THE RECKLESS AGE
Harry Pollard (US 1924)
The Reckless Age is a comedy-drama based on the novel Love Insurance by Earl Derr Biggers, best known as the author of the “Charlie Chan” stories. First serialized in a number of U.S. newspapers in February 1914, the novel appeared in book form later that year, when Klaw & Erlanger purchased the theatrical rights and assigned A.E. Thomas to adapt the story for the stage. Nothing came of this venture, but in 1919 Paramount produced the first film version (now lost), Love Insurance, and in the same year See-Saw, a musical also based on the Biggers novel, opened on Broadway to positive reviews. The story revolves around Dick Minot, an insurance agent assigned to protect a $100,000 policy taken out by Lord Harrowby, engaged to heiress Cynthia Meyrick. Harrowby needs money quickly, and the insurance policy is there just in case the marriage falls through before he gets to the altar. Minot is meant to ensure the wedding takes place, but he meets Cynthia on the train and the two fall for each other.
This most charming romantic comedy was shot at Universal City and on location at Los Olivos, California, and at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Production was announced at least as early as October 1923, with Eddie Cline earmarked as director, but the star, Reginald Denny, was injured in a car accident that month and the film wasn’t begun until January, by which time Cline had been replaced by Harry Pollard, who had brought Denny to fame as heavyweight boxing champion Kane “Kid Roberts” Halliday in their pugilist series of two-reelers, The Leather Pushers. Following the success of these 24 shorts, Pollard and Denny went on to work together in several Universal features, including race-car classic Sporting Youth, before filming The Reckless Age (both in 1924), and then smash hits Oh Doctor!, I’ll Show You the Town, and California Straight Ahead (all in 1925).
One of the more exciting sequences in the film is the automobile and train race through the Santa Ynez Valley, culminating in one of Hollywood’s most daring stunts, when the train and automobile almost collide at a crossing. For “Railroads in Films” historians, the use of the now-defunct Pacific Coast Railway and Locomotive No. 106 might be the only existing footage of this historic railroad and the Los Olivos railroad station in town.
The Beverly Hills Hotel location is also extraordinary, as there are very few examples of the hotel being used in silent films other than Harold Lloyd’s A Sailor Made Man. Both films show the exterior of the hotel in the early 1920s, but The Reckless Age shows the entire exterior of the hotel at Sunset Boulevard, the driveways, the front entrance, and various patios, verandas, and gardens (all standing in as the “Hotel de la Paix” in Florida).
Reginald Denny (1891-1967) was an amateur racecar driver as well as a stunt pilot and boxing champ – he certainly lived up to the “reckless” moniker by moonlighting as a daredevil pilot with the famed team of stunt flyers, The Black Cats. British-born “Reggie” had learned to fly the first military fighter planes in action when he joined the Royal Flying Corps (later the Royal Air Force) at the onset of World War I; seven years later and now a movie star, he bought a Jenny biplane along with two British Sopwith Snipes he had flown during the war. Hollywood’s top aviator club took note of Denny’s flying abilities and asked him to join as their “lucky 13th” Black Cat around the time of this film. The club would soar over the skies of Southern California performing such dangerous aerial stunts that it’s amazing Universal executive Carl Laemmle and Pollard allowed their leading man to conduct these devil-may-care feats while starring in their films, but as the Los Angeles Times stated back then about the invincible Denny: “Black cats have … nine lives, you know.”
Denny became one of Universal’s most popular actors of the 1920s, effortlessly blurring the line between romantic leading man and action hero. He made the successful transition from silent film star to the “talkies” and continued working steadily in movies and television until shortly before his death in 1967, while also making a name for himself as inventor of the drone and pioneer of unmanned aviation. His co-star here, Ruth Dwyer (1898-1978), never had the same success, yet she remains a recognized name thanks to her appearance opposite Buster Keaton in Seven Chances.
Marc Wanamaker, Kimberly Pucci
The restoration In 2013 the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF) contacted NBCUniversal regarding a 35mm nitrate film discovered by EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam among the archive’s unpreserved backlog. This Dutch-language print turned out to be a complete copy of The Reckless Age, a feature-length comedy produced by Universal in 1924, for which EYE had the only reported copy in the world. The tinted print was in remarkably fine condition, showing no nitrate decomposition but some shrinkage (1.2-1.6%).
Specifically, the NFPF asked Universal if the studio might be interested in funding its preservation. In 2015, when Universal initiated its Silent Film Restoration Project to honor the 100th Anniversary of Universal City, it added this title to the list and started working with NFPF’s Executive Director, who arranged to ship the film elements from EYE to the Library of Congress, and then to Universal City.
This print, with heavy dirt, stains, and scratches, was the sole source for the 4K digital restoration. Dirt and scratches were digitally removed, the film was stabilized, and film tears, warping, and shifts were repaired. Tints were analyzed with the assistance of Jere Gulden of the Packard Humanities Institute and recreated digitally to duplicate the tinting used for the print. The film’s 181 intertitles were recreated in English over a neutral, textless background.
Thank-yous go to EYE Filmmuseum for providing the source material; the Library of Congress and the National Film Preservation Foundation for their facilitation and assistance; and Jere Guldin (Packard Humanities Institute) for assistance with tint analysis. Restoration services provided by NBCUniversal StudioPost.
scen: Rex Taylor, [Edward T. Lowe, Jr.?], dal romanzo di/from the novel by Earl Derr Biggers (1914).
didascalie/titles: Tom Miranda.
photog: William Fildew.
cast: Reginald Denny (Dick Minot), Ruth Dwyer (Cecilia Meyrick), John Steppling (Spencer Meyrick), May Wallace (zia/aunt Mary), William Austin (Lord Allan Harrowby), Tom McGuire (Martin Wall), Fred Malatesta (Manuel Gonzalez), Henry A. Barrows (John Thacker), Frederick Vroom (Owen Jephson), William E. Lawrence (John Paddock), Dorothy Revier (Gabrielle Rose), Bertram Johns (duca/Duke of Lismore), Fay Tincher (duchessa/Duchess of Lismore), Hayden Stevenson (Henry Trimmer), Frank Leigh (Jenkins).
prod: Universal Pictures.
copia/copy: DCP, 4K (da/from 35mm, orig. 6954 ft.), 70′; did./titles: ENG.