The Reckless Hour isn’t one of the great pre-code movies but it’s worth a look if only for the performances.
Margie Nichols (Dorothy Mackaill) models clothes for a fashion house. She lives with her parents and her sister above her father’s bookshop. Her father is rather dotty but he’s a kind old gentleman who worships his daughters. Margie has been dating Harry Gleason (Joe Donahue) but she’s not really that interested. He’s not rich enough or glamorous enough for her. That’s fine by Myrtle (Joan Blondell) because if Margie doesn’t want him she’d be happy to take him off her hands.
It’s pretty clear that underneath her surface sophistication and glamour Margie has a lot less understanding of men than Myrtle has. Myrtle can look at Harry and see that while he’s not an obvious great catch he’s a nice guy and basically decent and a girl could do a lot worse. Myrtle has a firm grip on reality and if a halfway decent man comes along she intends to get a firm grip on him as well.
Margie has meanwhile found what she imagines is the ideal man. Allen Crane (Walter Byron) is rich and handsome and he and his friends have lots of fun. The more level-headed Myrtle hears the alarm bells going straight away. If a man seems too good to be true, run. And this one has cad written all over him.
Margie however has convinced herself that he loves her and that they will be married. Pretty soon they’re sleeping together.
Of course you can see what’s going to happen next but Margie can’t see it at all. The inevitable disaster ensues.
Margie’s father stands by her but his loyalty to his daughter will have unfortunate consequences. Needing money urgently for Margie’s sake he gets sucked into a get-rich-quick scheme and that turns out the way you’d expect it to as well.
Allen Crane’s friend Edward Adams (Conrad Nagel) is a different kettle of fish. While Allen is not ready for the responsibilities of marriage (and probably never will be) Edward has already taken that step. And he’s been hurt as badly as Margie has. It’s made him bitter towards women but underneath the bitterness he’s quite a nice guy (and more of man than Allen will ever be) and he’s rather taken by Margie. The question is, can she penetrate his cynical bitter exterior to get to the real man underneath? And does she still have a chance for happiness?
The plot was old even in 1931. Allen is a stock-standard melodrama cad and Margie is a stock-standard naïve poor girl just waiting for a cad to come along and ruin her.
Director John Francis Dillon isn’t exactly inspired either, so this movie has quite a few things running against it. What saves it are the performances.
Dorothy Mackaill is one of the great forgotten Hollywood actresses. A big star in the silent era she seemed to be making a successful transition to talkies in the early 30s but the end of the pre-code era also marked the end of her career. She did virtually nothing at all after 1934. That’s a great pity because she was a fine actress and she manages not to make Margie’s naïvete irritating, which is quite a feat. She gets the blend of innocence and surface sophistication just right and she manages to be hardboiled and vulnerable at the same time.
Joan Blondell once again finds herself in a supporting role, which was pretty much the story of her career, always playing the heroine’s best friend (or as in this case the heroine’s sister). As late as 1957 in Desk Set she was still playing the female lead’s best friend! As always she’s delightful and funny and engagingly sassy.
The male characters are less developed but Conrad Nagel is impressive while Walter Byron is an entertaining if predictable cad. H. B. Warner gives the role of Margie’s father the combination of dignity and kindliness that it requires.
Warner’s made-on-demand DVD includes this picture and other Dorothy Mackaill pre-code film, Bright Lights. The prints are unrestored and there are occasional sound problems but picture quality is generally good. Given the obscurity of these movies this is the best they’re ever going to look and this double feature is worth grabbing.
A movie that is worth seeing if only for Dorothy Mackaill and Joan Blondell. Recommended as long as your expectations aren’t too high. And it does have a considerable quantity of pre-code frankness about pre-marital and extra-marital sex.