Three to a Match is a delightful pre-code comedy that, in my humble opinion, is one of the most damning critiques of sexual morality that I have ever seen.

I am probably exaggerating, but I am comfortable making such a bold statement, because I generally don't think to highly of "critiques of sexual morality." Such films fall largely into two groups - the attempts of filmmakers who wish they had lived through the sixties to use the "sexual revolution" to justify the production of films bordering on pornography, and the attempt by filmmakers who read to much 70s structuralist theory to break down the scopophilic desire inherent in the filmic medium to free women from the horrible fate of being desired by men (used for masturbation of a different sort). This film does something wholly different, it defends sexual morality as the best way to lead to a boring life, and gives a rather beautiful portrayal of feminine desire leading to death.

The plot goes as so: Three girls graduate from middle school, one is really rich and goes to an expensive prep school, one is really smart and goes to a training school for secretary work, and one is really popular with boys, and in the course of time goes to a correctional institution. They meet up later, by accident, and the rich girl has married a rich man and is taking care of a small child, the smart girl has been doing secretarial work, and the girl from the correctional institution is now reformed. But then everything takes a turn. The rich girl is board with her life, and her always nice and accommodating (though overworked and effeminate) husband allows her to go on a trip to Europe alone with their kid. While on the trip she sleeps with a young good looking, masculine guy, and from then on she seems to do nothing besides drink and have sex. The other two girls find her one day, and discover the kid horribly neglected, they tell the father, who comes and takes the kid away, and invites the two girls to move in with him, one as the kids nanny (the smart girl) and one as his wife (the correctional institute girl). The rich girl dies.

About 90 percent of all movies that contain some reference to female sexuality, female sexuality is a commodity. It is something a man has to "get." Up until the 1950's female sexuality was obtained through marriage, after the 1950's largely through charm. Even today, if you read any of those books like Men are From Mars, Women are from Venus, you'll find that the concept that women have sexual desire is somewhat controversial. Though now it is termed somewhat differently then the days when we lived with the delusion that men desire women, and women desire marriage. Anything that tries to convince you that female desire is fundamentally different from male desire is essentially saying when you get down to it that men desire women, and women desire marriage.

This idea that "men desire women, and women desire marriage," goes out of fashion every now and then, and is replaced by another fiction, that female desire and male desire are almost the same except that female sexuality is much stronger. This is by and large the position taken by most sex comedies made in the 20s (Clara Bow) and early 30s (all pre-code sex comdies), until it was more or less explicitly banned by the production code and never really came back in the United States (it is something of a cliché in British comedies).

While I would never argue that this second fiction is "right," I would quite definitely argue that it is the more progressive view of sexuality, as can be clearly seen in this film (or most any Clara Bow film). While the film ostensibly punishes her "wild sexuality," it treats both her and her friend's sexuality rather lovingly. The scene where the rich girl and school dorm mates are reading romance novels together is positively lovely, and the scenes of the girls in the correctional institution are similarly fond of its subjects. You cannot help but identify with the girls in every one of their interactions with men, and of course, the one who was boy-crazy in the beginning ends up with the rich guy in the end.

Of course reading the moral leanings of each individual event, and the juxtaposition of those events, would be a tiring affair and not to the point. The point is that it is no accident that the last 'gag' of the film rings somewhat bitterly, because despite being ostensibly a moral tale about the dangers of uncontrolled sex, the way the film is structured the "morality of sex" is never part of the equation. The female desire of men is the one unqualified good in this film, it is the one place where there is the opportunity for hope, for life, everything else in the film is being judged for its inability to provide a location for this type of interaction to flourish. Not only the women, not only the men, not only the correctional institution, work, alcohol and children; the entire world is being judged, because it fails to make room for something beautiful.

More than one person dies at the end of this film.

Buy Three on a Match on video here

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