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HALL OF FAMEon 16 April 2007
Is The Reckless Moment a noir or a melodrama? I'll vote for both. Whatever it is, the film is a superb drama of, as one person has said, "maternal overdrive." And if the plot sounds familiar, think of that wonderful movie, The Deep End starring Tilda Swinton from 2001. The Deep End is a remake of The Reckless Moment.

Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett) is an upper-class wife and mother with a young, teen-age son and a 17-year-old daughter. Lucia's husband is away. The family lives in a fine ocean-front home in "the lovely community of Balboa," fifty miles south of Los Angeles. Bea Harper is just old enough to get herself in trouble with men and just young enough not to want to listen to her mother. The older man she's been seeing is a sleazy, charming opportunist. When Lucia realizes what's going on, she warns the man away...and soon she finds him dead at their boat house. She thinks her daughter was responsible. With little hesitation, Lucia Harper does what she thinks she must to protect her daughter and her family. She drags the body into a small boat and dumps it on the far side of the ocean inlet. When the body is eventually discovered, murder is suspected. And then Lucia is visited by a dark Irishman, Martin Donnelly (James Mason). He has letters written by her daughter to the man, letters which could be interpreted in a compromising way if they were turned over to the police or to the press. The price for silence? Thousands of dollars which Lucia can find no way to raise. In a subtle, slow rearrangement of feelings, Donnelly, who is a disreputable man hardened to pleadings, finds himself sympathetic to Lucia's determination to protect her family. Donnelly's partner, however, is made of harder and more cynical stuff. The conclusion takes place in the darkened boathouse and then in an act of sacrifice that may have you wondering about what you would have done.

I think this is at least a semi-noir because of the desperate fix Lucia Harper finds herself in. The more she tries to protect her daughter and the more she tries to raise the money the blackmailers want, it seems the more the consequences of her actions close in around her. The flip side of that noir coin is the role and personality of Martin Donnelly. Ever so slowly we can see him drawn to Lucia Harper. But he's drawn not simply to her as a person as he is to what she and determination, a stable family, a fierceness to protect those she loves. If Lucia Harper may be doomed by circumstances she wants to control but can't, Martin Donnelly may be doomed by feelings he never expected to have and for which there can be no happy ending.

The Reckless Moment starts out as Joan Bennett's movie. In my view she remains one of the least appreciated of Hollywood actresses. She played heartless women so effectively (Scarlet Street, for instance) that her versatility was obscured. Yet she could match Myrna Loy in good-natured irony and desirability, and was equally good at portraying lovingly exasperated mothers. She was shrewd, as well, being quite willing to play mothers of grown children as she moved into early middle-age. The Reckless Moment, however, becomes a two-person movie as soon as James Mason appears at Lucia's home bearing those letters. Mason was one of the great film actors. With a face that could stay calm but imply all sorts of feelings, some unpleasant and nearly all conflicted, just below the skin, with an incomparable voice and with great acting technique, Mason could turn dross into gold. Matched with Bennett, the two of them perform a kind of dance where each needs the other to do well.

How does The Deep End compare to The Reckless Moment? I think they are both first-rate movies. The Reckless Moment was Max Ophuls last American movie before he returned to Europe. It's available on a Region Two DVD from Second Sight in a fine black-and-white transfer. Special features include an introduction by Todd Haynes and a commentary by Lutz Bacher, credited as the author of Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios.
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TOP 50 REVIEWERon 27 October 2014
The Reckless Moment is one of Max Ophuls' best films, combining style with substance in a way that really takes the viewer to the heart of things. Ostensibly a film noir about a mother being blackmailed over a dead man who had received love letters from her daughter, it tells of her contact with the milder of the blackmailing duo, who falls for her and becomes a changed man. James Mason breathes such life into this character who seems to have got off on the wrong foot right from childhood and sees in this woman the mother he never had, prepared to go to any lengths to protect her children. This role, played by Joan Bennett, is also a remarkable achievement, as her actions are so noble to the point of blaming herself where she really has no reason to. She is clearly out of her depth, her husband is away in Europe and she doesn't want to bother him with any of this, her father is elderly, and her children are in their teens. The film is a lot about roles and how they work - you see Lucia (Bennett) coming downstairs to see her blackmailer and putting on her earrings as she does so - the accessories allowing her to to fulfil her role, it seems. A key to her nervousness is chain-smoking, but her feeling and intelligence are undermined by a lack of experience of the criminal underworld. The art student daughter is initially headstrong but comes round, if only because the older boyfriend proves right to her face what her mother had said: that he is a sleazy layabout. The son, meanwhile, being younger, is blissfully unaware and spends most of the film flaunting himself, adding a comic note. Ophuls films the whole thing with his customary style - has foliage overhanging a path to a boathouse ever looked more beautiful in moonlight? The reckless moment itself is where Lucia takes matters in hand on discovering the dead body, fearing how this will incriminate her daughter - an early morning sequence shot to silence by the water's edge, both freshly lit and strange in tone, quite unlike any other scene. By the end the night has come to dominate but the two leads have shone such a light onto the human condition that it still feels bright with a far-reaching empathy.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 March 2011
During an argument Bea Harper {Geraldine Brooks} strikes out at her unsavoury lover, Ted Darby {Shepperd Strudwick}, felling him with a blow that sends him tumbling to an accidental death. When her mother Lucia {Joan Bennett} finds the body she quickly hides the body out at sea to hopefully make things look better. But soon the menacing Martin Donnelly {James Mason} turns up with love letters that Bea had sent Ted and sets about blackmailing Lucia. But all is not going to be straight forward as Martin & Lucia are strangely drawn to each other.

