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The Reckless Moment More at IMDbPro »

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47 out of 50 people found the following review useful:

Joan Bennett highlights Max Opuls' nuanced, ironic film noir

Author: bmacv from Western New York
17 December 2001

The sultry temptress of Fritz Lang's Scarlet Street and The Woman in the Window, Joan Bennett dons spectacles and a harried mien as a respectable mother in a California coastal town. Family life is proving nettlesome, what with a husband traveling the globe on business, a teenage son drawn to inappropriate states of attire, and two live-ins, a father-in-law and a cook/housekeeper. The nettle-in-chief, however, is her handful of a daughter (Geraldine Brooks). Like her predecessor Veda Pierce, she fancies herself a worldly woman and has taken up with a penniless but pretentious lecher, who winds up dead. Bennett's battle to cover up the death becomes the story's meat. Into the mix ambles James Mason, wanting $5-grand for incriminating love letters.... Mason, with an Irish lilt, is the film's most intricately shaded character (and he gets top billing) but Bennett delivers a controlled, expert performance, possibly her finest. The star of The Reckless Moment, however, is the great Max Ophuls (though the directorial credit has it "Opuls"). Displaying evocative chiaroscuro -- Burnett Guffey was cinematographer -- and voluptuous slow takes, Ophuls creates a rich texture ranging from shabby seaside respectability to the grungy sidewalks of nearby Los Angeles. This splendidly nuanced work has emerged as one of the standouts of the noir cycle, its ironies so understated that their oppressive weight isn't felt until long after the film has unspooled.

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42 out of 46 people found the following review useful:

Top notch suspense melodrama with excellent cast.

Author: haroldg-2 from Philadelphia
13 July 2001

'The Reckless Moment' is Max Ophuls' excellent 1949 suspense melodrama, starring James Mason as a blackmailer who falls in love with his desperate victim (Joan Bennett).

Ophuls direction is superb, with the suspense mounting in every scene as housewife Bennett, mistakenly believing her daughter has killed a man, disposes the body and tries desperately to hide the girl's involvement from the police and her family. Then Mason appears, demanding money for incriminating love letters he has which the daughter had written to the dead man. The plot thickens from there, with Bennett trying to shield her family from scandal as the blackmailer begins to admire and then love the devoted housewife and mother.

James Mason is always excellent in sinister roles, and his performance here is one of his best, though his character's motivation isn't quite clear. By his own admission, he's a loser who's never done a decent thing in his life, so why he suddenly develops a conscience is never fully explained.

But who wouldn't fall in love with beautiful Joan Bennett, giving the performance of her career as the desperate mother who's commonplace life is suddenly turned upside down by crime and blackmail. Ophuls, who the year before had guided Joan Fontaine through one of her greatest performances in 'Letter From an Unknown Woman,' drew from Bennett her most natural, believable performance. She's never been better.

Highly recommended for the outstanding direction and two great stars in peak form.

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42 out of 47 people found the following review useful:

The Fragile Surface of Middle-Class Life

Author: mackjay from Out there in the dark
1 May 2003

Burnett Guffey's fluid camera pulls the viewer into THE RECKLESS MOMENT, grasping and constantly renewing our gaze. Lucia's (Joan Bennett)lakeside house seems impossibly enormous and labyrinthine as the heroine moves through it in a near-somnabulistic state. The camera's grip on the viewer is no less powerful when Lucia goes outside the house: this is because the dangerous outer world has invaded the safe American family home. For 80 minutes, the two worlds will be inseparable.

Others here have praised Joan Bennett's performance. It is also of interest to note that this is Bennett's transitional picture from single woman to matriarch. One year earlier, the actress appeared in THE SCAR, a still-underrated, oppressively dark film noir in which she is not a femme fatale--as she had so memorably been in SCARLET STREET and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW--but a lonely doctor's receptionist drawn into the shadowy scheme of her lover/employer. Beginning with THE RECKLESS MOMENT, Bennett would go on to embody several maternal characters: among the most noteworthy would be in the next film, FATHER OF THE BRIDE.

