Reckless (1935): Movie Review

Reckless (1935) Musical starring Jean Harlow, William PowellThis week’s musical: Reckless (1935)

Studio: MGM

Director: Victor Flemming

Starring: Jean HarlowFranchot ToneWilliam Powell, May Robson, Rosalind Russell, Nat Pendleton, Mickey Rooney, Ted Healy, Henry Stephenson, Leon Ames, Allan Jones as a featured singer

Plot: Musical actress Mona Leslie (Harlow) goes on stage thinking she’s performing for a charity event to find the whole house bought out by heir Bob Harrison (Tone). Mona falls in love with Bob as he is courting her, and her gambling agent Ned Riley (Powell) sits silently in the background, though he is also in love with Mona. After a drunken evening, Bob and Mona marry and they face the disapproval of Bob’s wealthy society family.


– The film was originally supposed to star Joan Crawford under the title A Woman Called Cheap. However, producer David O. Selznick replaced Crawford with Harlow before production to capitalize off of Harlow and Powell’s real-life romance, according to the Darrell Rooney and Mark Vieira book “Harlow in Hollywood: The Blonde Bombshell in the Glamour Capital, 1928-1937.”

– Dancer Betty Halsey doubled for Jean Harlow in the long shots.

– The film’s plot was very similar to a scandal that occurred two years earlier involving singer Libby Holman and her husband, tobacco heir Zachary Reynolds. Similarly to the film, Reynolds drunkenly committed suicide. Holman threatened to sue for libel, but never did. Harlow was also uncomfortable, because the scandal in the movie was similar to that concerning the death of her own husband Paul Bern. However, Powell convinced her to make the film, according to “Harlow in Hollywood.”

– The story was also used in two 1933 movies, Sinner, Sing, starring Leila Hyams, and Brief Moment, with Carole Lombard.

–  Harlow’s singing was dubbed by Virginia Verrill. “She (Jean) realized that I couldn’t have credit for my singing,” Verrill once said, “so she went out of her way to give me a hand whenever she could.”

– Reckless was the first Jean Harlow film to lose money.

Highlights: A very young Leon Ames marrying Rosalind Russell.

RECKLESS 3Notable Songs: This isn’t your typical musical. There are really only three musical numbers, including:

– ”Reckless,” performed by Harlow and dubbed by Virginia Verrill (However, I think the very beginning of the song is Jean’s singing. You can hear the switch.), written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein.

-”Trocadero,” sung by Allan Jones and danced by Harlow.

-”Hear What My Heart is Saying,” performed by Harlow and dubbed by Verrill.

Review: I guess calling this a musical is a stretch. It’s really a melodrama with three or four songs and dances built into the plot, and none of the songs move the plot along. However, since it is categorized as a musical, the  1974 documentary That ‘s Entertainment features it, and Jean Harlow’s birthday was earlier this month (March 3), I decided to highlight the film. Reckless may be the first Harlow film to lose money, but I don’t think it’s unwatchable. It’s interesting, it kept my attention, the plot keeps moving, but I will say it isn’t Jean’s best picture. The film is interesting however, since it is shot around the time William Powell and Jean Harlow started their romance. You also see Rosalind Russell early in her career, though she is not the comedic Russell we are used to seeing. Early in her career, Russell is cast as the other woman or the forgiving, jilted friend–as in Evelyn Prentice, China Seas and Man-Proof, to name three. Certainly not the comedic lady we later came to know. Also keep your eyes peeled for a young, line-less and un-credited Leon Ames as he marries Russell. If you are looking for a musical with show stopping numbers, this isn’t it. But if you enjoy a good MGM melodrama with a few songs sprinkled in starring the original platinum blond, check it out.

Comet Over Hollywood, named for the 1938 Kay Francis film Comet Over Broadway, offers anything from Hollywood beauty tips to rants about Katherine Hepburn. Jessica Pickens is a journalism student at Winthrop University who is interested in silent films to anything made before 1964. She writes for Winthrop’s student newspaper, The Johnsonian, and the Shelby Star in Shelby North Carolina. Visit her Facebook page.