond

Stan has to leave New York for a month on a business trip and while hubby is away Isabel steps out. Fay had a job at an upscale nightclub and it was there that Isabel meets Broadway gambler Phil Peyton played by Richard Bond. Fay tries to warn Isabel that the guy is trouble, but nothing will do but Isabel spends every day and every night with Phil.

On the night before Stan's return, the lovers are in a car accident. Fay tries to cover for her friend by concocting a convoluted story in which she takes the blame. Stan appreciates Fay's loyalty, but the nanny played by Dorothy Adams has already spilled the beans. The Dowling marriage is not on the rocks, it has sunk.

Janet Chapman, John Litel, Ann Sheridan

You know the rest. Over the course of time, Fay and Stan get married and Isabel hits the skids; no drugs, just booze. All of this changing partners and backsliding looks more neat and tidy than in our earlier movie. One tidy loose end is that Isabel and Phil marry instead of living together. The gambler is still a cheque bouncer, but the kidnapping is more serendipity than planned. Fay had let Isabel have Judy for the afternoon and when Phil arrived home with hoods hot on his trail, the whole kidnapping was made up on the spot. Phil is knifed by the henchmen and Isabel is sought as his murderer.

Dewey Robinson

We get a little too much of a cutesy Runyonesque moment for comfort when one of the henchmen played by Dewey Robinson tries to calm little Judy with a bedtime story about Snow White.

"This Snow White is a swell skirt but the Queen has green eyes on her on account-a Snow White has the edge in looks. Snow White takes it on the lam. She doesn't want to run into any of the Queen's torpedoes so she hightails it to the tall timber and that's where she bumps into the dwarf mob."

They did not mess with Isabel's dramatic end and the sequence comes "this close" to matching that of Three on a Match. We get an extra coda to Broadway Musketeers in a cute wrap-up for Connie's character. All through the picture, this secretary speaks of her boss with stars in her eyes. She finally gets her man and we finally get to see him in the manly form of Jimmy Conlin. Not as downbeat or ambiguous an ending as its predecessor, but perhaps more suitable here.

All in all, if you were to choose one picture to see it would be the pre-code. Broadway Musketeers is more of a choice out of curiosity or fondness for the performers.












24 comments:

  1. Did gangsters really talk that way, or was that only in the movies? I wonder.

    When I wrote about MATCH I said it used the newspaper headline-as-exposition better than most movies. Somebody came up with that idea, and it became a movie storytelling cliche pretty quickly. Probably died when television came along.

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    1. Certainly by television, the cliche of the headlines would have looked pretty corny. I do love it in older films. It appeals to the history buff in my soul and when it works, like here, it works.

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  2. BETTE DAVIS was to be on the weekly series HOTEL that made its debut in the fall of 1983. However, she had a stroke and was only on the 2-hour premiere. Hotel was produced by AARON SPELLING. I want to mention the passing of an actress that worked for Aaron. TANYA ROBERTS played JULIE ROGERS on the fifth(and final) season of CHARLIE'S ANGELS. She played the part well and her character was kind of tough(and rough around the edges) for the first episode or two. Then her character was softened. Tanya also did an ep of THE LOVE BOAT for Aaron. Sadly, Tanya died on Jan. 4 at the age of 65. First the reports said she died on Jan. 3 then on Jan. 4 it was reported that she was still living and in the hospital. Then I read on Jan. 5 that she died on Jan. 4. I am a big fan of CHARLIE'S ANGELS(and also CHERYL LADD and JACLYN SMITH). Tanya was a BOND girl and played a free-spirit kind of mom on THAT 70S SHOW.

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    1. I remember Bette's illness and the oh-so-Hollywood like replacement being Anne Baxter.

      It is always sad to hear of someone passing when they had so much more to give.

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  3. I’ve seen Three on a Match, which I liked pretty well. I haven’t seen Broadway Musketeers, so it was intriguing to read your comparison of the two.

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    1. Thanks. The next time it (Broadway Musketeers) pops up on the TCM schedule, you will at least be able to say "Aha, I know that one."

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  4. ANN SHERIDAN and JOHN LITEL were in DODGE CITY(39) starring ERROL FLYNN. John was in some other movies with Flynn including SAN ANTONIO(45). I like both movies but I enjoyed San Antonio more. Did you see both movies? I saw them back in the late 80s and I had probably never heard of Litel then. Did he play a good guy or bad guy in those two movies?

