Three on a Match

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This article is about the 1932 film. For the NBC game show, see Three on a Match (game show). For the superstition, see Three on a Match (superstition).
Three on a Match
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Mervyn LeRoy
Produced by Samuel Bischoff
Raymond Griffith
Darryl F. Zanuck
Screenplay by Lucien Hubbard
Story by Kubec Glasmon
John Bright
Starring Joan Blondell
Bette Davis
Ann Dvorak
Cinematography Sol Polito
Edited by Ray Cirtiss
Release dates
  • October 29, 1932 (1932-10-29) (United States)
Running time
63 mins.
Country United States
Language English

Three on a Match is a 1932 American pre-Code crime drama released by Warner Bros. The film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and stars Joan Blondell, Ann Dvorak and Bette Davis. The film also features Warren William, Lyle Talbot, Humphrey Bogart (in his first tough-guy role), Allen Jenkins and Edward Arnold. It is also the screen debut of Jack Webb (later known for his role as Joe Friday in the radio and television series Dragnet), who appears in a small uncredited role.


Three friends from childhood, Mary (Joan Blondell), Ruth (Bette Davis), and Vivian (Ann Dvorak), meet again as young adults after some time apart. They each light a cigarette from the same match and discuss the superstition that such an act is unlucky and that Vivian, the last to light her cigarette, will be the first to die.

Mary is an entertainer who has established stability in her life after spending some time in a reform school, while Ruth works as a stenographer. Vivian is the best off of the three, married to successful lawyer Robert Kirkwood (Warren William) and with a young son, but she has grown dissatisfied with her life. Just before she is about to leave on an ocean cruiser with her son, gambler Michael Loftus (Lyle Talbot) persuades Vivian to run away with him. She soon becomes addicted to snorting heroin (this is not explicitly spelled out, but a young Humphrey Bogart, playing a hood named Harve, mimes the dissolute woman's habit by brushing his hand under his nose in one scene, winkingly. Also, her lover, when agreeing they can't wait much longer, rubs the inside of his left elbow with his right hand.)

Concerned about Vivian's neglect of her son, Mary tells Robert where to find his boy. Robert retrieves his son and divorces Vivian. Mary and Robert become better acquainted and eventually marry.

Meanwhile, Vivian's money runs out and Michael owes $2,000 to three sadistic gangsters, Harve (Humphrey Bogart), Dick (Allen Jenkins) and Ace (Edward Arnold), who tell him to pay up or else. Desperate, Michael tries to blackmail Robert by threatening to inform the press about Mary's criminal background. When that doesn't work, he kidnaps Robert's boy. However, in a selfless act of contrition and self-sacrifice, Vivian scrawls a message in lipstick on her nightgown and throws herself out the window of the fourth-floor apartment where she and her son are being held, alerting the authorities and saving her son's life at the cost of her own, making the superstitious comments at the beginning of the film about the last to light the cigarette being the first to die, accurate. (In real life, actress Ann Dvorak, the youngest of the three lead actresses, was also the first to die, in 1979, followed by Blondell later the same year, and, a decade later, Davis, in 1989.)

Main characters[edit]

Joan Blondell in Three on a Match trailer.jpg Joan Blondell as Mary Keaton, also known as Mary Bernard. A tomboy as a child, Mary spent time in a reform school, before becoming an entertainer.
Ann Dvorak in Three on a Match trailer.jpg Ann Dvorak as Vivian Kirkwood, a beautiful woman from a background of wealth. She is married to Robert Kirkwood, and is the mother of their young son.
Bette Davis in Three on a Match trailer.jpg Bette Davis as Ruth Wescott. Serious and studious as a child, Ruth works as a stenographer.
Warren William in Three on a Match trailer.jpg Warren William as Robert Kirkwood, Vivian's husband, a successful attorney.

Cast (in credits order)[edit]


The film depicts the passage of time through several montage sequences, which drew positive comments from the Spokane Spokesman-Review which described the film as utilizing "a brand new approach and treatment ... The parade of time is cleverly portrayed through news headlines down the years, popular song sheets, reproduced on screen, and excerpts from the news weeklies from 1919 and 1932."[1]

TIME felt the film did not carry much weight, unlike previous Glasmon-Bright productions and that the suicide at the end was more implausible than tragic.[2]

Film critic Kaspar Monahan lauded the performances in the film but wrote that the "erratic" scenario "loses its convincing flavor midway". He also criticized Davis' role as "superfluous... except that her presence is needed to give some excuse for the title."[3]

Mordaunt Hall of the New York Times felt Three on a Match was tedious and distasteful as well as unintelligent.[4]


  1. ^ The Spokesman-Review. "Ann Dvorak Star in Film at Fox". Nov 17. 1932. p 5. Web Sep 19. 2011
  2. ^ "Cinema: The New Pictures: Nov. 7, 1932", TIME
  3. ^ The Pittsburgh Press. "The Show Stops". Nov 4. 1932. p 48. Web Sep 19. 2011
  4. ^ Mordaunt Hall. "Blackmail and Kidnapping". New York Times, October 29, 1932.

External links[edit]