The Reckless Moment is directed by Max Ophüls, it's adapted from a shorty story titled "The Blank Wall" and cinematography comes from Burnett Guffey. A tight enough picture technically, it is however something of let down considering the plot involves blackmail, murder, deception and sacrifice. Highly regarded by some notable critics, the film's strength, outside of the two excellent lead performances, comes by way of its flip-flop of the sexes plot. Reversing the roles of an innocent involved with a shady good for nothing gives the film a unique feel, but it also makes the film play as a melodrama as opposed to being a darkly noirish potboiler. Add in to the mix that Ophüls is content to go for emotion over criminal drama and it's an uneasy sit all told.

Where Ophüls does very well is with the distinction between Lucia's two differing worlds. She's from comfortable suburbia in Balboa, the epitome of contented respectability. But as she arrives in L.A. and does her "reckless moment," the landscape and tone changes. She herself significantly wears sunglasses at key moments and Messrs Ophüls & Guffey bring on the shadows and swirling cameras to portray the feeling of entrapment for our protagonists as they get deeper into it. The key scenes revolve around the Harper boathouse and the guys get maximum impact from this darkly lit venue. There's also some suggestion of manipulation that offers an intriguing train of thought, while the final shot begs to be given far more dissection than just seen as being a standard film closer.

Visually smart and acted accordingly, but not to my mind the nerve frayer that others have painted it as. 6/10
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on 14 September 2009
This film does not appear in the majority of Biops of Joan Bennett a big mistake. It is a classic . What a bargain from Amazon. Buy it. The location shots of Balboa and the staging and direction by Max Ophuls will never be seen again.
Highly recommended for any 1940's film buff.
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on 15 May 2013
Joan Bennett (Lucia) takes it upon herself to end her 17-year-old daughter Geraldine Brooks' ((Bea) relationship with the rather ridiculously named Shepperd Strudwick (Ted Darby) by paying him a visit and saying "no more". A bit interfering if you ask me. Anyway, quite rightly, he refuses. And then he turns the tables on her and asks her how much its worth, before she storms off back home. Bennett confronts daughter Brooks and insists that she no longer has any communication with Strudwick. That night, however, circumstances culminate in a death which Bennett spends the rest of the film trying to cover up. When blackmailer James Mason (Martin Donnelly) turns up on the scene, it is yet another burden that she must overcome.

The film has a story that involves the viewer from the beginning. It's a shame that Bennett's children are so irritating, especially son David Bair (David). I can't stand children who say "swell!". It's more than just that with him, though. Anyhow, this is Joan Bennett's film as she leads the proceedings. James Mason turns up with a dodgy Irish accent - he really didn't need to do that, and he underplays his bad guy role so as to come across as actually a nice guy. It's all rather nice but a bit unbelievable.

