Year Released: 1918
Distributor: Kino Classics
Running Time: 14 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Two Knights of Vaudeville, Ten Nights in a Bar Room
-This review reflects the remastered version of the Pioneers of African-American Cinema collection as seen on DVD, Blu-Ray, and on Netflix.
-A Reckless Rover was filmed in Chicago.
-The production company Ebony Film Corporation folded a year after this film was released.
I finally outdid myself here. This is now the oldest film I’ve reviewed which is ninety-nine years old. Wow, I’m going older than old-school with this short silent film.
A Reckless Rover is about some rapscallion named Rastus Jones who stays in bed all day until he is woken up by a policeman. He gets out of the house and loses the pursuit of said cop as he ends up working at a Chinese laundry establishment. Rastus tends to both things while working such as messing up people’s cleaning orders and smoking an opium pipe on the job. Random vaudevillain slapstick action ensues.
With CN David’s short film along with other very old films, there is a part of me that really wants to respect their work with them being the first filmmakers, but age can really reveal how flawed a film is. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind seeing some slapstick even if it came out before my grandparents were even born, but even I have my limits. From the title screen, we see some Sambo/minstrel-show looking Black cartoon characters, that raised more red flags than the entire landscape of China, Kyrgyzstan, and Switzerland combined. Rastus basically shucking and jiving his way out of some wacky situations while some piano jazz music plays in the background. Even the Chinese laundry owner is totally in yellowface that makes Mickey Rooney’s role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s look politically correct by comparison.
That’s not even getting into the production. It’s very old as one can tell by looking at the date, but the actual film was damaged so badly in the beginning, that I can barely tell what’s going on. It’s like someone burned a giant hole through the celluloid through most of the opening scenes. It does improve after that, but even then the editing gets quite jumpy. Even some of the title cards are misspelled and I’ve seen some anime series with more grammatically correct English. I’m not talking about slang here. One example of a title card reads “Your aiming to high.” No. I didn’t make any of this up. Even an elementary school student can spell that sentence correctly. Are you trying to insult my intelligence here? It was just abyssal getting through this short film.
A Reckless Rover is one ancient short film that is better left forgotten. I know people will defend this because of film history, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it such as The Birth of a Nation (hey, I was in cinema classes during my university years, so I was forced to watch that film). The portrayals of African-Americans is just offensive even without the title cards with those Sambo cariactures around. I mean, how bad do you have to suck in the realms of Black stereotypes when the freaking crows from Dumbo are less offensive than this (and when the lead crow’s name is Jim, that’s saying a lot). The production is horrifically hampered by the aged and damaged film and most of the comedy plays up racial stereotypes for Blacks and Asians alike. This was just mind-numbing to watch and it’s only for those who want to know more about silent films or God forbid, get their kicks on seeing minorities denigrated to buffoonish images on screen. Look, Hollywood still has a long way to go to write POCs as competent as their Caucasian counterparts let alone having directorial roles, but at least if someone made something like A Reckless Rover today, they would easily be lambasted by the masses. Please skip this film.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like silent films
-Fun jazz score
-The bedroom scene as Rastus tries to avoid the policeman
-Some wacky slapstick
-Incredibly offensive portrayals of Blacks and Asians
-Major protagonist centered morality with the Rastus character
-Obvious typos on the title cards
Final Score: 1/10 points
Content Warning: From an objectionable content standpoint, it’s tamer than most modern movies, but it’s not for all audiences. There’s some slapstick violence that does include guns. Rastus smokes an opium pipe and he gets higher than a kite while dancing around. Keep in mind this predates Reefer Madness, by the way. The portrayal of minorities is also disgusting regardless of the time period it was made. Everyone who sees A Reckless Rover regardless of ethnicity could easily see why it’s all problematic and this was directed by an African-American filmmaker which makes it harsher in hindsight.