Thursday, August 01, 2013

Tonight's Movie: Reckless (1935)

RECKLESS has a fantastic cast.  Any movie with Jean Harlow, William Powell, Franchot Tone, and Rosalind Russell is worth watching, and RECKLESS is no exception.

Unfortunately these fine actors are stuck in a subpar story, created by the film's producer, David O. Selznick. There were also writing contributions from reputable names such as Norman Krasna and Donald Ogden Stewart; P.J. Wolfson has the screenplay credit. Alas, this wasn't one of the better efforts of those involved.

The scenario of RECKLESS concerns Broadway musical star Mona Leslie (Harlow), who falls in love with a wealthy drinker named Bob Harrison (Tone). Bob's a lot of fun until he and Mona elope, and then he's overcome with remorse for jilting lovely, refined Jo (Russell) and marrying an actress who doesn't fit in his social circles.

Bob's personality changes overnight from jovial to bitter, and he soon makes a shocking choice which throws Mona into the headlines, along with her old pal, sports promoter Ned Riley (Powell).

It's tempting to go into more detail on the storyline, as this is one of those movies where the plot convolutions cause the viewer to periodically exclaim "Seriously?!" The movie is a bit schizophrenic, with bizarre-yet-gripping plot twists juxtaposed with draggy, pointless scenes. For instance, it's hard to understand why the film's focus shifts, after Mona's marriage, to Ned's financial troubles, which add nothing to the overall story or the eventual outcome. They're just filler. The shenanigans of Ned's loyal assistants (Nat Pendleton and Ted Healy) could also have been toned down.

The filmmakers should have instead focused more on Mona and Bob, as the changes in their relationship are very abrupt; barring that, this 97-minute movie could have at least been pared down to 90 minutes!

I'd seen the clip of Harlow performing the title number featured in THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT! (1974) many times over the years, but the rest of the movie was completely new to me. Harlow's glamorous but admittedly doesn't make much of a song and dance star, and it's fairly noticeable at times that she's being doubled. There's one scene near the end where the dance double starts spinning and then turns back into Harlow during the spin! IMDb lists Harlow's dubber as Virginia Verrill and her dance double as Betty Halsey.

Otherwise, Harlow's great as our gallant heroine, with the chance to exhibit many of the qualities which made her so beloved to audiences, including honesty, good humor, and loyalty.  It's also nice to have the chance to see her onscreen with her last great love, William Powell; they also costarred in LIBELED LADY (1936) the following year. Powell, unfortunately, doesn't get to do much but be a nice guy perpetually waiting in the wings -- literally!

Tone has quite a bit to do, but what a mess of a character! We know he has troubles early on, as he's a heavy drinker and he alludes to being unhappy in conversation with Mona, but it's a bit hard to fathom why he would pursue Mona so doggedly and then completely fall to pieces once he has her. Apparently he saw her only as mistress material and hadn't counted on being drunk enough to marry her. Bob becomes one angry man, which is a little hard to understand -- sure, he may be ostracized by his social circle, but after all, he's got Jean Harlow!

The person who comes off best in the cast is Rosalind Russell, who glows as Bob's jilted fiancee. She's gracious, charming, and absolutely lovely. The new man in her life is played by Leon Waycoff; once he grew a mustache and changed his name, he would be much better known as Leon Ames.  It's a small role and without that mustache, it took a second for Ames' presence to register with me! He changed his last name the following year.

Allan Jones sings in a Harlow rehearsal sequence. The cast also includes May Robson, Henry Stephenson and James Ellison.

This film was directed by Victor Fleming and filmed in black and white by George Folsey.

RECKLESS is available in a remastered print from the Warner Archive, sold as either a standalone title or as part of the seven-film The Jean Harlow Collection.

The remastered print has a couple of brief, noticeable rough patches; I suspect the surviving materials must have been in fairly bad shape. Most of the movie looks very good.

Reviews posted to date of other films in the Jean Harlow Collection: BOMBSHELL (1933), THE GIRL FROM MISSOURI (1934), and PERSONAL PROPERTY (1937).

RECKLESS was also released on VHS.

RECKLESS is also shown on TCM. The trailer is on the TCM website.


Blogger Vienna said...

Great review, Laura. Cant wait to see Reckless though, from what you have said, I'll probably have the same reservations about the script .

12:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laura, I've just seen this too - loved the first half or so but I must agree with you that it goes off when it turns into melodrama, and also that it is all too obvious Harlow isn't actually singing and dancing! I really loved William Powell in this and was fine with the stuff about his financial troubles, as I thought it showed how Ned's life falls apart after he loses Mona - but I do agree there is a bit too much of his loyal assistants. I didn't like Rosalind Russell in this as much as you did, because her strange English accent grated on me - but her character is great. I hadn't even noticed that her husband is Leon Ames! Anyway enjoyed your review! Judy

1:16 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks to you both so much for your comments. I hope you can check it out soon, Vienna.

Judy, really enjoyed comparing notes! Was very interested to read your perspective. I was trying to figure out if Russell was supposed to be British or just had an ultra-high class accent or something (grin).

Best wishes,

10:35 PM  

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