Reckless Moment, The: Ophuls Film Noir, Starring Joan Bennett

While in exile in Hollywood, the great director Max Ophuls made a number of impressive films, including the noir melodrama The Reckless Moment.

Joan Bennett plays Lucia Harper, a suburban housewife whose husband is away on business. Her daughter, Bea (Geraldine Brooks), an aspiring artist, has fallen for Ted Darby (Shepperd Strudwick), a shady older man from Los Angeles who claims to be an art dealer.

One night, after a secret meeting in the Harpers’ boathouse that turns into an argument, Bea accidentally kills Darby. When Lucia discovers his body in the morning, she panics and dumps it in the lagoon, instead of contacting the police, fearing that her daughter would be charged with murder.

Lucia’s problems get worse when a suave Irish gangster named Donnelly (James Mason) shows up with a package of love letters from Bea to Darby, blackmailing her. With her husband out of town, Lucia has no choice but to give in to his demands, and brings him along on a desperate quest to raise the money that takes them from bank to loan office to pawn shop.

During the search, Donnelly develops sympathy and even affection for Lucia. When his boss shows up to pressure him into finishing the job, Donnelly’s surprising decision sets up the film’s startling climax.

The Reckless Moment was stylishly remade as an indie in 2001 by Scott McGehee and David Seigel as The Deep End, starring a superlative Tilda Swinton in the Bennett role..

Max Ophüls.

Mel Dinelli and Henry Garson.


James Mason Martin Donnelly

Joan Bennett Lucia Harper

Geraldine Brooks Beatrice Harper

Henry O’Neill Mr. Harper

Shepperd Strudwick Ted Darby

David Blair David Harper

Roy Roberts Nagle

Frances E. Williams as Sybil

Jessie Arnold as Old Lady

Peter Brocco as Bartender

Paul E. Burns as Desk Clerk

John K. Butler as Pawnbroker

Kathryn Card as Mrs. Loring