Reckless (1935): Victor Fleming’s Musical, Starring Jean Harlow, William Powell, Franchot Tone, May Robson

Victor Fleming directed Reckless (aka “Born Reckless” and “Hard to Handle”), a musical melodrama starring Jean Harlow, William Powell, Franchot Tone, and May Robson.

Grade: B


David O. Selznick wrote the story, using the pseudonym “Oliver Jeffries,” loosely based on the scandal of the 1931 marriage between torch singer Libby Holman and tobacco heir Zachary Smith Reynolds.

Harlow plays musical stage star Mona Leslie, who’s jailed for reckless driving.  She is bailed out by her friend, sports promoter and gambler Ned Riley (William Powell), to headline a charity event.

However, all the seats have been bought by wealthy Bob Harrison Jr. (Franchot Tone), president and only member of S.A.M.L. (the Society for the Admiration of Mona Leslie).

Mona begins dating Bob, with Ned’s approval. One night, while they are very drunk, Mona and Bob get married. The next day, Mona is pleased, but Bob gets depressed by anticipating negative response from his upper-class friends and family, especially his father, Colonel Harrison (Henry Stephenson).

Indeed, when the colonel and the rest of Bob’s circle are cold toward Mona, Bob wants to run back to New York, but she advises him to stay and stick it out.

The last scene is set on opening night, with Jo and Colonel Harrison in the audience. Mona starts off with a song, but hecklers make it impossible to continue. She quiets the crowd with a forceful justification of her actions and starts over.

When she is done, the audience gives her a standing ovation. During Mona’s next song, Ned proposes to her from the sideline.

Jean Harlow as Mona Leslie
William Powell as Ned Riley
Franchot Tone as Bob Harrison
May Robson as Granny
Ted Healy as Smiley
Nat Pendleton as Blossom
Rosalind Russell as Jo
Mickey Rooney as Eddie
Henry Stephenson as Harrison
Man-Mountain Dean as himself
Robert Light as Paul Mercer
Allan Jones as Allan
Carl Randall as himself
Nina Mae McKinney appears as herself
Leon Ames as Ralph Watson
Allen ‘Farina’ Hoskins as Gold Dust


Directed by Victor Fleming
Produced by David O. Selznick
Screenplay by P. J. Wolfson, story by Oliver Jeffries
Cinematography George J. Folsey
Edited by Margaret Booth

Production company: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Distributed by Loew’s Inc.

Release date: April 19, 1935

Running time: 97 minutes
Budget $858,000
Box office $1,339,000