Three Into Two Won’t Go (Blu-ray Review)

  • Reviewed by: Dennis Seuling
  • Review Date: Sep 28, 2023
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Three Into Two Won’t Go (Blu-ray Review)


Peter Hall

Release Date(s)

1969 (August 22, 2023)


Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A-
  • Audio Grade: B+
  • Extras Grade: B

Three Into Two Won't Go (Blu-ray)

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Domestic dramas about marriages in distress or divorce were rare in films prior to the 1960s. Before then, divorce and marital strife were played for laughs in screwball comedies with the parties winding up happy and together. Much of the country regarded divorce as a no-no. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? opened the door to more realistic treatments of unhappy marriages. In Three Into Two Won’t Go, a couple’s unhappiness is brought to a head by a young, attractive woman.

Unhappily married assistant sales director Steve Howard (Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night) picks up hitchhiker Ella (Judy Geeson, To Sir, With Love), a free spirit who’s not shy about flaunting her sensuality. They stop at a hotel, have dinner, and spend the night together. Ella has drifted from one job to another and keeps a little black book documenting her numerous lovers and ranking them on their sexual performance. Steve gets her a job as chambermaid/waitress at the hotel and continues to see her there. Ella fulfills his physical and emotional needs.

Steve and his wife, Frances (Claire Bloom, The Haunting), have recently moved into a new house, hoping the fresh environment will help to revitalize their marriage. He resents the monetary burden the mortgage has placed on him but nonetheless remains civil with Frances. A major topic of contention between them is that she wants a child but he’s reluctant. They have discussed adoption but never made a decision. When Steve goes away on business, Ella turns up at the house and reveals she’s pregnant, though she doesn’t implicate Steve. She and Frances strike up an unlikely friendship, Ella asks to stay the night, and Frances agrees. It soon becomes apparent that Ella is not eager to leave.

Directed by Peter Hall and based on a novel by Andrea Newman, Three Into Two Won’t Go is dialogue-driven and borders on staginess with its limited number of locations. The plot sounds a bit melodramatic. What makes the film rise above soap opera is the intense, honest performances. Steiger, in particular, turns in a portrayal of controlled power and ably communicates through facial expression and body language his state of anxiety as Ella seems to have taken residence in his home. In later films, Steiger tended to be over the top and shout a lot, but here he conveys pent-up anguish.

Bloom conveys quiet desperation as her Frances tries to preserve her marriage to Steve yet fears he’s slipping further away, his trips on the road metaphorically underscoring their emotional distance. Periodically, we see Frances painting walls white, perhaps another indication she wants the house to represent a new beginning for them. Bloom was married to Steiger at the time and their own marriage was deteriorating. Whether her personal marital discord had an effect on her performance is hard to say, but she’s extremely sympathetic and authentic in her acting choices.

Geeson, only 19 when she made Three Into Two Won’t Go, captures Ella’s bohemian, devil-may-care spirit and her talent for manipulation. Ella can be both blatantly sexual with Steve, presenting herself stark naked as the prize she knows he wants, and disarmingly sympathetic, playing on Frances’ loneliness to befriend her. She has used her body and mind in a promiscuous pursuit of pleasure and prides herself on knowing how to read people. Working with seasoned professionals Steiger and Bloom, Geeson more than holds her own.

Supporting performers are also excellent and include Peggy Ashcroft (Secret Ceremony) as Frances’ mother Belle and Paul Rogers (Stolen Hours) as hotel owner Jack Roberts.

Three Into Two Won’t Go was lensed by director of photography Walter Lassally on 35 mm film using the Technicolor process and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The new restoration, taken from a 2K master, preserves the film grain quality of the original. Detail is good, with stubble on Steiger’s face, decor in the hotel dining room, views outside the Howard’s picture window, and clothing patterns well delineated. There’s an occasional flat look to certain scenes, but that’s more from lighting than picture quality. The presentation is relatively clean except for occasional white specks.

The soundtrack is English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. English SDH subtitles are available. Dialogue is clear and distinct in this dialogue-heavy film and is balanced well with ambient background noise in the restaurant and office scenes. Overall, the mono soundtrack lacks the impact of multi-channel sound and often appears a bit muddy. The humming of the car’s engine is heard in the opening scene as Steve drives hitchhiker Ella. In the last third of the film, characters raise their voices, marking a dramatic difference from their calm, soft speech earlier on. Francis Lai’s title theme is catchy, but is sometimes reprised inappropriately, at odds with a scene’s dramatic purpose.

Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber include the following:

  • Audio Commentary by Troy Howarth and Nathaniel Thompson
  • TV Cut (99:55)
  • Trailer (2:21)
  • In the Heat of the Night Trailer (2:48)
  • A Fistful of Dynamite (Duck, You Sucker) Trailer (3:35)
  • Brannigan Trailer (2:23)
  • The Homecoming Trailer (2:35)

Audio Commentary – The commentators note that Three Into Two Won’t Go, in its original form, hasn’t been on TV in a long time. During the making of the film, Rod Steiger was busy with theater, movies and TV. Judy Geeson was an up-and-coming actress who had starred in a number of British pictures. The film is referred to as a “little bit of a time capsule.” Career overviews are provided for Steiger, Bloom, Geeson, and Peggy Ashcroft, who plays Bloom’s mother. Director Peter Hall was able to attract British stage actors for his films. The Rod Steiger/Claire Bloom marriage lasted as long as it did because they were both established actors; there was no imbalance of careers. Bloom was the second of Steiger’s five wives. Steiger originated the role of Marty on television, but the part went to Ernest Borgnine in the film. Films about marital dysfunction emerged in the 1960s. Universal had a special department devoted to re-editing theatrical films for TV broadcast. Plots were altered, scenes eliminated, new characters added, sensitive scenes cut. The ending of the film is ambiguous. What is Ella’s role? The most interesting imagery occurs in the final third of the film.

TV Cut – This version is presented in standard definition. To fill space left by removal of R-rated nudity and intimate scenes, approximately twenty minutes of new footage was shot and edited in. The new footage explains Ella’s delinquent proclivities and adds several characters: a probation officer looking for her, and her abusive father, withdrawn mother, and rock star wannabe boyfriend. The TV cut is longer by 7 minutes and completely adulterates the original script by Edna O’Brien. Director Peter Hall demanded that his name be removed from the TV print, and judging by his name’s absence in the credit sequence of this version, he got his way.

Three Into Two Won’t Go is a gripping, realistic look at the strains put on both partners in a troubled marriage. Steve seeks in Ella what he lacks at home, and Frances looks to Ella as a companion who just might be the means of getting her marriage back on track. Ella, sometimes knowing and in charge, at other times seems out of her depth. The early part of the film is slow but the pace picks up as the characters’ psychological machinations come into focus. This is an adult story, the kind of drama that was once typical of Hollywood releases but is ever more rare these days.

- Dennis Seuling