Volume 43 Number 17

“Three on a Match”


REVIEW This 1932 pre-Code gem is a fine example of the era’s snappy Warner Bros. style and economical storytelling. Three women are reunited by chance years after being Manhattan grade-school classmates: goodhearted "bad girl" Mary (Joan Blondell) became a Broadway baby via reform school. Smart but poor valedictorian Ruth (Bette Davis, whose screen prospects were considered pretty wan at this point) became a humble stenographer. Product of privilege Vivian (Ann Dvorak) married childhood sweetheart Robert (Warren William) and is now the consummate socialite wife and mother. But she is bored, dissatisfied, and frigid, manifesting behavior we might now read as clinical depression. Despite "having everything," her nasty downward spiral becomes the film’s melodramatic engine.

Unexpectedly sparking with a genial rake, Vivian impulsively drops out of sight, slumming with her new amour (Lyle Talbot, future contributor to 1959’s Plan 9 from Outer Space) and his increasingly disreputable friends. (They include a very young, kinda cute Humphrey Bogart as a tuxedoed thug who snarls lines like "The heat’s on enough to curl yer shoe leather.") She tows along a young son whose best interests are not served by separation from daddy, mom’s blackmailing/kidnapping new gangster pals, and rampant cocaine abuse. Directed by Mervyn LeRoy (a rather neglected figure nonetheless key to a remarkable number of Hollywood classics, from 1931’s Little Caesar and 1932’s I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang to 1956’s The Bad Seed and 1962’s Gypsy), Three on a Match is utterly packed with incident at 64 hurtling minutes. Yet it’s so astutely handled one never feels nuance is given the bum’s rush. Blondell is delightfully hard-boiled, while Davis seems tentative (no doubt waiting for bigger and better things) in a wallflower role. But it’s Dvorak who dominates in a "fallen woman" histrionic workout. Trivia note: she attempted to have her WB contract nullified after learning the five-year-old (Frankie Darrow) playing her son was paid equally.

THREE ON A MATCH plays Fri/23 at the Mechanics’ Institute. See Rep Clock.

“Brad Noble: Chaotic Resolve”


The recent Washington Post obituary of Andrew Wyeth reveals that the figurative painter considered himself an abstract artist, because he didn’t depict but rather evoked a metaphysical vision. This idea is at least as old as 1907, when antimodernist Max Nordau hurled it as an accusation at French symbolist Puvis de Chavannes, and while few use the word abstract with this meaning, I find the conception sympathetic rather than pejorative. If we can call it a lineage, then Brad Noble is part of it. His Beach Girl (2007-08) could be a symbolist painting, evoking rather than dispelling mystery. Is the reclining nude partly buried in the sand, or is she becoming sand? Or is the sand becoming her? Up close, she seems to be eating it. This scene is abstract in that it takes representational elements and recombines them in nonrepresentational ways.

Most of the works in "Chaotic Resolve" lack recognizable landscapes, though Lucid Dream Lab features a woman seated on the ground with her back to us, forearms wrapped in ribbons, gazing into a receding horizon. The landscape’s vagueness is complicated by metallic paint that shows through, and many works have a metallic gleam impossible to capture in reproduction. Quagmire features a nude man in profile against a brown surface so shiny it looks lacquered. His back is stooped; thorny vines wind up his legs. His penis is obscured by one arm, but a lone tendril of hair curls out from between his legs at crotch-level: this, like many of Noble’s images, is fraught with uncertainty, lifting as if erect, then curving down impotent, then circling back on itself, suggesting infinity. Exacerbating the whole is the man’s cracking body, his missing brainpan, and the hatchet wounds dividing his neck. A couple pieces, such as Third Party, are less successful, but on the whole, this art is of productive opacity, subtly in tune with the host gallery’s orientation toward surrealist abstraction.

BRAD NOBLE: CHAOTIC RESOLVE Through Feb. 24. Mon.–Fri., 10 a.m.–6 p.m. Weinstein Gallery, 301 Geary, SF. (415) 362-8151. www.weinstein.com