A daughter’s reckless moment wreaks emotional havoc on her mother in  Max Ophüls THE RECKLESS MOMENT. Even blackmail has a silver lining.



Joan Bennett plays the incredibly taut mother who must deal with blackmail…and a dead body.


It’s interesting to see the daughter ( played by Geraldine Brooks ) fall apart at the seams as Bennett tries to keep it all together. Funny to see Brooks talk to Bennett about how old- fashioned she is in not understanding her thing for this older man, ( she wouldn’t? ) while I think about Bennett in the movies back in her heyday. Please indulge me for a moment:


Though she keeps her house running like a well-oiled machine as Ophüls shows us with his tracking shots of her, you can also see how restricted her life is every time she leaves her family’s sight. She’s questioned, pulled and prodded at every turn by her family. She’s constantly bzzzzing around like a bee. Poor lady, couldn’t get access to anything on her own b’cuz being married back then meant your husband had financial control over everything. Oppressive? Not really, but she is in a gilded cage. A boxy cage. The house was such a maze and series of boxes; a manifestation of the box Bennett’s character finds herself in.


RECKLESS ( VII )She may not be able to get a loan under her own name and has to pawn jewelry for cash, but for a woman who is being blackmailed, Ben-nett  comes off a bit ballsy, striding into a low rent joint making her own demands, and dealing with Mason. If she can’t do something, she says it, and not meekly either. She deals with all of this on her terms. I have to say I was more astounded by her lack of control over her own finances and the judgement from bankers than I was in her having to deal with blackmailers. ( Girls be smart… have your own money. )

RECKLESS ( XXI )You know, running into James Mason might have been the best thing that’s happened to Bennett. His task is to get her to pay blackmail money in return for incriminating letters her daughter wrote her dead ex-lover. Mason looks great, and does a touching job of walking that fine line between good and bad. Bennett’s husband is away on a long business trip, and the weight of the family is on her lonely shoulders. Mason becomes smitten with her, his reach exceeding his grasp; he knows he’s not in her league. She talks to him rather gruffly. Bennett and Mason do a great job of moving towards each other while not crossing any boundaries.


Methinks they’re both trapped in their place. Mason’s soft and tender with her. You might think I’m reaching here…but there’s something Brief Encounter-ish about their relation-ship; the hopelessness of their ever even being together ( in this case more for him than her. ) I like the moment when he goes with her on an errand in a pharmacy that mirrors domesticity as he carries her parcels out the drugstore. He admires her maternal concern. Bennett tells him “Everybody has a Mother.” He says nothing…which says everything.


Sybil, the maid, is so refreshing. She’s played by Frances E. Williams who appeared in 1947’s Her Sister’s Secret ( Edgar G. Ulmer ) also as a maid, but as a treasured member of that family as well. ( Read Moira Finnie’s review of that movie here and my thoughts here. ) In “Reckless…” Ophüls allows her the humanity to be a real person. She seems to be the only member of the house who really sees Bennett…concerned for her needs… watching over her,  ever hovering in the periphery. And Bennett treats her respectfully as a member of the family. Remember she scolds Brooks NOT to talk Sybil in that rude manner.


I must say my jaw dropped when Sybil takes the wheel of the car at a pivotal point in the movie. Whoa! …And Bennett’s not being “chauffeured” but sits in the front seat, side-by-side…as equals. And with her coat on, we can’t see Sybil’s maid uniform, so in my mind it made Sybil seem even more like a friend. A nice, and a bit shocking touch for an American film of the time. But then again, Ophüls ( and Ulmer ) are not American, which might explain their sensitivity and not following the racial rules and regulations of the time.


Ophüls carries us along on this journey against time ( blackmail money, police investigation ) and watching two people tentatively reach towards each other; developing feelings. There are two touching moments for me in this film. After a car accident, Mason tells her to leave him. He wants her out of trouble and danger, sacrificing himself for her. The other moment comes when Joan is sobbing in bed. You feel her deep loss. See this to know exactly what I mean.


