Friday, October 23, 2015

Born Reckless (1930)

Fans of early talkies may be interested by the fact that FXM Retro will be running Born Reckless tomorrow morning at 6:00 AM.

Edmund Lowe stars as Louis Beretti. As we see him at the beginning of the movie, it's night in the big city. The camera pans to a jewelry store, and Louis and his gang are doing a smash and grab on the store! Unsurprisingly, this gets the police involved, and Louis makes a quick getaway to the apartment where his parents and sister (Marguerite Churchill) live. It's a ruse, of course, and the police figure it out and turn Louis over to the court system. All of this action takes place a good dozen years before the present day, which means that World War I is going on. The judge gives Louis a choice. Either he can go to jail, or he can enlist in the army and fight over in Europe. Louis selects the latter option.

Cut to Europe, where there is indeed a war going on, and the Americans have recently entered. Louis sees one of his friends die, but he's able to survive the war because if he didn't, this would be a very different movie. Louis heard his dead friend talk about his sister Joan, and when he does return home from the war he goes to see the sister with the intention of starting a relationship with her. Except that she's already got a fiancé and she isn't the right social class for him anyway.

So Louis decides to try to join the upper classes by opening a posh club, which really means a speakeasy since Prohibition quickly followed the end of World War I. Louis is about as law-abiding as you can expect a speakeasy owner to be, meaning that even though he knows all the old gang friends, given a choice he'd prefer just to be running the club. But with alcohol being illegal, you know that the gangsters he knew are going to get him involved again. Eventually, Joan's baby is kidnapped. Louis had mentioned to Joan that if she ever needed anything, she could come and see him. Now she does, and in an exciting climax, Louis goes and gets Joan's baby. But it's going to mean he has to get involved with the law and the gangs again....

In some ways, there's a lot going on in Born Reckless as it jumps from one part of the plot to the next, and that's really to the detriment of the film. It's difficult to figure out exactly what's going on at times what with all the clunky dialog. John Ford directed this, although it's more accurate to say that he co-directed it with screenwriter Andrew Bennison joining him. Ford had done quite a bit of work in the silent era so one can guess that he directed the more expressive scenes that look like they could have fit in in a silent, while Bennison handled all the stuff with the heavy dialog. (This is probably a reasonable guess since Bennison only directed one more movie while Ford went on to greatness.) But whoever directed what, it's a mishmash of some stuff that's visually interesting interspersed with all that dialog, because dammit, people could talk in the movies now.

One person to watch for is Lee Tracy, playing a reporter who covers the legal proceedings when Louis gets sent to Europe, and stays around up through the ending. He's already doing an early version of the cynical characters he would play, but not nearly as hard-boiled as in some of his later movies. But even his fast-talking can't save the dialog scenes.

In short, I think Born Reckless is a movie you'll watch once and then forget about watching again. But as always, judge for yourself.

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