Thursday, November 3, 2016

Three on a Match

Three on a Match
TCM viewing

Welcome to another exciting chapter of "Things They Used to Do in Movies They Don't Do Anymore." This week, we'll examine an Old Movie trope pretty much guaranteed to mark a movie as old the instant you see it used: the newspaper headline as expositionary device.

I suppose the modern-day equivalent would be headlines from news websites, or social media messages. Indeed, some movies incorporate a form of social media communication within their visual narrative. I have yet to encounter, however, a movie that relies on it to convey huge, important chunks of plot the way Hollywood used to with newspapers because print is dead. Or so they say.

Usually the trope involves news about a specific person or people. It helps if said person is famous, though not always. This jibes with some of the most popular kinds of movies made in the 30s and 40s: gangster pics, rom-coms set within high society, and war films. In each case, headlines that help move the plot along are not inappropriate, because the people and events involved tend to be newsworthy.

Sometimes headlines set the stage for the story by telling us about the time and place. Late 1910s? Expect headlines about Woodrow Wilson, the Lusitania and WW1. The 1920s? Babe Ruth, Al Capone and Prohibition. The 1930s? FDR, bread lines, the rise of Hitler. In this case, headlines act as a visual shorthand to give us an idea where and when we are.

Three on a Match uses both versions of this trope. In the latter case, as the main characters move forward in time, we're given not only general news headlines for each year, but also headlines that paint a picture of the changing social times. We see headlines pertaining to sports, fashion, technology, etc.

I wouldn't say it was vital to the story, but it's a nice supplement, not to mention its value as a historical document. The net result is a visual sketch of 20th-century American life between the world wars.

The movie itself is quite good. The characters portrayed as adults by Ann Dvorak, Joan Blondell and Bette Davis are clearly delineated from childhood to adulthood, with their mutual acquaintance the common thread. Their fortunes rise and fall. They raise families. They get in trouble. They have fun. And sometimes they make it into the papers.

Their conflicts revolve mostly around men. While they kinda sorta have lives and careers beyond their men, they're not as important. That's the only mark against the movie I can offer. It would've been nice to have gotten a better look at them separate from the men (and children) in their lives. Otherwise, it was a fine movie with an ending I didn't see coming. Plus, pre-fame Humphrey Bogart!


  1. And more often than not, the paper with the headline spins before stopping along with some dramatic music. Such a funny old trope! I've never seen this one...I'll have to look for it.



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