Warner Bros. // 1935 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge P.S. Colbert // November 14th, 2011
A Broadway star married for love. The tabloids aay she murdered for money.
It's almost never a good sign when the story behind the movie takes center stage.
Reckless is the title of a song written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II, which became the new title of A Woman Called Cheap, transforming a planned dramatic vehicle for Oscar winner Joan Crawford (Mildred Pierce) into "Metro Goldwyn-Mayer's Mammoth Musical Melodrama!"
The story was loosely based on the real life tragedy of Broadway star and torch singer Libby Holman, who was indicted for the murder of her young playboy husband, tobacco heir Zachary Reynolds.
As the legend goes, the married couple was quarreling heavily during an alcohol-fueled party on 6 July 1932, following the disclosure of Ms. Holman's pregnancy. After hearing a gunshot, party guests rushed in to find Reynolds lying on the floor bleeding from the head, in the company of Holman and friend Abraham Bailey "Ab" Walker, both of whom claimed Reynolds had fired the weapon upon himself.
Rumors spread that Holman and Walker were secret lovers who conspired to kill her husband and a grand jury agreed, but all charges were eventually dropped and the death officially ruled a suicide.
Despite being cleared, Holman found herself being cold-shouldered by a once adoring public. Audiences were just as likely to show up to demonstrate their displeasure with the performer (by hissing and booing) as they were to listen to her sing.
It was apparently studio head Louis B. Mayer's idea to replace Crawford with platinum "blonde bombshell" Jean Harlow (Dinner At Eight), ostensibly to capitalize on her current off-screen romance with co-star William Powell (The Thin Man). It was just as likely that MGM was trying to capitalize on the fact that Harlow had also recently endured the suicidal death of her husband, Paul Bern.
Mayer's displeasure with the results of the film as a straight drama caused it to be transfused in the eleventh hour with lavish musical numbers for the leading lady to sing and dance her way through. This despite Harlow's inability to sing or dance.
Reckless concerns the exploits of stage siren and songstress Mona Leslie (Harlow), a flighty gadabout who seeks love, romance, and a daddy figure. She only gets the latter from longtime pal Ned Riley (Powell), a sports promoter with a Henry Higgins complex.
That is, until the arrival of obscenely wealthy playboy Bob Harrison Jr. (Franchot Tone, Mutiny On The Bounty), the president and only member of the S.A.M.L. (Society For the Admiration Of Mona Leslie), a "charitable organization" that books Mona into lavish venues so she can perform her (outrageously excessive) musical numbers before an audience of one.
So what about the story involving the quarreling married couple, the gunfire, and accusations of murder? Oh it's all there, but remarkably stuffed into the last reel, following an hour or so of what might easily be mistaken for a meandering romantic comedy about an alternatively distinguished and disheveled middle-aged bachelor who chooses to forestall his inevitable coupling with the considerably younger, lip-synching, lead-footed, "singing dancing star" who's been right in front of him the entire time.
Don't get me wrong, Reckless is entertaining -- in a star-powered, head scratching, so-bad-it's-good way -- but the 1.37:1 standard definition transfer offered us by Warner Archive is frequently visited by storms of dirt and debris. Plus the Dolby 2.0 mono audio caused my volume control to set broad jump records, in order to keep sound levels relatively comfortable.
Extras include the theatrical trailer and some interesting audio-only tracks, including a rebroadcast of "Leo On The Air," an MGM promotional tool that features Harlow actually singing the film's title song (her vocals are dubbed in the film by Virginia Verrill) and several soundstage rehearsals, also featuring the screen queen's unique warbling style. The novelty of these curios wears thin quite quickly.
If you're one of those people who watch movies "to be entertained, not to think," you might be in luck. Between too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen meddling with the production and a print which seems to have been stored in an unkempt garage, it's safe to assume that no quality control was employed in Reckless' creation and ultimate arrival on DVD.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1935
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Radio Promo
* Soundstage Sessions