1941-1950DramaFilm NoirMax OphülsUSA

Max Ophüls – The Reckless Moment (1949)

When the opening titles credit a film as adapted from a short story in the Woman s Home Journal, you know you re onto a good thing. The Reckless Moment doesn t disappoint. Max Ophuls last American film is a women s picture in the grand tradition of Mildred Pierce (1945) – dark edged and melodramatic, and dripping with moral ambiguities.

Like Mildred, Lucia Harper (Bennett) is a practical, determined housewife attempting to hold her family together against ever-increasing odds. When her wayward teenage daughter accidentally murders her crooked older lover in the boathouse, Lucia hides the body and attempts to go on with her life. But trouble arrives in the form of Donnelly (Mason), an emotionally vulnerable Irish mobster sent by his superior, the mysterious Nagle, to blackmail the Harper family to the tune of $5000. But while Lucia scrambles to raise the money in her husband s absence, Donnelly begins to develop powerful feelings for his intended victim.

The power of The Reckless Moment lies in a subtle subversion of established cliché. The plot is straightforward, even predictable, and at first glance, the characters seem much the same: the straight-laced mother, the selfish, petulant daughter and her sleaze ball boyfriend, the scrappy teenage son and grizzled grandfather, the sassy black maid with a heart of gold. But gradually our perceptions begin to shift, as hidden depths are revealed through the characters interactions with one another. Donnelly is introduced and immediately feels out of place. He s placid, reasonable, completely unthreatening, polite and accommodating to Lucia and her family, far from the typical Hollywood gangster. And through her contact with him, another side of Lucia is revealed, the part of her that feels stymied by obligation, unable to step outside the norm for fear of being questioned. Her family is her pride and joy but also her cage. There s a sense of grim-faced compulsion in the way she deals with them, giving her all to protect them but resenting their hold over her.

Lucia and Donnelly s relationship never develops beyond the platonic. In his introduction, Todd Haynes discusses how the filmmakers took their lead from Brief Encounter (1945), placing emphasis on passionate restraint over torrid bursts of emotion. And it s an odd relationship. We get the feeling Lucia is quite a bit older than Donnelly, more experienced and capable, a mother figure as much as a lust object. While her feelings for him are born out of gratitude and remorse rather than desire, her dedication to her absentee husband is never called into question.

It is only at the end that Lucia s icy mask begins to crack, and here Ophuls pulls off his final act of subversion. After doggedly resisting all attempts at support, whether from her family members or from Donnelly himself, Lucia finally accepts the assistance of the black maid Sybil, whose domestic servility is swept away as she assumes the dominant role, watching over Lucia in her hour of need. It s a fitting end to a strange but moving film, small but perfectly formed, and a welcome rediscovery on DVD.

1.75GB | 1 h 22 min | 800×576 | mkv




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