Major Rupert Hughes was one of those weird real-life characters whose life story would make an excellent movie. He was an uncle of Howard Hughes, and appears to have acquired some of the same mental disorders as that billionaire. Rupert Hughes dabbled in several art forms -- he wrote a novel, he wrote a book of history, he produced a few films -- but some of those endeavours (such as this movie 'Reno') appear to be merely soapboxes for Hughes's various bugaboos.
Shortly before 'Reno' was released, Hughes's wife ran off to China and hanged herself ... and I shouldn't wonder if the timing was no coincidence. This movie is horrible.
Ostensibly, 'Reno' is a drama about the marital travails of Emily Dysart (Helene Chadwick). She has married Roy Tappan (Lew Cody), who is suave and handsome but turns out to be a scoundrel. Fortunately, Tappan divorces her, saving her the trouble of getting her own divorce. Emily marries Walter Heath (George Walsh), rather less handsome than her previous husband but much brawnier and the salt of the earth. Tappan marries Dora Carson (Carmel Myers). Sorted? Not quite, because Emily's marriage to Tappan produced two children, Paul and Ivy, whom she wants to raise, but Tappan has spitefully retained custody of them.
Most of this movie is some weird sort of divorce travelogue. Emily and her new husband proceed to pursue the Tappans all over the eastern United States -- from New York to South Carolina -- trying to find a state where the divorce laws are most congenial for Emily to regain custody of her children. The film takes a didactic tone. For some reason, filmmaker Hughes is clearly outraged that American divorce laws vary from state to state, and this movie is largely a screed against that situation. At one point, the action shifts to Virginia for the sole purpose of informing us that a girl can legally marry at age 12 in that state. (This is no longer true, but was apparently so in 1923.) Hughes doesn't seem to realise -- or perhaps doesn't want to realise -- one blunt fact: each of the states in the USA is an autonomous commonwealth that can write its own laws, so long as none of them are unconstitutional.
Eventually, Hughes seems to realise that this movie needs some sort of action climax. So, Emily's new husband chases her old husband out to Yellowstone Park, where they proceed to brawl at the edge of a geyser just before it erupts. Oh, blimey! Their fight scene is made even more ludicrous because weedy Lew Cody is clearly no match for burly George Walsh, yet Hughes keeps the fight going anyway in an attempt to create some suspense. It's no surprise how the fight ends, but it takes its time getting there.
In the role of Emily's brother, a stiff and mannered performance is supplied by one Rush Hughes, stepson of the guy who dealt this mess. Apparently, Rupert Hughes at least had the grace to adopt his wife's children before she hanged himself. I'll rate this bilge just 1 point in 10.
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