The mother character is important here because it re-casts the family melodrama in Post-War terms. It is the mother, not the absent, disembodied father, who must restore the normality of her household. This is no weak, helpless woman. Lucia demonstrates assurance and bravery from the very beginning, as she enters the seedy underworld of Ted Darby, her young daughter's lover, played brilliantly by a virtually ignored Sheppard Strudwick. Later, when things go horribly wrong, Lucia never tells her husband about it. It is up to her to maintain a grip on the safe veneer of middle-class life.

At every turn, Bennett is matched by James Mason as Martin Donnelly. This a role Mason would be better know for, if this film had any real circulation apart from pirated video copies. For some reviewers, Martin is the most interesting character: his development is far more dramatic and thorough than that of the heroine. Mason is completely inside Donnelly and forces the viewer to believe the transition.

The film's supporting cast has little to criticize apart from David Blair as Lucia's incredibly annoying son. The seemingly ubiquitous Roy Roberts makes a authentically frightening villain. And Geraldine Brooks shows why this actress was so often cast in films during this period. There are several bit players to be noted: Kathryn Card and William Schallert, to name a couple. who, like Strudwick and Bennett herself would go on to later careers on the small screen.

THE RECKLESS MOMENT is badly in need of restoration and distribution on home video.

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27 out of 29 people found the following review useful:

Not a wasted frame

Author: christopher-underwood from United Kingdom
20 July 2007

Near perfect, this is a marvellous and magical non stop emotional thriller with the camera moving with such fluidity we can only stare in wonder. As the camera swirls, so does the middle class family of Joan Bennett. She is constantly keeping the plates in the air, cheering them along chiding them at dinner or suggesting changes of clothes. When trouble strikes it is she who has to confront the big bad world and visit the boat shed, the less salubrious parts of town and confront people and issues she never has before. All seems to depend upon her and James mason's character appears forcing financial worries on top of all else. Until he falls for her and begins to relent and finally even more. Not a wasted frame.

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14 out of 15 people found the following review useful:

Excellent 40's thriller.

Author: ( from United States
24 September 2009

This movie is result of an unusual combination, of a foreign movie director working within limitations of Hollywood in the 40's. This is really one most impressive thrillers and of my favorite movies. Ophuls does a great job working within pretty simple story line and illustrating how strong of a grip a family can have on a person life and how quickly it can come apart when fate intervenes. Ophuls camera creates nagging, dark atmosphere out of this middle class community, sort of like on a Twin Peaks episode. The story deals with a housewife, played by Joan Bennett, having to manage her family while her husband is abroad. Her daughter's relationship eventually escalates into blackmail and Joan has to deal secretly by herself with this problem, while trying to manage her family and keep everything under control. Bennett is excellent at portraying a person whose world is slowly caving in under pressure. Ophuls cleverly uses just about every scene to illustrate the tensions and inner conflicts of Bennett's character. James Mason is great as a refined crook who suddenly finds himself feeling empathy for others. Can't think of too many actors who could pull this off, or other places in time where this character would work. In addition to strong acting performances, there are lot of interesting allegory in the things which Ophuls shows and a very strong ending make this movie a masterpiece.. A + most strongly recommended.

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16 out of 19 people found the following review useful:

Blackmail, murder, and dark secrets

Author: didi-5 from United Kingdom
22 January 2005

An unusual film, this slow-burner starring Joan Bennett and James Mason seems like a straight-forward murder and blackmail case, but that's only part of the story. Joan Bennett is the mother living apart from her husband (he's working away), and coping with her growing son and daughter, and their maid. James Mason is an Irish low-life, who hopes to make money from Bennett's family misfortunes.

