Born Reckless (1958) DVD Review: My Long Hard Ride with Mamie Van Doren

A delightfully dumb ditty that is bursting with equestrian euphemisms and great B-grade bombshells.
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Though the notion of an actor or actress being a "sex symbol" had been in existence well before the someone coined the phrase in the '50s, it wasn't until that glamorous decade itself rolled around that things really started busting out all over. Quite literally in some cases - so much so that the concept of "skill" was often regarded as secondary when it came to some of America's "biggest" sex symbols, such as a legendary trio of lasses who would become known as The Three Ms in some circles: Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Mamie Van Doren. They were the blonde bombshells with the built-in bombs who wowed every man, woman, and hungry infant from all corners of the world with their God-given "talents."

It was also around that time that the American film industry began to shed a portion of its Hays Office-induced self-censorship. For the first time in decades, people on the silver screen began to notice breasts. Especially when they were of the beautifully big and bouncy variety, such as on Jayne Mansfield and Mamie Van Doren - both of whom were basically the B movie world's various answers to the more mainstream Marilyn Monroe. Actually, Jayne Mansfield was pretty much the B movie Marilyn, while poor Mamie Van Doren was more of a replacement for Ms. Mansfield. As such, the films of Mamie Van Doren have achieved a legendary status of their own as being much worse than that of her cinematic counterparts' output.

Should further proof be required for me to elucidate my point, a brief gander at the 1958 quickie Born Reckless is now available on DVD from the Warner Archive Collection. Here, the top-billed Mamie Van Doren (look, if Mamie gets top billing, you know you're in for a hoot) portrays Jackie Adams: a saloon singer who also does some trick horse ridin' in the rodeo. And while Jackie is one of two people in the entire movie who actually pronounces it "roʊ.ˈdeɪ.oʊ," it's not enough for the abundance of male chauvinist pigs to take her seriously, to wit she's always being assaulted by lecherous old men and horny young cowboys. And it is during one such act that rodeo stud Kelly Cobb (Jeff Richards) comes to her rescue.

High-tailing it from the external barroom brawl that ensues, Jackie stows away inside Kelly's station wagon and becomes part of a pilgrimage from one rodeo competition to another with Kelly and his mentor/partner, a decidedly cool man who is aptly named Cool Man. Cool Man is played here by the great Arthur Hunnicutt, who looks like he is either completely bored out of his skull or busy plotting the assassination of his agent for setting him up in this stinker. Perhaps both. And so, Arthur simply phones it in by playing the exact same character from The Lusty Men. Come to think of it, The Lusty Men would have be a more appropriate title for Born Recklessthan for the Robert Mitchum vehicle it was assigned to.

Also, now that I think about it, Mamie Van Doren's motion picture debut was in a Robert Mitchum flick. Huh! Anyway, as the tale transcends into its various stages of expertly displaying human emotions… Oh, who am kidding? After too many unremarkable rockabilly/western tunes (a contribution by Tex Williams being the worst by far) and the movie's performers - be they good, bad, or indifferent - effortlessly recite their poorly-scripted dialogue, Jackie begins to fall for hunk of wood Kelly. Kelly, on the other hand, hitches up with an ultra-promiscuous rodeo whore in a condominium-sized convertible (B horror movie legend Carol Ohmart, sporting dark hair for a change) and gets wasted the night before a big competition. (And loses the next day.)

There's also a subplot about Kelly's adopted Mexican family, led by patriarch Papa Gomez, who is actually brought to life by an actual Mexican actor, Nacho Galindo (Irish character actor J. Carrol Naish was apparently busy at the time, so they threw all caution to the wind). In any case, Kelly keeps borrowing moolah from Papa Gomez so that he can keep entering rodeo competitions. His eventual plan is to buy some land with Papa and start up a ranch - wherein he will no doubt enslave the Gomez family, threatening to send them back across the border whenever they complain. I'm fairly certain there's a plot somewhere under the first or third layer of fluff, though said filling is thicker than Mamie's boobage, so it's pretty hard to pinpoint.

Interestingly, Carol Ohmart - one of many buxom bombshells "discovered" during the '50s, best known for House on Haunted Hill (1959) and Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told - is not the only B movie horror actresses of note to appear in Born Reckless. The late Jeanne Carmen (who plays another rodeo groupie at the end of the picture), popped up in the creepy Creature from the Black Lagoon-inspired The Monster of Piedras Blancas (which we're still waiting for on DVD!) after popping out in Striporama under a burlesque dancer alias a few years before, as well as appearing in Untamed Youth with Mamie Van Doren.

And, just like Mamie's Mansfield to Mansfield's Marilyn, an even less-revered B movie horror actress can be see in the opening of Born Reckless as a flirty trailer gal. Surely the Mamie to Marilyn's Mansfield, Asa Maynor never made many contributions to film or television on the whole, but her debut in notorious Z-grade schlockmeister filmmaker Jerry Warren's first feature, the yeti-themed (and surprisingly good by Jerry Warren standards) Man Beast, as well as her role as the terrified flight attendant in that classic Twilight Zone episode where William Shatner sees a gremlin on the wing of the plane - to say nothing of her brief marriage to Edd Byrnes - is just enough in my book.

Sporting a screenplay by Richard H. Landau (The Black Hole, The Quatermass Xperiment, Pharoah's Curse), Born Reckless was one of many low-budget films directed by movie producer Howard W. Koch (who enjoyed much better luck producing gems like The Odd Couple and Sinatra classics such as The Manchurian Candidate). Producer Aubrey Schenck, who brought us the wonderful Robinson Crusoe on Mars as well as the joyfully dire Don't Worry, We'll Think of a Title co-wrote the story with Landau. Fortunately, it was the second and last time Schenck ever put pen to paper in that regard (or at least admitted doing so in the credits).

Tough guy actors Don "Red" Barry and Jack Lomas co-star in this delightfully dumb ditty that is bursting with equestrian euphemisms towards Mamie Van Doren's shapely figure and the most unconvincing close-ups ever for the movie's male rodeo actors (which were clearly shot in front of a drab backdrop). While it's definitely not award winning material, it's a good way to garner a few laughs (or at least facepalms) from your family and friends (if you still have any) who are as easily amused and/or hypnotized by the sight of Mamie's chichis like the men in the movie. The Warner Archive presents the bumpy bareback ride known as Born Reckless as barebones disc with an above-average widescreen presentation with mono English soundtrack.

Still, it's better than Sky Full of Moon. Plus, just look at all of the cool, useless B movie trivia I have given you with this piece!

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