Born Reckless - 1958
Born Reckless - Released November 1958, Directed by Howard H. Koch
Mamie Van Doren (as rodeo "trick rider" Jackie Adams) meets itinerant rodeo bull and horse rider Kelly Cobb (actor Jeff Richards) and his buddy, a wizened veteran rodeo hand "Cool Man" (actor Arthur Hunnicutt) and the three end up travelling together from rodeo to rodeo. Frequently she is accosted by men who are too eager to invade Jackie's personal space (basically they grab her*) and repeatedly Kelly comes running to the rescue. Soon an unsaid romantic interest is growing between the two, but wealthy rodeo fan Liz (Carol Ohmart) intervenes and distracts Kelly not only from Jackie, but from his original goals for following rodeos in the first place: to scrape together enough money to buy a piece of land to settle down on.
Van Doren sings several numbers in Born Reckless ("Home Type Girl," "A Little Longer," "Separate the Men from the Boys," and "Something to Dream About") and usually hits her notes, but not always, and this seems to indicate a lack of training or lack of time on the part of the production company to get it right. The script from Richard Landau leans heavily on double entendres more or less in the same mode as some Marilyn Monroe films, but Landau goes a step further with rodeo language and it certainly becomes tedious and makes me wonder if they were confused whether Van Doren was a human being or livestock. Director Koch follows suit with camera positions that seem intended to record the biggest possible visual statement about Van Doren's torso.
There are plenty of perfectly banal scenes in which Van Doren, Richards and Hunnicutt struggle to survive while on the rodeo circuit, crisscrossing the rural United States and living off bad food and dealing with dangerous animals, double-dealing rodeo business people and loneliness, and the question is why didn't Landau and Koch build-up and sharpen this human part of the film versus the laughably exploitive parts? Van Doren is quite good in some places, as is Hunnicutt everytime he's on camera, but Richards is doomed to play a male love interest that inexplicably goes from kind-hearted, hard-fisted country boy to seedy, washed-out and jaded for a long segment, and then back to patient and sincere, which doesn't make a lot of sense except its how the mechanical plot requires him to go when Carol Ohmart pulls him from the Hollywood straight and narrow.
There are pieces here and there of a pretty good film interspersed throughout the 80-minute runtime, but too much of Born Reckless is predictable, and at its worst it becomes a smarmy cartoon. Stunt work is good, and the rodeo segments are good, too. But in the end, Hunnicutt deserves better, Van Doren needed better, and Richards probably would have been better, too, with a different production emphasis.
Born Reckless is currently streaming via Warner Archives online service.
*The smarmy posters for Born Reckless say: "The breakneck guys who grapple with death every day so they can grab for Mamie every night"
Original Page August 2017 | Updated Dec 2017
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