Without spoiling anything, this is the last shot of the movie. Her grief ( guilt ) spills into the happiness of hearing from her husband again. The movie ends abruptly. What I mean by that is Ophüls pulls the band-aid off the wound quickly; he doesn’t allow her or us to wallow in her sadness too long because she still has a family to take care of.  I’ve been developing a new appreciation for Joan Bennett myself and how she colors her performances into fine shades of gray. I love her bad in Scarlet Street but that’s easy. I love femmes fatale  in the movies. She played wives  trapped in The Macomber Affair and The Woman on the Beach. But there’s her light touch in Trade Winds and Me and My Gal. And Bennett in the 1930’s, sort of virginal, nondescript. A friend told me to focus on Bennett in her next movie after “The Reckless Moment”: Father of the Bride.” Whoa! It kind of makes the movie feel different when not focusing on Elizabeth Taylor. Loved Bennett’s gentle chiding of Tracy throughout. It’s 1950 and she’s still got it. “The Reckless Moment” has been re-made ( The Deep End ) but I don’t think there’s any need to check it out when we have this classic, is there?

CineMoral: If you can’t get your daughter to clean up her room, at least you can clean up her murder. Just make sure she leaves nothing in writing. ( And that includes texts or FaceBook in today’s fast-paced 21st century world ). Kids!

( H OM E  )



22 thoughts on “THE RECKLESS MOMENT ( 1949 )

  1. Well, Theresa, you’ve got another winner here!

    Now, you know very well how much I like The Reckless Moment, and Joan Bennett, and James Mason, and Max Ophuls. So, you won’t think I’m trying to be an iconoclast when I say that The Deep End is a very good movie. True, there’s no “need” to check it out, but if we were only to see films by the Masters mentioned here, we wouldn’t be seeing very much. Man and woman live not by masterpieces alone.

    Writer-Producer-Directors Scott McGehee and David Siegel present a different “take” on the story, just as Ophuls and company presented their own view of The Blank Wall, the original novel by the virtually forgotten Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, of whom Raymond Chandler said, “For my money she’s the top suspense writer of them all. Her characters are wonderful; and she has a sort of inner calm which I find very attractive”.

    I have gotten much pleasure over the years from all three versions. Truth to tell, the one in the middle (we might call it the meat of the sandwich) is the richest, most moving telling of the tale. Still, the other tellers also have much to offer. Holding is indeed all that Chandler said; several of her books are almost as good as The Blank Wall. The Deep End is the first movie in which I appreciated Tilda Swinton; she is really outstanding here, much more than in her artsy-artsy movies.

    Incidentally, though the opening credits of The Deep End mention Holding, but not The Reckless Moment, in their commentary MeGehee and Siegel acknowledge their debt to Ophuls and his collaborators.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bob. I know you’re a fan of Ophüls et al. This is such a good solid movie. I’m sorry I threw in that ‘either / or ‘ situation there with “The Reckless Moment” and “The Deep End.” I respect Tilda Swinton’s choices. She seems either brave or foolhardy. ( Darn it, there I go again with the either / or. ACK! ) I am curious to see different takes on a movie even though as a rule, my knee jerk reaction is “I…Hate…Remakes.” Guess I should look into author Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. Hope my musings and essays do justice to these great ol’ classics I love and write about.


      • Yes, Theresa, I am indeed a fan of Max Ophuls. Last night I saw this beautiful movie again. As a matter of fact, I saw it twice again.

        For some years, Celia and I were stuck with a taped from tv copy, commercials and all! Then came a Region 2 dvd from UK’s Second Sight. This has an amazingly detailed history of the production on the commentary by Lutz Bacher.

        It’s interesting that you mention Brief Encounter, as that’s one of the films that producer Walter Wanger (Mr. Bennett) had in mind as an example of the kind of realism that he and Max had in mind for this one.

        Bacher, in his commentary and his book Max Ophuls in the Hollywood Studios, tells us a lot about Frances Williams. In addition to being very active in the civil rights struggle, she spent some time in Russia studying with Meyerhold and Eisenstein. You will not be surprised to hear that the powers that be at Columbia eliminated some brief scenes that made clear that the relationship between Sybil and Lucia was as much friendship as employer/employee. They also wanted to cut her driving, but producer and director were able to prevail.