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    1. John Litel was a good guy in Dodge City. His character was murdered by the criminal element in town and started Flynn's character on his journey.

      Growing up, I remember Litel playing judges or drunks on my favourite westerns (sometimes a drunk judge).

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  5. BETTE DAVIS was friends with GINGER ROGERS. Do you think they would have been good in a movie together? Also what about BARBARA STANWYCK? Would it work with Barbara in a movie with Bette and/or Ginger?

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    1. Such busy actresses during Hollywood's classic period. I have trouble imagining Ginger pairing off with either actress, but they were all such pros that if the right property came along, it would have worked. So many movies and yet so many missed opportunities.

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  6. I saw Three on a Match looooooong ago, and barely remember it, except when I watch The Best Years of Our Lives and one of the three stars refuses to light a cigarette on the same match as the other two.

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    1. It is interesting how a superstition catches hold with the public. Just as interesting how it can be used to tell a story.

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  7. I love your observations here (such as whether Hollywood producers and directors ever observed the behavior of real children--the answer is obvious). And, while I've seen and liked Three on a Match, one of THE best of the pre-Codes, you've piqued my curiosity with Broadway Musketeers. If only to watch Dewey Robinson tell the story of the "dwarf mob"...

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    1. Dewey handles it with aplomb, but I am certain when he first looked at the script he must have raised a quizzical eyebrow.

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  8. THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES! HAROLD RUSSELL(who played the sailor HOMER PARRISH) was born on this day(Jan. 14) in 1914. His passing was in 2002 shortly after he turned 88. Homer's love story with WILMA (CATHY O'DONNELL) was tender and realistic. Cathy was a natural and good actress as was TERESA WRIGHT who played PEGGY who was in love with FRED(DANA ANDREWS).

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    1. Harold Russell was born and spent his early childhood in Nova Scotia. He was the right man for that role and I think he performed it beautifully.

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  9. A couple of days ago I looked up DOROTHY ADAMS to see if I knew her from anything. She was in THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES! She played MRS. CAMERON, the mother of WILMA and the future mother-in-law of HOMER. Like HAROLD RUSSELL, she lived to be 88(1900-88). She was married to BYRON FOULGER(PETTICOAT JUNCTION) from 1926 to his passing in 1970. He died shortly before their 44th anniversary. Their daughter is RACHEL AMES who you know from GENERAL HOSPITAL. She played AUDREY (a nurse). MISS AMES is 91!

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    1. I find it heartwarming that the entire Foulger/Adams family was in the acting game. It always makes me happy to see them.

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  10. the 1932 movie is one crackerjack of a movie. No wasted fat on this baby, only 63 minutes. Poor Bette Davis gets the short end of the stick though. But what a cast. Arnold and Bogart in bit roles. There's even "harry" from Pillow Talk and "pete" from five came back. Lots of people who made good.

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    1. I love Allen Jenkins. He was a graduate of The American Academy of Dramatic Arts (I took a summer course years ago and found his picture in his graduating class.) He learned his lessons well and had a nice, long career.

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  11. Regarding the FOULGER/ADAMS family I also think it's nice when several family members are in show business. For example JOHN MCINTIRE and JEANETTE NOLAN and children TIM and HOLLY MCINTIRE. RANCE and JEAN HOWARD and sons RON(THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, HAPPY DAYS) and CLINT(GENTLE BEN). JOHN ASTIN and PATTY DUKE and sons SEAN and MACKENZIE ASTIN. HUME CRONYN and JESSICA TANDY and daughter TANDY CRONYN. Did you see JESSICA and HUME in TO DANCE WITH THE WHITE DOG(HALLMARK HALL OF FAME on CBS? Hume won the Emmy award for that role. CHRISTINE BARANSKI is in the movie as their daughter. I remember that you and your husband GARRY are fans of hers.

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    1. The Lockharts are another family I admire in the acting tradition.

      I have vague memories of the Hall of Fame production with the Cronyns. I saw them on Broadway in a play called Foxfire.

      If a producer wants my husband to watch something, all they have to do is cast Christine Baranski.

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  12. Erm... *looks around, whispers*...this is ANOTHER classic that I've yet to see...and I OWN it! Sheesh. I'm not very organized when it comes to movie watching. But this is why I come to you, to remind me of the gems that await.

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    1. Move it off the bench, into the batting circle, and before you know it, it's on deck and swinging for the fences. A 63 minute epic!

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