Three on a Match

dir. Mervyn LeRoy

TIFF Cinematheque - Hollywood Classics

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Three childhood friends (Bette Davis, Joan Blondell and Ann Dvorak) tempt fate when they violate the old superstition about lighting three cigarettes on one match, in this crackling pre-Code drama.
This crackling little drama stars Bette Davis as Ruth Wescott, an audibly blonde stenographer, who has a reunion with two childhood friends: Mary Keaton (Joan Blondell), an entertainer who has spent time in a reformatory, and Vivian Kirkwood (Ann Dvorak), who chafes in her domestic role as wife to a wealthy lawyer and mother to an adorable young boy. Over lunch, the three women toy with fate by lighting their cigarettes off a single match, which, as folk belief has it, portends death for the last to fire up. As if to prove superstition true, the susceptible Vivian soon falls in with a playboy gambler, abandons her family, becomes an addict to both alcohol and angel dust, and finally falls prey to blackmail. Can Vivian escape her fate? Crisply paced, propelled by time-spanning montages of news headlines and song sheets, and shocking in its pre-Code sordidness, Three on a Match also features Humphrey Bogart in an early turn as a vicious criminal. Davis fell out with director Mervyn LeRoy because she was tired of playing supporting roles, but her indelible performance reveals her on the cusp of stardom.