        You’re right about European born and bred filmmakers being more open as to African-American characters. French Jacques Tourneur and Rene Clair gave the other Theresa some of her best parts, maids with personality and character.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Whaaaaat? You got “Reckless…” twice? Ha! Way to go, Bob. The movie is not an easy watch for me because ( 1. ) the tension in watching Joan Bennett navigate through the world with this pressure on her back is too much pressure for me, ( 2. ) the attraction between Bennett and Mason is just too tender. Yes, it’s right in the middle of this murder-blackmail stuff, but their love or more appropriately…ATTRACTION is just too wrong to succeed. Again…unseen husbands ( away-at-war ) leave wives to hold it down. And I’m the Devil on one shoulder telling the Wife he left behind: “Go ahead. Kiss the guy.”

        With my BIG interest in movies, you’d think I’d run ( not walk ) to DVDs with commentaries. I don’t, not really. Maybe my next visit, you can pop that DVD in and let me hear what Bacher has to say about Frances Williams. I’m sorry to read Columbia eliminating scenes that might allude to a friendship between the two women. Harumph! What a country we were. Soooooo…”Mr. Bennett” was not a very powerful producer, huh? I really would recommend you see her in “Her Sister’s Secret.” I could almost bet you wouldn’t like this “Woman’s Picture” but I thought they gave Williams a thoughtful part in that film.( Perhaps you could check out the first 45-minutes of the film for her ). It’s news to me what you say about her spending time in Russia. More layers than meets the eye. I hope it was all fulfilling for her as a human being, what Hollywood would NOT provide as an actress.

        Now to do a little research on my namesake and her work with Tourneur and Clair.


      • I understand your feeling about The Reckless Moment, Theresa. It is in many ways very painful to watch Lucia’s suffering and her family’s blindness to it. No wonder she develops such strong feelings for the only white person who truly wants to help her.

        This is frequently categorized as “noir”, but I think that when a movie is this good, it takes something away from its uniqueness to place it in a category, unless it’s your job to sell it. Many “noirs” do contrast the dark world of crime with the light of domesticity, however unsatisfying that may be. Usually it’s a man who finds himself drawn into the darkness, but here it literally invades the home, the “woman’s territory”.
        Most noirs provide us with some distance that protects us from too much pain, but The Reckless Moment is so real and so close to home, as it were, that it hurts.

        Don’t be so hard on Walter Wanger (rhymes with stranger). He fought for Ophuls throughout production and, if some compromises are present, the film is still marvelous. His record as a producer is more than respectable, including The Bitter Tea of General Yen, History Is Made at Night, Stagecoach, The Long Voyage Home, Foreign Correspondent, Scarlet Street, and Trade Winds. It is said to have been he who convinced his wife to banish the blonde and keep the black.

        I have mixed feelings about another of his feats. In 1951 he was convicted of attempted murder for having shot Joan’s agent in the groin after discovering them in flagrente!

        My net friend Lutz’s commentaries might be more than you want to know about the day by day production of any movie. So, give me some time, and I will copy the passages about Frances from his book, and pass them on to you.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I’m just busting Wanger’s chops. You’ve listed some of his successes which is fine. And I know times were different. I do remember the shooting ( you see how men try to kill for Joan Bennett…she must be SOMETHING! ) though I mixed it up a little with the Franchot Tone / Tom Neal fight and Wanger doing the shooting and not the running. Take your time on getting me the material on Frances Williams. I look forward to it, but I can wait.

        Don’t be so hard on categories. We can put all films ever made in one big giant alphabetical order, but I don’t mind a category for a Noir, Giallo, Comedy, Musical, Drama, Blaxplitation, Western et al. It doesn’t put a veil over things for me other than if something is described as a Noir and turns out to be a Drama. ( Films were a bit mis-categorized when I went to the Mexican Film Noir at MoMA. It created a certain expectation from me ). D’ya know what my pet peeve IS, and maybe you can help me with this? Why do people call some films a ‘genre’ film? How’d they make that an adjective? Isn’t it a noun?


      • PS, Thanks for Her Sister’s Secret. I’ve been looking for a dvd, but I will bite the bullet and watch the Youtube print.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I know this isn’t the BEST way for you to see to see a movie. But I hope you can forgive its YouTubed-ness and see the story Edgar Ulmer tells. My girl’s in it ( Margaret Lindsay ). After seeing Frances Williams in this…I keep wanting to write a post about three African-American actresses who played roles most UNstereotypical for actresses of that time: Jessie Grayson of “The Little Foxes”, Maude Simmons of “Portrait of Jennie” and Frances from “The Reckless Moment.”


