Even as children, it was clear that Mary Keaton (Joan Blondell), Vivian Kirkwood (Ann Dvorak), and Ruth Wescott (Bette Davis) were on three very different paths in life. Ruth was always very serious about doing well in school, graduated top of the class, and grew up to be a stenographer. Mary was a bit more rebellious and even spent some time in a reform school, but grew up and went into show business. Vivian, on the other hand, was the popular girl and went on to marry Robert Kirkwood (Warren William), a rich lawyer, and become a housewife.
After their time together in school, years go by and the girls fall out of touch. But they end up meeting up again for lunch and Vivian reveals that even though it looks like she’s got it made, she’s really quite bored with her life. To add some spice to her life, she takes a cruise, where she meets Michael Loftus (Lyle Talbot). But before the ship even leaves, she takes her son and runs off with Michael. While Vivian takes up a hard-partying lifestyle full of booze, cocaine, and parties, quality parenting gets put on the back burner. Police investigate their disappearances, but the only person who finds them is Mary. Mary tries to talk some sense into her, but when she won’t listen, she goes to see Robert to tell him where they are. He takes his son back, divorces Vivian, and goes on to marry Mary.
Meanwhile, Vivian has hit rock bottom. She’s run out of money and she and Michael owe $2,000 to a trio of gangsters, Harve (Humphrey Bogart), Dick, and Ace. Michael goes to Robert and threatens to go public about Mary’s criminal background, but Robert isn’t fazed by him and throws him out of his office. Instead, Michael hatches a plan to kidnap Mary’s son and hold him hostage. The whole ordeal makes Mary realize just how far she’s fallen and, in order to save her son, takes some lipstick, writes a note on her nightgown, and throws herself from the window.
Three on a Match is one wild ride! I just love it. The cast is really outstanding. This is one of Bette Davis’ early movies and she wasn’t really being used to her full potential yet. Joan Blondell was good, but the real star was Ann Dvorak. She did a spectacular job playing a junkie. When she was supposed to be strung out, she was so jittery and nervous, it must have been really hard to get that just right. This was also was also an early appearance from Humphrey Bogart. In fact, it was the first time he played a gangster and he certainly showed a lot of promise in that type of role. Three on a Match is quite possibly the ultimate example of a movie that packs a lot into a short amount of time. It’s only 63 minutes long, and doesn’t waste a minute of it! A fantastic cast, great performances, it’s well written, and it’s all packed into just over an hour. What’s not to like here?