Reckless (1935)

Genres - Musical, Romance  |   Sub-Genres - Film a Clef, Melodrama, Romantic Drama  |   Release Date - Apr 19, 1935 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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Reckless is a delightfully breezy screwball comedy from the same director (Victor Fleming) and star (Jean Harlow) responsible for the celebratedBombshell (itself a film à clef loosely based on Clara Bow) -- with the added appeal of William Powell. One can readily see the chemistry between the two stars at work, which would lead to their impending marriage at the time of Harlow's death a year later. The sets for the Broadway number that Harlow's Mona Leslie performs in are also extraordinary. Mona Leslie (Jean Harlow) is an up-and-coming Broadway actress, dancer, and singer, who leads a happy-go-lucky, freewheeling lifestyle; bailed out of jail by family friend Ned Riley (William Powell), a sports promoter who loves Mona but won't slow down his lifestyle long enough to give her the satisfaction of admitting it, she performs in a bizarre "benefit" show, only to discover that she has an audience of one, wealthy admirer Bob Harrison (Franchot Tone). He declares his love for her and a romance does develop, but when he proposes marriage, he discovers that his upper-crust set won't accept a showgirl as one of their blue-blood crowd. Their romance leads to a marriage and desperate unhappiness for all concerned, most of all Harrison, whose basic neurotic nature gets worse as the marriage deteriorates. When Harrison takes his own life, Riley and Mona find themselves accused of every foul deed possible, and when Mona gives birth to a son, a legal battle ensues over custody of the child, with Harrison's family claiming that she is unfit. Finally, Mona decides to fight back -- she gets Harrison's family to stand down by giving up any claim to her late husband's money, but she must now contend with the nation's self-appointed moral guardians. No producer will take the risk of backing a show with Mona in it, but she finally gets a helping hand from Ned Riley. The movie has a few too many changes in tone, which detracts from the verisimilitude. The whole story is a film à clef based on the tragic romance between torch singer Libby Holman and tobacco heir Smith Reynolds (which also provided fodder for such à clef films as Brief Moment, Sing, Sinner, Sing, and Written on the Wind) -- and Harlow's singing is obviously dubbed, just as her dancing is doubled. Also, the songs -- except for the final two numbers -- don't quite fit with the melodrama, and the Damon Runyon-esque comic antics feel completely out of left field at times. But when she and Powell are onscreen together, the film just lofts into the air, past all of those flaws.

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Keywords

accident, alcoholism, behind-the-scenes, dance [art], love, manager, marital-problems, marriage, millionaire, playboy, showgirl, stars [celebrities], suicide