      • Well, Theresa, I don’t think you need Lutz’s comments of Frances Williams. Wikipedia is good on her career and life, Imdb has a probably complete list of her films, and there’s a website called Frances’ Place that has a lot of interesting stuff.
        I will, however, note that Jessie Grayson was originally cast as Sybil. Don’t know why she was replaced.

        Let’s talk about genres another time.


    • Hi Jeff. ( 🙂 ) I haven’t seen “There’s Always Tomorrow” in about two and half eons and four millennium ago! It’s been a while. I can’t go wrong with Stanwyck ( does she take a wedding ring off a dead woman in a train wreck? ) I really must watch it again. Thanx for the suggestion, and thanx for reading.


  2. About 10 minutes into Reckless Moment,I realized I knew this story but didn’t know why,and then it hit me…The Deep End which in the redo is a gay bar,that Tilda’s son (a teen) frequents..So you can see there is quite the difference between the two films at the start.The remake also is in beautiful color,but it does follow the original fairly close.You definitely want to add this one to your must see list.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bob, I really will be adding this to my list. I remember the movie when it came out and I liked the actor who did the James Mason part from a popular tv show at the time ( “ER”?? ) Thanks for the recommendation. I had been meaning to see that one for a long time. Thxxx.


  3. Thank you for so many great screen-captures, by the way. I love the ruggedness of the women. That very first photo, where a beautiful actress has her wind whipped into a mess, her collar blown up just to her chin-line, and her eyes set in Pure Determination. Nothing else would capture that so perfectly.

    And that great shot of “Sybil” (Frances WIlliams) showing a hard skin, hard colors, hard lighting on such a soft and rounded face. She’s ‘tucked away’ but no completely ‘kempt’ – she never will be. And those features show her doubt of being at that place, at that time. Not exactly sure what she should do. Such a GREAT shot of that face. (I love the coarseness of her skin, by the way, and the photography and lighting are perfect for it – I’m sure the glamorous wishes of Frances are NOT being served in that photo, but to Frances I’d say, “What a beautiful face, anyway, and thanks for sharing ALL of it, every bit.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Being a woman, ( and a tad shallow about looks ), trust me Ollie, if I could find a glamorous photo of Frances E. Williams I would have. But the photo I posted shows her true grit…and her concern. I find Williams quite unique in the “World of Black Maids of the 40’s.” Her diction was normal ( and not that “Negro dialect” the studios made folks use ) and really the camera positions her often in the shot where the main action is. ( Have you ever seen Her Sister’s Secret? )

      I like Joan Bennett in this. Yes, she’s being blackmailed, but that can’t over ride her Maternal instinct to take care of her daughter. You put it so much better than I “Pure Determination.” But the ( sort of ) love story is what gets me as well. It’s all wedded seamlessly. Thanks again for your feedback Anonymous…er, Ollie.


  4. Really good writeup, you captured so much of what I liked about this movie. I love that shot (2nd last image) you used that makes Mason and Bennett seem close, I remember thinking that as I watched it. Joan went against her glamour look, only a couple years before she was in full femme mode. Versatile actress. I have to see HER SISTER’S SECRET now too, plus the other Ophuls you recommended. Best!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Kristina, and thank you for reading my take on “The Reckless Moment.” You’re right about her just a few short years ago, Joanie was in full femme mode. I chuckled when the daughter mentioned how Joan was old-fashioned, and then her killer shoulder-length looks flashed in my mind. I think you might like “Her Sister’s Secret.” Ophuls totally holds Frances Williams in the shot, and the lead actresses are very good. Please see it.


  5. The Reckless Moment is my all time favorite movie.I saw it on the Channel 9 late movie when I was 14. I have seen all of Joan Bennetts movies except for 6 of the earliest ones.To me , Reckless Moment contains her best petformance.She didn’t look as young and beautiful as she did during her first 20 years in movies but it’s alright.I consider Miss Bennett to be one of the best actresses of the 1940s.Ron


    • I understand that in real life, Joan wore those glasses as she was very near~sighted. What a great movie this is, isn’t it. Joan Bennett still had the power to hold the screen, giving a very effective performance. I’m glad you like it and thank you for stopping by to comment, Ron.


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