Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Reckless Moment

A few months back, TCM showed the rarely-seen noirish film The Reckless Moment, which was a new-to-me film. It's getting another airing on TCM tomorrow morning at 10:30 AM.

Joan Bennett stars as Lucia Harper, the mother of a middle-class family in late-1940s California who has some family problems. Her husband (Henry O'Neill) is often away on business, so she has to deal with the problems by herself. The biggest problem is that of her daughter Bea (Geraldine Brooks), a would-be art student who has taken up with a much older man (Shepperd Strudwick) who is decidedly not right for her. Lucia drives down to Los Angeles to tell the man she doesn't want him seeing her daughter any more, but he shows up that night at the family's boathouse. Mom confronts him and her daughter, and in the ensuing scuffle, he hits his head and dies an accidental death. Mom knows that the police would never believe such a story, and besides, there's the scandal that would be involved. So mom takes the rowboat and dumps the body in the lagoon. Everybody lives happily ever after, except for the dead guy.

Well, of course, that's not quite how the movie goes. If everybody had lived happily ever after following Strudwick's death, there wouldn't be much of a movie. So what happens is that one Martin Donnelly (James Mason) shows up at the Harper residence with some bad news for Lucia. It turns out that stupid Bea, in her love for her older paramour, had written a bunch of love letters to him. Those letters have wound up in the hands of Donnelly, and he wants a large sum of money for them; much more than Lucia could possibly come up with unless she notifies her husband of what's going on. So it looks like nobody is going to live happily ever after.

Donnelly might just be happy with the $5,000, but Lucia's difficulties in getting the money pose some problems for him. It seems as though he's not working independently; in fact, he's the underling of some other blackmailers who are none too happy about the fact that he's not getting the money from Lucia. Worse, he's beginning to fall in love with Lucia to the point that he'd be OK with letting her off rather more easily than his bosses would let her. And then the police find the body and the evidence points back to Lucia....

The Reckless Moment is an interesting movie with a good premise, which unfortunately has the problem of being constrained by the Production Code. Given everything I've mentioned above, there are any number of plausible resolutions to Lucia's problem, except that most of them would fall well afoul of the strictures of the Production Code. The result is that we get an ending which does satisfy it, but which seems to strain credulity. Joan Bennett does a good job as a mother who seems somewhat more amoral than what one would see on the surface, while James Mason is suave and mildly menacing, but not the most dangerous character in the picture. Much as with Odd Man Out, we're supposed to have some sympathy for him, despite the bad thing that he's doing to Mrs. Harper.

The Reckless Moment has apparently gotten a DVD release in Korea and Europe, but not an official US release. It's possible to obtain an import copy through places like Amazon, but more expensive and you might need a multi-region DVD player.

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