Movie Review By Monica Sullivan
52 years before "The Deep End," Max Ophuls made a Columbia film noir based on Elisabeth Saxnay Holding's short story "The Blank Wall." It was released on December 29, 1949, four days after Christmas and perhaps not the best season to release such a grim family saga, so it failed to find an audience. Ophuls had a long track record making lush romances in Europe ("Liebelei" in Germany, "La Signora Dl Tutti" in Italy, "Mayerling To Sarajevo" in France) and, most spectacularly, 1948's "Letter From An Unknown Woman" with Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan, which LOOKED European even though it was made at Universal Studios in Hollywood, California. The following year, there were high hopes for MGM's "Caught" and "The Reckless Moment," both starring James Mason, but neither film caught on with the public, so Ophuls returned to France to make another string of classic movies ("La Ronde," "Le Plaisir," "The Earrings Of Madame De" and "Lola Montes"). "Caught" and "The Reckless Moment" were constantly shown in revival theatres in the seventies and eighties, leading to a noir rediscovery and video release for "Caught," but not for "The Reckless Moment," at least not yet.
It was a point of departure for femme fatale Joan Bennett to play Lucia Harper, who will stop at nothing to preserve her family's comfortable life in Balboa, California. Geraldine Brooks as her daughter Bea has fallen in love with Shepperd Strudwick as Ted Darby, a blackmailing scoundrel. When Lucia tells Bea the truth about Darby, the lovers fight and she injures him, but not fatally. Darby tries to follow Bea, but falls into the water and drowns. To protect Bea, Lucia conceals the body, but soon discovers that a dead Darby is as much trouble to the Harper family as he was when he was alive . Nagle, a nasty loan shark, enlists his handsome partner (James Mason as Martin Donnelly) to continue blackmailing Lucia for the return of Bea Harper's love letters to the late Ted Darby. Then the subliminal romantic smoldering begins as one damn thing after another happens to Lucia & her new conscience-torn friend. Well, if you had to choose between a money-grubbing partner (played by Roy Roberts) or the stunning Joan Bennett as Lucia, where would your loyalties lie? I remember crying at Lucia's and Martin's dilemma the first time I saw "The Reckless Moment" and I wish I could see it again to see if it would have the same effect on me now. The fact that this mismatched pair are seen by the great Max Ophuls places them in a world apart from her secure existence and his otherwise shady dealings. By 1950, Joan Bennett was playing the mother in "Father Of The Bride" and James Mason was still trying to lure U.S. audiences into movie theatres. "The Reckless Moment" survives as Ophuls' penetrating view of an America where serenity is maintained with savagery & a staggering price tag.
© 2001 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 8/22/01
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