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, and 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.
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 who haven't changed 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.
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.