There are good scenes when Bennett has to face situations on her own, such as each time she makes a trip to the boathouse and the wind blows shutters and lamps and makes things creak, and the scene where she decides on her course of action on a beach with the dead Strudwick. However, the film also has annoying segments by involving a husband on the telephone. These calls show Bennett as being deceptive and the way the film ends, apart from being totally convenient, has another telephone call that will have you screaming "What!! Are you kidding!? That's not the situation that I've just been watching!" Just tell the truth, woman. That's a lot to keep to yourself. Ha ha. The film has to lose points for daft things like that.
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on 4 March 2014
Max Ophüls never disappoints, nor does he with this first-class noir thriller. James Mason adds his usual touch of class to the film, as a villain, as he does to so many in that capacity, and Joan Bennett, of course, is the consummate actress in her role here as the mother caught up in dangerous predicament partly of her own making.
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on 12 February 2009
Max Opuls had stunning versatility. He seems so at ease and knowing operating here, in a American postwar middle class domestic story setting. Nothing seems out of place or rings false - and there is none of the snideness that European film directors often were unable to conceal when they dealt with such subject matter. Anyway, this is a terrific story: tense and believable, and given the Max Opul polish. His long takes are so refreshing, compared with some films of the era, that relied on cut and paste editing because directors lacked the imagination and daring to use the camera more demandingly. The extras on this DVD are very informative. The whole Opuls collection is worth exploring, and this maintains the high standard. A surprisingly neglected quality film.
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on 8 January 2014
This is a rollercoaster of ride of a movie. James Mason cast against type as villian then he turns out to be not the hard cold killer. While tough housewife fight for her family and home. Blinding, fast paced thriller.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 28 October 2015
This 1949 film was the last that Max Ophuls’ made in Hollywood before embarking on his outstanding series of French films in the early 1950s and whilst The Reckless Moment lacks the ironic wit of the later films – it being more of a 'domestic-noir’, rather than a 'social-sexual satire’ – it still has a good deal to commend it. Perhaps heading the list of its qualities is a bravura central performance by Joan Bennett as the devoted mother and family-woman, Lucia Harper, caught up (as a result of conspiring circumstances) in a tense tale of murder and blackmail at times reminiscent of Hitchcock. Bennett here – cast ‘against type’ in comparison with her femme fatale roles for Fritz Lang earlier in the decade – delivers a masterclass in motherly restraint and denial, remaining steadfast in the face of her increasingly desperate situation.

Ophuls is, once again, focusing on a life dilemma faced by the female of the species, coaxing a top performance from his star actress (as he did elsewhere with the likes of Joan Fontaine, Danielle Darrieux, Simone Simon and Martine Carol), the pair together delivering a brooding, subtle mood throughout. This mood is integral with the film’s outstanding (principally studio-bound) mise-en-scène and Burnett Guffey’s outstanding black-and-white cinematography. The pairing of Ophuls and Guffey may not quite deliver the flamboyant visuals of Ophuls and the later Christian Matras, but the film-maker’s trademark long takes are (perhaps more subtly) in evidence here, along with a typically impressive use of shadow and framing – even if Ophuls’ exhaustive working methods were frequently at odds with the Hollywood studio (Columbia).

Acting-wise, the film is very much a two-hander between Bennett and James Mason’s blackmailer, Martin Donnelly, and both impress greatly (even if 'Irishman’ Mason’s accent is rather 'up and down’). However, there are also impressive cameos by Shepperd Strudwick’s suave seducer Ted Darby and Roy Roberts as Donnelly’s sinister sidekick, Nagel. The film’s major theme of the wholesome, unshakeably moral family is also complemented by (civil rights activist) Francis E Williams’ great character turn as the family maid (on whom they depend more and more) Sybil. Another key theme of the film is that of 'women without men’ – Mr Harper being thousands of miles away on business, 'available’ only by phone or letter – as Lucia struggles to marshal the resources (bank loan, pawned jewellery – the latter a humiliating dilemma revived in the later Madame de…) to satisfy her blackmailers (in a perceptive dig at how husband-wife relations used to work).

Perhaps the only area where Ophuls’ film is less than entirely convincing for me is in the (too) rapidly developed romantic interest between Lucia and Donnelly. That said, the film is certainly well worth watching and the Second Sight DVD has an interesting introduction by film-maker Todd Haynes and (an albeit rather dour) commentary by film academic Lutz Bacher.
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on 14 February 2013
Totally controlled and subtle semi-noir-cum-woman's picture with sympathy for all except the hoodlum 40-something perv who disrupts the middle-class world of Joan Bennett by copping-off with her innocent pre-rock 'n' roll daughter. It's all down to her absent husband who is 'off' doing his 'thing' in Berlin. Into her world comes roguish no-hoper James Mason desperate for a better life who remembers what his mother preaches back in Oir-land. Her smoking habit tells us about how much she misses 'it'. It's so unhealthy, she's told.
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