What was it you wanted?
Oh, what does anyone want?
Three On a Match is a really incredibly entertaining movie; it runs just a bit over an hour, but it packs a genuinely epic story into it. It’s the story of three women who knew each other as school children. Fate brings them back together and their stories intertwine. Anne Dvorak is the unhappy wife of Warren William’s wealthy lawyer; she wants to be happy, but isn’t satisfied with her dull life. Joan Blondell is the small time entertainer; she’s lived a hard and fast life, but time in jail has reset her moral compass. Bette Davis is the quiet stenographer; her education has left her unfulfilled and without a real purpose in life. It goes without saying that they’re all extremely good, though Davis is under used. Dvorak is fantastic as the smart society woman slowly drawn down a path of sin; Blondell has her usual spark and charisma as the worldly-wise, straight-talking sensible woman. The film also features a genuinely brilliant performance from Lyle Talbot as a desperate & amoral criminal. Humphrey Bogart appears in a small role as a hoodlum and he’s already got the menace that would make him a star. Edward Arnold steals the show with a single scene appearance as a slimy casino owner. The story is just ridiculous; it’s a wild and crazy ride and it’s wonderful to go along with it. The pre-code film is frank about sex and violence and drug use, even for a pre-code film. The film even explicitly features a character that’s deeply addicted to cocaine (specifically cocaine, not just a random drug) who’s down to do just about anything (if you get my drift) to get a hit. It’s insanely fast paced, filled with plot twists. It’s unbelievably fun, the kind of gonzo adventure Tarantino might have made if he’d been around in the pre-code era. But the relationship between those three main women gives the film a solid heart around which to build this crazed movie and, ultimately, what gives the ending a real kick. The only real problem here is Buster Phelps as the young son of Anne Dvorak and Warren William. He’s unbelievably awful. So much so that I really have to knock half a star off. Still, it’s really good. 3 ½ stars.
tl;dr – fast-paced, wild and wooly, Three On a Match is wonderfully performed and breathlessly written; pre-code filmmaking at its best. 3 ½ stars.