The Reckless Moment (1949)

Many of the elements most common to film noir are absent from The Reckless Moment and so much so that one must squint hard into the screen in order to find any film noir aspects at all.

What we primarily find in The Reckless Moment is a variation on the so-called woman's picture of the day, in which a mother in a suburban setting finds the respectability and polite autonomy of her family threatened — you'll think immediately of Mildred Pierce.

But there are plenty of films in which women are forcibly ejected from their marital, suburban comforts, and obliged to hit the streets in serach of dangerous truths.

Max Ophüls (here billed as Max Opuls) was known for making films which take a female point of view, or films that had a female protagonist.

The Reckless Moment is certainly one of these, and it looks at the idea of resepctability head-on, basically stating in Joan Bennet's character that the way to be respectable is not to associate with people of a lower class, who are unrespectable.

Joan Bennet's own reckless moment comes when she disposes of the body of her daughter's lover, when he is accidentally killed.  This is a desperate attempt to avoid scandal, and it is the point at which the paranoia begins to ramp up, the moment when the tension pumps, and when shame blooms into criminality.

As we can see in Pitfall, and other examples as simple as Phantom Lady, the paranoid woman in the bud of suburbia is a common film noir subject ...

In film noir it is normal to find in both these suburban and in urban settings, weakened male characters, and in The Reckless Moment the man of ths house is in fact completely absent ("away on business") while James Mason as a blackmailer Donnely, makes an unconvincing criminal. And I think that James Mason, while an absolutely brilliant presence in the movies of the age, and the ages to follow, is not quite a film noir actor.

You could say the same of Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, who appears in Angels Over Broadway (1940) - some actors just didn't seem to gravitate into this form.

As a cinema-goer in 1949, you would have likely divined this from the posters in the foyer, in which Joan Bennet appears thrillingly paired with James Mason.

Looking at the film poster you'll see an image that not only does not occur in the film, but which suggests much more romance than is ever seen on screen.

In fact the characters are totally opposed, and this poster seems to suggest a mutual struggle against the elements, which is certainly not the theme of the movie.

Joan Bennett's character Lucia Harper is happily married throughout, although married to an absent man of whom we learn virtually nothing - save that he prefers blue Christmas trees.

As an interesting aside, Max Ophüls's son Marcel Ophüls became a documentary-film maker, and was director of among other things, The Sorrow and the Pity, which is a landmark movie of rare power, featuring of course in comic asides in Woody Allen's Annie Hall.

Without giving anything too much away, the ending of The Reckless Moment isn't quite as pat as it may otherwise have been, at least for a more run of the mill woman's picture.

While everything is rounded up in terms of conclusive plot endings, Joan Bennet is not punished by the law for her crimes, although her guilt, and the internal punishment she has inflicted on herself seems potent enough to suggest that she will be spending the rest of her life as an unhappy woman.

The same probably applies to her errant daughter.  Unlike the errant daughter in Mildred Pierce, the daughter in The Reckless Moment remains with the cloud of her past mistakes over her head, unpunished by society, and having we preume like her mother, to keep a sceret to the grave.

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