SPOTLIGHT: Brassy Pre-Code Blondell (V)

Welcome to our 600th post, a new Film Friday, and the continuation of our spotlight series on the Pre-Code work of Joan Blondell (1906-1979), an iconic Warner dame known for her snappy speech and straight-shooting style. We’ve covered Illicit (1931), The Public Enemy (1931), and Night Nurse (1931), but haven’t even yet scratched the surface of her miraculous Pre-Code career. We’re making up for lost time, and so far we’ve featured Blonde Crazy (1931), Union Depot (1932), The Greeks Had A Word For Them [a.k.a. Three Broadway Girls] (1932), and Miss Pinkerton (1932). Today…

 

Three On A Match (1932)

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A woman’s childhood friends try to rescue her from gangsters. Starring Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak, Bette Davis, Warren William, Lyle Talbot, Humphrey Bogart, Allen Jenkins, and Edward Arnold. Screenplay by Lucien Hubbard. Story by Kubec Glasmon and John Bright. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy.

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And then there’s Bette Davis, the hard working girl who’s only there to allow the film to employ the “three on a match” metaphor that pops in and out of the film and informs its title. Although we are cursed with hindsight, she already seems like a presence worth much more than the treatment she gets here. The film’s major fault is that the focus on the different paths traveled by the three women shifts into the circumstances surrounding the consequences of Dvorak’s actions. And that is all well and good for her character, but the other two are unfortunately pushed aside, and it’s to the story’s detriment.

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But the pros outweigh the cons, for in addition to the three women, we have a talented cast of men, which include Warren William, in a rare sympathetic role as the husband that both Dvorak and Blondell share, Lyle Talbot, playing the villain who kidnaps Dvorak’s kid and leads her into ruin, and Humphrey Bogart, the unscrupulous gangster who puts Talbot’s character’s evil into context. (Edward Arnold is one of his cohorts.) This exploration of the different shadings of “bad” is most fascinating and his undiluted performance will be a real treat to his fans. But it’s great to see all these actors together. And if you’ve never seen a Dvorak film before, this is a great place to start. Recommended viewing for all Pre-Code fans.

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