The Match King: an unscrupulous fellow rises from the gutter to assume command of a world-wide match empire. That’s the story.


But there’s more to it than that. On its face, it’s a fine picture of an unscrupulous business magnate, and coming soon after the crash, where stock manipulation was common and practically brazen, it had resonance with the audience. See the villain! Hiss him! But you can’t quite despise him. He’s riveting, as you’ll see.

Two: it’s based on a true story. The movie came out shortly after the suicide of the real match king, Ivar Kreuger. A Swedish industrialist, he controlled 2/3rds of the world’s match production. His monopolies made him worth 100 billion dollars; he floated loan after loan to insolvent nations. He met with Hoover. He was a titan of the age, but as they say: when the tide goes out you see who’s naked. The crash exposed the curious finances of his intertwined empire, and it turned out he had constructed a gargantuan Ponzi scheme. Ruin awaited. He shot himself dead.

The movie was made and released the same year he died: 1932.

Three: ever hear the superstition about “three on a match,” how it’s unlucky? A soldier lights a cigarette - a soldier in the opposing trench sees it. The second soldier takes a light - the enemy soldier aims. The third soldier takes the light - the enemy soldier fires. I remember hearing that in college.

Behold, the birth of modern marketing.



Actually, that wasn’t the origin of the story, but it makes for a nice bit of cynical storywriting. The early 30s were as cynical as it got.