The Reckless Moment (1949)

Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett) is a middle-class wife and mother who lives in the idealistic commnity of Balboa, California, about 50 miles from Los Angeles.

As the film begins, a narrator tells us that Lucia drove into LA about a year ago. In a flashback of this trip, we see her meet a sleazy scoundrel named Ted (Henry O’Neill) in a bar and warn him to stay away from her daughter, Bea (Geraldine Brooks). He’s willing to leave Bea alone… if Lucia will pay him.

(Image: Noir of the Week)
(Image: Noir of the Week)

Lucia refuses to give Ted any money and heads home to tell Bea what happened, but of course Bea doesn’t believe a word of it. That night, Bea sneaks out to meet Ted.

The next morning, Lucia finds Ted’s body and assumes that Bea must have killed him. Lucia will do anything in her power to protect her family from facing the consequences of Ted’s death, even if that means getting wrapped up in a blackmail plot with a stranger named Martin Donnelly (James Mason) and his boss, Nagel (Roy Roberts).

Max Ophuls directs 1949’s The Reckless Moment. The film is based on a story called “The Blank Wall,” which was originally published in Ladies’ Home Journal. Mel Dinelli, Robert Kent, Henry Garson and Robert Soderberg collaborated on the adapted script.

The Reckless Moment boasts and incredibly engrossing plot of murder and scandal. There isn’t too much of a mystery element here since we know that Ted has died and we know how he died, but we’re kept anxious over how it will all work out for the family. Will Lucia take the blame, or will her daughter face the consequences?

All of the drama is carried off by two great leads, Bennett and Mason. Geraldine Brooks also gives a very good performance. The only weak link in the cast is David Bair as Lucia’s son David Harper, but his character isn’t terribly important. Bair’s delivery is unnatural, but since his role is pretty small it doesn’t do much to bring the film down.

Bennett is the star who really shines here. The determination of her character to solve this problem for the sake of her family is the film’s driving force, and Bennett makes it so the viewer can feel that determination radiating from her character. Her expressions show her character’s anguish so perfectly.

A great score and beautiful cinematography also work in the films favor (minus the use of some very obvious green screen work). The scenes of Ted’s late-night meeting with Bea and his death are some of the best in terms of cinematography. Those shadows!

The Reckless Moment is a pretty great watch. It’s got a wonderful cast, a somewhat complex plot of murder and blackmail, and it is visually very nice to look at. It isn’t a film free of weaknesses, but I’d recommend it for any fan of drama or noir. The score: 4/5

5 thoughts on “The Reckless Moment (1949)

  1. Joan Bennett is another of those fantastic actresses who doesn’t get her due, I much prefer her to sister Constance. Once she ditched the blonde hair which for some reason washed out not just her looks but a great deal of her screen personality she was a terrifically gritty actress, from what I’ve read a straight shooter in private life and on set, someone who was able to handle the notoriously tough Fritz Lang by cussing him out when he started to be difficult.

    I love this taut drama with Joan exceptional as the panicked mother and the great James Mason just right as her conflicted anti-hero. It’s a pity they only made this one film together because they interact so well.

    I think it’s wonderfully directed by Ophuls with great atmospheric cinematography. Have you seen the updated version The Deep End with Tilda Swinton? It’s also a fine film with a bit of reworking but this has a distinct allure of its own.

    Most of the supporting cast isn’t given much to do which helps focus the film but an interesting character is the faithful maid Sybil played well by Frances Williams. Always in the background but seemingly all seeing she emerges with a nice showing of grit and understanding at a climatic moment. But you’re right the real focus as it should be is on Joan and James.

    I’ve also read the book “The Blank Wall”, a solid read, on which this is based and the film hews relatively closely to the source with some updating and tweaks to a few characters. Enjoy reading your take on it.


    1. I have not seen the updated version, but I’ll have to seek that out! I’m always interested to see how films like this are modernized, or how they measure up. My hopes are somewhat high for The Deep End with Tilda Swinton starring. I haven’t seen many of her films, but I’ve been consistently impressed when I have seen them.


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