Monday, July 25, 2022

Joan Bennett and James Mason in "The Reckless Moment"

Max Ophuls, a renowned German director who only made four films in the United States, directed The Reckless Moment (1949). It starred Joan Bennett and James Mason. It was only Mason’s third American film. The film is based on The Blank Wall (1947), a novel written by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. The cinematography was by Burnett Guffey who won Academy Awards for From Here to Eternity (1953) and Bonnie and Clyde (1967).

The plot involves Lucia Harper (Bennett) who is trying to keep Ted Darby (Shepperd Strudwick) a low-life criminal from seeing her teenage daughter Bea (Geraldine Brooks). He tells Lucia that he’s willing to stop seeing Bea for a price. Lucia is confident that when she tells her daughter Darby’s true feelings the relationship will come to an end. This is film noir so no situation gets resolved that easily. Without giving anything away, let’s just say things go horribly wrong, exposing Lucia’s daughter and family to some pretty despicable characters. 

Max Ophuls (1931-1957) was born in Germany where his film career began. After it was clear the Nazis would take power in Germany, Ophuls, a jew, moved to France in 1933 where he became a French citizen in 1938. After the fall of France, he traveled through Switzerland and Italy, eventually ending up in the United States. In Hollywood, Ophuls directed Douglas Fairbanks Jr. in The Exile (1947), Joan Fontaine and Louis Jordan in Letter from an Unknown Woman (1948), and Caught starring James Mason, Barbara Bel Geddes, and Robert Ryan. The Reckless Moment would be his last Hollywood film before he returned to France, where he directed major successes La Ronde (1950) and The Earrings of Madame de…(1953) starring Charles Boyer and Danielle Darrieux.

James Mason (1909 – 1984) was an English actor who was a movie star in the UK before coming to Hollywood. His popular British films include The Seventh Veil (1945) and The Wicked Lady co-starring Margaret Lockwood (1945). His performance in Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out (1947) brought him international acclaim and success in Hollywood. In Hollywood he starred in four films in 1949: CaughtMadame Bovary with Jennifer Jones, The Reckless Moment with Joan Bennett, and East Side, West Side with Barbara Stanwyck. Other popular American films include The Desert Fox: The Story of Rommel (1951), The Prisoner of Zenda (1952), Julius Caesar (1953), A Star is Born (1954), 20,000 Leagues Under the SeaIsland in the Sun (1957), North by Northwest (1959), Journey to the Centre of the Earth (1959), and Lolita (1963). Mason continued to work in film and television up to the time of his death.

James Mason and Joan Bennett

Joan Bennett (1910–1990) began her film career during the early sound era. A natural blonde, Bennett dyed her hair as a plot device in the film Trade Winds (1938). As a brunette, Bennett projected a sultry persona that had her compared to the brunette beauty, Hedy Lamarr. During this period she starred in two costume epics. She played Princess Maria Theresa in The Man in the Iron Mask (1939) and Grand Duchess Zona of Lichtenburg in The Son of Monte Cristo (1940). Bennett was one of two finalists for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind (1939), along with Paulette Goddard. She had a very successful collaboration with the director Fritz Lang. With Lang, she starred in the classics Man Hunt (1940), The Woman in the Window (1944), and Scarlet Street (1945). Bennett acted on stage and on television where she became a pop culture icon playing Elizabeth Collins Stoddard on the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971).

To watch the film on YouTube, click on the link below.

To join the discussion on August 1, 2022, at 6:30 p.m. Central Time, click here. Once you RSVP, you will receive an invitation with a link to the discussion on Zoom.

The Reckless Moment trivia

  • This was the last American film directed by Max Ophuls.
  • This was the first film in which Bennett is the mother of an adult daughter.
  • Geraldine Brooks was 24 years old when she played Bennett's 17-year-old daughter.
  • Bennett made a career switch with this film, going from femme fatale to the "perfect" mother in films like Father of the Bride (1950) and Father's Little Dividend (1951).
  • The movie The Deep End (2001) starring Tilda Swinton is loosely based on this film.

Discussion  questions

  1. Did The Reckless Moment fit the film noir classification in your opinion?
  2. What did you make of James Mason's character? 
  3. Were the family dynamics believable? 
  4. Could you relate to Bennett's dilemma? 
  5. Filmed in Balboa, Newport Beach, and Los Angeles, California. Did the location filming give the film a more realistic feel?
  6. Did anything in the film surprise you?
  7. Did The Reckless Moment remind you of any other classic movies?

James Mason and Joan Bennett

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