Tonight I enjoyed attending the second evening of the new UCLA series Blonde Crazy: Joan Blondell.
The pre-Code double bill consisted of THREE ON A MATCH (1932), shown in 35mm, and THREE BROADWAY GIRLS (1932), shown in 16mm.
There were a number of members of the Joan Blondell-Dick Powell family in attendance, including their son Norman Powell -- whose birth father, George Barnes, shot THREE BROADWAY GIRLS. (For an explanation of the tangled family connections, please see my review of Matthew Kennedy's biography of Joan.) The evening began with several minutes of home movies of Blondell, Powell, and their children, mostly shot in color; it was a rare intimate look at their home life. The movies were given to UCLA by the Powell family.
Three schoolgirls are reunited as adults: Pretty Vivian (Ann Dvorak), who married well; smart Ruth (Bette Davis), who went to business college; and Mary (Blondell), who did a stint in a reform school in her younger days (initially played by Virginia Davis of Disney's ALICE films) and is now trying to make it as an actress.
Vivian is unaccountably unhappy in her marriage to kind attorney Robert Kirkwood, played by Warren William in an uncharacteristically sympathetic role. She runs off with Mike (Lyle Talbot), and as her life falls further apart, Mary helps Robert find and rescue his neglected little boy Jr. (Buster Phelps).
Divorced from Vivian, Robert marries Mary, hiring Ruth as his son's governess. All is briefly happy...until a broke Mike decides to kidnap Jr. for ransom to pay off a mob debt, and the gang decides to horn in on the action.
This is an engrossing film with a superb cast, including Dawn O'Day -- better known as Anne Shirley -- playing Dvorak as a girl. The bad guys include Humphrey Bogart, Allen Jenkins, Jack LaRue, and Edward Arnold. Glenda Farrell has a brief role, and Frankie Darro, Patricia Ellis, and Grant Mitchell are also in the cast. IMDb says Jack Webb is a boy in the schoolyard; I had no idea to be watching for him!
Numerous moments make clear this is a pre-Code, most notably when it becomes apparent that Vivian has become a coke addict. Dvorak is the standout in a sea of great faces, playing an inexplicably unhappy woman who is miserable despite "having it all." Her final, desperate action to save her son's life is unforgettable.
THREE ON A MATCH was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and filmed by Sol Polito.
It's available on DVD in the Forbidden Hollywood, Vol. 2 Collection.
THREE BROADWAY GIRLS is a comedy which I found less satisfactory, though it had its bright moments. The film was directed by Lowell Sherman, who costars as pianist Boris Feldman.
The movie is also known as THE GREEKS HAD A WORD FOR THEM; it was based on a Broadway play by Zoe Akins called THE GREEKS HAD A WORD FOR IT, and both title variations ran into trouble with censors, hence THREE BROADWAY GIRLS.
THREE BROADWAY GIRLS is an early telling of the classic "three women looking for wealthy men" formula; the girls don't necessarily want husbands. It seems any wealthy man will do, with marriage a possible option...or not.
Polaire (Madge Evans) is the sweet girl of the group, a would-be pianist who considers dumping her wealthy boyfriend Dey Emery (David Manners) for tutoring with Feldman; clearly she would become not only Feldman's piano student but his mistress.
Scatzi (Blondell) has an unseen sugar daddy in "Pop," while Jean (Ina Claire) is just back from Europe and looking for a new bankroll, ultimately considering marrying Dey's father (Phillips Smalley).
There are bright lines in Sidney Howard's screenplay but the film wears out its welcome as the fickle women circle from one man to the next, pledging lifelong friendship with each other one minute and bickering the next. Claire's character becomes wearying.
The movie is worth a look thanks to Blondell and Evans, but I've seen each of them in more interesting films.
UCLA lists the running time as 70 minutes, while IMDb has it as 79; unfortunately I didn't time it.
THREE BROADWAY GIRLS is available on DVD from the public domain company Synergy.
The Blondell series continues November 12th with DAMES (1934) and I'VE GOT YOUR NUMBER (1934).