From the start, where we see the 'murder' and find out what really happened, to the startling ending, this film, directed by Max Ophüls, grips. Aside from the two leads, Geraldine Brooks is good as the teenage daughter struggling with a lost love affair and the hormonal rage of puberty; and Kathryn Card is suitably condescending as she refuses to loan money to the increasingly desperate Bennett.

'The Reckless Moment' has a frisson of noir, and a strong script. It is a minor film, certainly, but a rewarding one.

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14 out of 16 people found the following review useful:

Suspenseful Melodrama

Author: Claudio Carvalho from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
16 August 2010

In the charming community of Balboa 50 miles from Los Angeles, the middle-class housewife Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett) travels to Los Angeles to meet the scoundrel Ted Darby (Shepperd Strudwick). Her seventeen year-old daughter Beatrice (Geraldine Brooks) is in love with Ted that is a worthless man. He asks for money to leave Bea, but Lucia refuses to give. Bea does not believe on her mother and during the night she sneaks out to the boat garage to meet Ted that admits that Lucia told the truth. Bea pushes him and Ted falls on an anchor immediately dying. On the next morning, Lucia finds the body and assumes that Bea has killed her lover. She decides to get rid of the corpse and puts it in her boat and dumps far from home. When the police find Ted, the stranger Martin Donnelly (James Mason) visits Lucia to blackmail her on behalf of his partner Nagel (Roy Roberts) that has several letters that Bea had written to Ted, asking US$ 5,000 for the letters. The desperate Lucia tries to raise the amount since her husband is working in Berlin. However, Martin falls in love with her and tries to help her. But the dangerous Nagel wants to receive the amount at any price.

"The Reckless Moment" is a suspenseful melodrama of Max Ophüls. The despair of Lucia is impressive trying to protect her family and specially her teenage daughter from the scandal. The plot point is when the criminal falls in love with her and as he says, he had never done a decent deed in his life but he decides to help his beloved victim. Joan Bennett is fantastic in the role of Lucia and James Mason is a nice villain in the end. David Bair plays the annoying son of Lucia that is irritating. In 2001, Tilda Swinton played the lead role in "The Deep End", a good remake of "The Reckless Moment". My vote is seven.

Title (Brazil): "Na Teia do Destino" ("In the Web of the Destiny")

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11 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

Compelling, unusual Ophüls drama

Author: Richard Burin from
30 August 2007

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Fascinating, brilliant Noiresque melodrama: the second best of Ophüls' three American films, after 'Letter From an Unknown Woman'. Joan Bennett – a staple of Fritz Lang's excursions in the genre – is cast most effectively as a Lake Tahoe housewife, trying to cover up a murder apparently committed by her daughter. Deserted by her husband for Christmas – he's away on a business trip* – she tangles with Irish blackmailer James Mason and his ferocious, softly-spoken accomplice, Mr Nagel.

The film's masterstroke is in placing its generic hallmarks – the sleazy, manipulative older man duping an innocent, the brooding blackmailer and the merciless hand of fate – within (and against) such a well-realised familial set-up, in such a comfortable, ordinary, well-lit community. The bright house, like something from a TV soap, is contrasted superbly with the other-worldly eerieness of the boat house at night. A similar juxtaposition: a nightmare fast unravelling within an ideal, was used in Nicholas Ray's terrific 'Bigger Than Life'. Here, Ophüls also uses visual tricks to telegraph danger and impending catastrophe, as in the lights-on/lights-off sequence that commences the film's first night. The director's trademark tracking shots are also much in evidence: there's a tremendous one to set the scene as Bennett returns from Los Angeles some five minutes in.

The film is powered by Bennett's edgy, protective central performance. She's a nervous tic in human form as her character juggles traditional responsibilities with new ones, like trying to raise £10,000 in two days. The scenes in which she is gradually, casually degraded by uncaring loan companies and pawnbrokers are masterfully done. What other film would bother to show that? Her scene with Mason in a car crossing a lake, is similarly potent: eloquent dialogue forcefully delivered. At times betraying the B-movie woodenness that ultimately prevented Bennett ever being a top drawer star, her housewife nevertheless has a certain something more real, more compelling, more caring, more obsessively, believably maternal than almost any other on-screen parent of the period. Mason gives one of his best performances too, and his final confrontation with Bennett is an absolute gem. There's also fine work by David Bair and Geraldine Brooks, as our would-be murderer.

