Pre-Code Crazy: The Reckless Hour (1931)
And that’s why “Pre-Code Crazy” is the perfect name for my new venture with fellow blogger (and Dark Pages Senior Writer) Kristina, over at Speakeasy – she’s pre-Code crazy, too! So the two of us have decided to team up, on the first of every month, to highlight what each of us think is the juiciest pre-Code airing in the next 30 days on Turner Classic Movies. The best part is that neither of us knows what the other is going to pick until we post – so I’ll be finding out her choice along with all of you!
My selection for the inaugural edition of Pre-Code Crazy is The Reckless Hour (1931), starring Dorothy Mackaill. The Reckless Hour isn’t my first Mackaill outing – I’ve seen Safe in Hell several times (including on the big screen at my inaugural visit to the TCM Film Festival), as well as The Office Wife, Party Husband, Kept Husbands (what’s with Mackaill and husbands, anyway?), and Their Mad Moment – but it’s definitely one of my favorites.
What’s it all about?
The film centers on Margaret “Margie” Nichols (Mackaill), a dress model by profession, who lives at home with her parents and her little sister. In the film’s opening reel, Margie meets Allen Crane (Walter Byron), the handsome heir to a railroad fortune. Before long, Allen is taking Margie out on the town every night and gifting her with expensive jewelry – but he always manages to come up with a convenient excuse to avoid introducing her to his family. And you know what that means. Unfortunately, it appears that if we – and Margie’s sharper-than-he-seems Dad – know that Allen is a cad long before Margie does.
And that’s just the beginning. The rest of this economical, 71-minute feature is chock-full of pre-Code goodies, including pre-marital sex, pregnancy, marital infidelity, divorce … and Conrad Nagel!
What’s my favorite scene?
Early in the picture, we’re introduced to Margie’s family and, for my money, it’s one of the best scenes in the film, filled with first-rate writing and rich characterizations. You’ve got Margie, easy-going and lighthearted, and never one to shy away from a good time; Myrtle (the always awesome Joan Blondell), Margie’s feisty little sister, pea-green with envy regarding just about everything having to do with her sibling, from her job to her boyfriends; Margie’s status-hungry mother, Harriet (Helen Ware), who would sell either of her daughters to the highest bidder in exchange for a fur jacket; and Margie’s seemingly absent-minded but highly moral father (H.B. Warner), a bookstore owner who dotes on his older daughter. During the brief scene, the personalities of each of the characters are on full display – Myrtle grouses about Margie’s failure to help out around the house, calling her “duchess” and disdainfully referencing her “lily-white” hands, while Harriet fusses at her husband for forgetting to buy milk, snipes that Margie does nothing but “tail around in beautiful clothes,” and complains that her daughters ought to “be living in a place where they can have friends.” Walter divides his time between burying his nose in a book and defending Margie, while Margie herself seems to get a kick out of the entire proceedings.
(Honorable mention for the scene where Margie does the Tiptoe of Shame after getting dropped at home by Allen’s driver, only to discover that her father is waiting up for her. Busted!)
Who sez my favorite quote?
Even though it’s from the mouth of a dyed-in-the-wool heel, my favorite quote was this one from Allen:
“I’m awfully fond of Margie. I like her a lot. I think she’s a peach of a girl. I tell you, if I was going to marry anyone, it would be Margie. But I’m too young to get married. I don’t want to settle down. Not yet, anyhow. We just played around together.”
The Reckless Hour was directed by John Francis Dillon, who also helmed Clara Bow’s “comeback” film, Call Her Savage (1932). He suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 49.
Speaking of Clara Bow, both she and Dorothy Mackaill were named Wampas Baby Stars of 1924.
The screenplay for The Reckless Hour was adapted by Florence Ryerson from a play called Ambush. Ryerson also worked on the screenplay for The Wizard of Oz (1939).
Dorothy Mackaill and Joan Blondell were seen the previous year in The Office Wife (1930). They played sisters in that film, too.
The Reckless Hour is airing on TCM on Friday, October 10th. Check it out and go pre-Code crazy! You only owe it to yourself.