The Reckless Moment is one of Max Ophüls’ American films, and one of the two film noirs he finished (the other is Caught). Along with Preston Sturges, he was one of many directors on the ill-fated Howard Hughes-produced noir Vendetta, a film that ended up costing 4 million in 1950, YIKES! Ophüls would never make another American film after The Reckless Moment, finishing his career in France where he made perhaps his most well-regarded films, including the stunning The Earrings of Madame de…
No filmmaker besides Stanley Kubrick and Paul Thomas Anderson could move a camera like Max Ophüls, and even in this short 82-minute feature his graceful long takes are in evidence—which is why the aforementioned filmmakers were such disciples of his work. Given the nature of the film and its length, it’s not quite as dazzling as The Earrings of Madame de…, but it’s all there.
The Reckless Moment was based on the novel The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, and the film was later got a New Queer Cinema remake as The Deep End by David Siegel and Scott McGehee. The original is much better, although Siegel and McGehee are very talented filmmakers, just see Suture first.
Basically Joan Bennett plays housewife Lucia Harper, whose daughter’s older lover is found dead. Lucia finds the body and, believing her daughter did it, decides to cover it up. James Mason has one of his darkest roles here as Martin Donnelly, who has been hired by the dead man’s loan shark to blackmail Lucia into paying off the debts he left behind. They have obtained love letters between the two. And as you may guess, it’s not as cut and dried as she just pays him and it’s over…
It’s one of the handful of 1940s noirs that successfully merged the noir with domestic melodrama. Mildred Pierce is the other most notable one, which elevates it to achieve a very unique place in the genre. Many of the best directors of melodrama had a background in noir. Douglas Sirk, for instance, came out of noir and then did all those amazing melodramas. Even in perhaps his best and most underrated film, There’s Always Tomorrow, he uses noir aesthetics in a fairly straightforward melodrama. Max Ophüls was also primarily known for his melodramas before and after his forays into noir.
The Reckless Moment was not successful at the time, but due to increased interest in Ophüls’ work over the years and the 2001 remake, it has now gained a well-deserved place as a classic noir. It’s interesting that you rarely see Lucia’s husband Tom, and she is forced to fend for herself against these obvious sleazebags, which of course is about absent fathers/husbands in a post-war America.
Indicator has compiled a definitive Blu-Ray release for a film that has been crying out for one for years. Todd Haynes’ appreciation of the film from the previous DVD is carried over; a 44-minute in-depth analysis by Lutz Bacher, who wrote a book on Ophüls, is included; as are some lectures on James Mason, and a discussion after a screening of the film hosted by Adrian Garvey and Sarah Thomas, who also contribute two separate lectures. The isolated music track and a stills gallery finish off the on-disc extras, and finally there is a 36-page booklet with new and archival writing on the film.