'The Reckless Moment' is fast-moving, persuasive entertainment, written and shot with an eye for the unusual. There's also a curious (albeit fatalistic) happy-ish ending. Its themes are as enduring as its poetic imagery, Bennett's emotional and sexual repression (neither relieved by any outlet), the mundane practicalities of domestic '40s life and the soon-to-be-familiar 'generation gap' conflicts within the family unit giving this home front Noir a feel that's all its own.

(3.5 out of 4)

*The original story was set in WWII, hence the absence of the husband. Bennett's scenes on the telephone with her husband (and her conversation about him with his father) bear some resemblance to those in a great American home front picture released five years before: 'Since You Went Away'. Claudette Colbert's surprising tour-de-force at the heart of that film is one of the few screen mothers superior to Bennett's. 'The Reckless Moment' also recalls a 1948 Noir in which a happy post-war bubble is cruelly punctured – that time by Robert Ryan – the twisty-turny 'Act of Violence'.

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9 out of 9 people found the following review useful:

A Subtle & Intriguing Domestic Melodrama

Author: seymourblack-1 from United Kingdom
9 August 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"The Reckless Moment" is a domestic melodrama which features blackmail, the violent deaths of three of its characters and a number of unexpected plot developments. Most of all however, it's the story of a mother who is prepared to go to extreme lengths to protect her family and the lifestyle that she values so highly.

Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett), a middle class housewife whose husband is away on business, could not have imagined the events that would follow when she decided to confront her daughter's boyfriend about their relationship.

Ted Darby (Sheppard Strudwick) is a man of dubious character who is significantly older than Lucia's daughter Bea (Geraldine Brooks) and he soon makes it clear that he'd be perfectly willing to stop seeing Bea for an agreed sum of money. Lucia doesn't pay up because she's confident that Bea wouldn't want to continue seeing a man whose feelings for her are so shallow. Lucia's judgement turns out to be wrong as Bea makes it clear that she doesn't believe what her mother says about Ted and also has no intension of ending their relationship.

When Ted and Bea meet next in the Harpers' boathouse, their discussion of what transpired in Ted's meeting with Lucia triggers an argument which culminates in Bea striking him with a torch and him accidentally falling to his death. When Lucia discovers what's happened, she disposes of his body in the nearby harbour and returns to her normal domestic routine.

Unexpectedly, after Ted's body is found the police don't establish any connection between him and Bea but a threat to the tranquillity of the family's life comes from a blackmailer called Martin Donnelly (James Mason) who surprisingly turns out to be a charming, generous and completely unthreatening person who gradually falls in love with Lucia.

Lucia finds it impossible to raise the full amount of money that she needs to pay the ransom without the signature of her husband and this leads to the intervention of Martin's violent partner called Nagel (Roy Roberts) and an unpredictable series of incidents follow which gradually lead to a resolution of Lucia's problems.

Events show Lucia to be someone who had a fierce compulsion to protect the social standing, lifestyle and perceived respectability of her family at all costs and this made her prepared, without hesitation, to dispense with all moral or legal concerns about what she needed to do to achieve her aim. When it also becomes apparent that she suffers from feelings of being suffocated by the demands and constraints of her family life, the presence of this ambivalence serves to illustrate just how strong her protective instincts really are.

Joan Bennett and James Mason's excellent performances, the elegant and effective direction by Max Ophuls and some wonderfully stylized photography by Burnett Guffey all contribute strongly to the success of this subtle and intriguing movie.

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9 out of 12 people found the following review useful:

It was my way of doing something that made everything wrong!

Author: Spikeopath from United Kingdom
26 January 2010

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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