The Reckless Hour (1931)
"Apart from the light relief supplied by Joan Blondell, Ivan Simpson and Joe Donahue, The Reckless Hour was an ineptly made melodrama about a hapless, unworldly girl who falls for a lying cad whose promises of happiness are as false as he is, and who, ultimately, is rescued from total ruin by a kindly artist in a happy-ever-after ending.
Written by Florence Ryerson and Robert Lord from a story by Arthur Richman, and directed by John Francis Dillon, its cast was headed by Dorothy Mackaill, Conrad Nagel (as the artist) and Walter Byron (as the cad). H.B. Warner was the heroine’s father.”
- From The Warner Brothers Story by Clive “Crankypants” Hirschhorn
Yes, another downer of a review for a perfectly serviceable potboiler. Former Ziegfeld girl Dorothy Mackaill is a little stiff at times, and she’s carried over a few mannerisms from the silent era that don’t quite fit in the talkies, but she’s a decent actress and has a fragile quality that helps sell an otherwise unsympathetic character. The review isn’t quite right in calling her “hapless” and “unworldly”; although she’s not as canny as her brassy sister (played by a show-stealing Joan Blondell), she’s a model at a fancy clothes shop and has clearly had some practice at brushing off unwelcome advances. She’s a little immature, which is at least partly due to her ambitious mother, who is unconcerned about her daughter’s flexible morality as long as it bags her a rich husband; and also her decent, loving, but passive and inattentive father, played with warmth and dignity by HB Warner.
The real weakness is the artist character played by Conrad Nagel, who doesn’t really seem like a huge improvement on the cad who abandons her. He’s recently separated from his wife, and has sworn off women, but as soon as he sees Dorothy Mackaill he starts leering at her in a most unpleasant fashion. It doesn’t help that he has weird eyebrows.
All in all, though, it’s a brisk little picture that doesn’t stick around to wallow in misery for very long before racing to its happy (ish) conclusion. The direction by John Francis Dillon is competent if uninspired, and although the story is light on surprises, it’s dramatically and morally coherent, and as a pre-code film is fairly frank about premarital sex, divorce, pregnancy, infant death and something that comes very close to what could be politely described as concubinage.
The Reckless Hour is only available from Warner Archives, who say they haven’t digitally restored it, but the print looks and sounds fantastic anyway. It’s available as part of a burn-to-order Dorothy Mackaill double feature which also includes Adventures in Africa (1930), which I haven’t seen yet but looks like a fun musical.