Thursday, September 24, 2020

Three on a Match

Mervyn LeRoy's Three on a Match opens with three schoolgirls going their separate ways after graduating from public school. Mary (Joan Blondell) ends up in reform school and becomes a showgirl. Ruth (Bette Davis) opts for business school and becomes a stenographer. Vivian (Ann Dvorak) marries into a comfortable life but finds herself bored with it.

Soon after they reunite -- and the titular superstition is invoked -- Vivian runs off with another man with her young son in tow. And the luck of the three women shifts following Vivian's decision, some good and some bad. But what will befall them after all of them?

There's just that certain spark to pre-Code titles that Hollywood has tried to replicate countless times in the years since that brief era to varying success. And boy, does Three on a Match have that spark in spades. (There's a promotional still of Blondell that perhaps best exemplifies this period in Hollywood.) Just goes to show that there's no Hollywood era quite like the pre-Code one.

LeRoy -- a man whose career dipped its toe in various genres throughout the years -- shows a sharp eye towards the melodramatic nature of Three on a Match. As he would do with Waterloo Bridge and Random Harvest the following decade, he doesn't demonize the leads for their wrongdoings as they try to survive in the world they're a part of. Some are simply put on the wrong path beyond their control.

Three on a Match shows that Hollywood just doesn't make movies like they used to nearly a century ago. Very seldom do you see character morality get tested nowadays as was commonplace for the pre-Code era, let alone complicated female characters. And boy, is that ending a doozy.

My Rating: *****

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