December 14, 2020
Night Life in Reno (1931)
Grade: 55/100

Director: Raymond Cannon
Stars: Jameson Thomas, Virginia Valli, Arthur Housman

What it's about. An early talkie from "poverty row" Weiss Brothers studio. John (Jameson Thomas) and June (Virginia Valli) Wyatt are a childless upper middle class couple. June catches John in a hotel room with floozy Dorothy (Dixie Lee).

June promptly moves out, and heads to Reno, Nevada for a divorce. She consults garrulous lawyer Garrett (Clarence Wilson), who tells her she can get her divorce, but per state law, it will take six weeks. John Wyatt also travels to Reno with hopes of a reconciliation, which Garrett encourages.

Meanwhile, both Wyatts separately join the active Reno night life, which consists of visitors waiting for a divorce, and locals who make a living off of them. June's new best friend is party girl Gwen (Dorothy Christy). The despondent John meets comic drunk Roy (Arthur Housman). To cheer John up, Roy dials a party girl he knows: Gwen. She sets up a double date unwittingly involving the Wyatts.

The film takes an unexpected dark turn when Roy's long-suffering brunette bombshell wife shows up with a handgun to take out her unfaithful husband. Cynical district attorney Pat O'Malley pins the rap on June, who had earlier been in Roy's apartment.

How others will see it. Knowledgeable cinemaphiles will identify actress Dixie Lee as the first wife of Bing Crosby. Crosby never divorced; Dixie Lee died of ovarian cancer in 1952. Arthur Housman spent his talkie career playing drunks though he never touched the stuff. He nonetheless also died young, in 1942.

The obscure talkie does its amusing moments. Dorothy flirts outrageously with John, who can't escape her siren call. Much later, Roy and John attempt to secure the services of two prostitutes, to no avail. Overall, though, Night Life in Reno is regarded as a bore. At, it has a microscopic user vote total of 76. The user ratings are also low, only 5.0 out of 10. American viewers grade it higher (5.4) than non-Americans (4.4).

How I felt about it. The film remains interesting until the advent of Rita Carlton. One would think that she would be glad to be rid of her philandering, drunkard husband. Waiting a few weeks for the divorce seems more prudent than offing him, then hunting down his new girlfriend to do her in as well.

Her behavior is strange, more fitting for targeting a Rudy Valentino than a comic drunk. The district attorney is also odd. It seems he doesn't care who committed the murder as long as someone is willing to confess to it. Finally, it is an eye-roller that John would confess to a murder on the spot, to free his wife. Does he really think that June packed a handgun and had no recourse but to use it on drunken dolt Roy?

Alas, the misguided final third of the movie drags down the first two-thirds as well. Night Life in Reno is pre-code, meaning that it was not subject to the Hays Code that toned down movies and made certain that bad behavior (in all forms) was punished. The Hays Code was around in 1931, but not enforced until 1934.