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"Reno" is a decent B movie about about the life and times of a Nevada
divorce lawyer. We first meet William Shear as the proprietor of a Reno
gambling casino. Strangely he is found to have a crooked roulette wheel.
At his preliminary hearing, we learn his story and ultimately determine
this previously honest and respected casino owner resorted to cheating.
Shear was a Reno lawyer who made a good living litigating mining claims. He turned to representing women who wanted quickie divorces after the miners left. Because the movie industry's production code prevented favorable treatment of divorce, the institution of Nevada divorces is very negatively portrayed. Shear's clients are all greedy, unhappy people and most of them try to seduce Shear even though he is married. The divorce practice and Reno lifestyle take a serious toll on Shear's marriage and his client solicitation tactics get him into deep trouble.
The picture is worth watching as an interesting treatment of the problems of divorce and mining law practice in Reno in the early part of the century. Shear's character is well developed and the competition between Shear and an established Reno attorney is also interesting. The plot contrivances, however, are very creaky and the female roles are shallow and unengaging.
I am not sure exactly why, but I have always liked Richard Dix and try
to see as many of his films as I can--even his B-movies and obscure
films. Perhaps I like his movies because he was not all that handsome
and didn't fit the Hollywood image of a leading man. Perhaps it was
because although a rugged guy, he had a knack for being able to play
vulnerable as well--such as in this film and "Ace of Aces". Whatever
the exact reason, although he's practically forgotten today, I really
like his films.
Here in "Reno", we have a moderately good movie and not a lot more--but Dix's performance manages to make it just a bit better. It begins in the present day and this part of the film is VERY hard to believe. It seems that he's accused of running a crooked gambling house but the entire rest of the film consists of Dix telling his life story and how THIS is the reason he arranged for one of his customers to lose. I could say a lot more but will suffice to say it's all been done to prevent this woman from making a mistake...the same sort of mistake Dix made decades earlier.
Well directed, a decent story and a nice amount of pathos and vulnerability make this a surprisingly good film--despite its relatively modest budget and scope.
"Reno" (1939) is a b-feature out of RKO Radio Pictures, unlikely to be
attractive to anything but fans of old Hollywood films. We fans find
merits in even those films that are minor, out of the way, mediocre and
unheralded. Even average Hollywood fare can be decent entertainment and
provide values of various kinds. In this case, the story is hokey but
nonetheless hooks us with some historical sweep and the presence of its
main star. Richard Dix plays a lawyer who has grown up with Reno and
helped it grow. He transitions from being a lawyer for small miners to
promoting the town as a divorce center to owning a gambling hall. His
marriage to Gail Patrick runs into strains.
Dix is the main attraction here. He is a leading man actor who always finds ways to make a character interesting across a wide variety of character parts. He's an actor who grows on you over time. He doesn't speak rapidly or softly or harshly, usually. He has a temperate moderate way of speaking, with inflections that suggest sincerity and depth of feeling. There is a gravitas in his screen persona.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"On the train to Reno", Norma Shearer declared in the same year's "The
Women", a classic sophisticated screwball comedy where disillusioned
wives headed from the Big Apple to the Big Worm of marital discord.
RKO's "Reno" is a missed opportunity, because what starts off promising
as a "San Francisco" like story explaining how Reno went from silver
mining town to divorce capital of the United States, ends up simply a
footnote in the history (told fictionally, obviously) of this now
thriving Nevada city. It starts with a young woman (Anita Louise)
plotting to expose a crooked gambling casino and the testimony of the
casino owner (Richard Dix) which reveals the history of the city and
explains his association with his accuser. As a young man, Dix was an
ambitious attorney and married the secretary (Gail Patrick) of the
mining company, but as his ambitions grew, his marriage fell apart, and
the array of quick divorces in Reno soon lead to Patrick's filing (much
reluctantly) and the unsurprising denouncement in the finale.
This could have been a little more detailed to have been less of a soap opera and given the viewer an opportunity to see the evolution of a town now known as "the biggest little city in the world". The performances are sincere and the detail which is there is excellent, but somehow it feels like a big chunk of the plot is missing. Also, the pretense of Louise setting up her potential downfall just to get even with Dix seems false. However, it is nice to see Ms. Patrick playing a basically nice character as opposed to the snooty or scheming socialites she had been playing for years. This is a definite curiosity, but sadly, one that had the potential to be so much better.
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