The Unguarded Moment (film)
|The Unguarded Moment (film)|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Harry Keller|
|Produced by||Gordon Kay|
|Screenplay by||Herb Meadow
|Story by||Rosalind Russell|
|Music by||Herman Stein|
|Cinematography||William H. Daniels|
|Edited by||Edward Curtiss|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|Release date(s)||November 1956|
|Running time||95 minutes|
The Unguarded Moment is a 1956 thriller film directed by Harry Keller and released by Universal Pictures. Shot in Technicolor, the film was based on a story written by actress Rosalind Russell, and features Esther Williams, George Nader and John Saxon.
Lois Conway (Williams) works as a music teacher at a local high school in a small town, where recently a woman was found murdered. When she starts receiving notes from an anonymous admirer, she suspects her favorite student Sandy (Wilder) is responsible, and tells him they could never be lovers. The notes grow more violent and when, in her latest letter, she is invited to meet at the school's lockers at night, Lois decides to visit, hoping to stop the young man. There, she is attacked by an initial shadowy figure, whom she later identifies as Leonard Bennett (Saxon), the high school's star football player. She successfully gets away, though drops her purse, and is aided by Lieutenant Harry Graham (Nader). Graham advises her to press charges, but Lois wants to drop the matter in hopes of it blowing over. Back at home, she notices her purse on her table, and aware that the thief is in her home, orders him to leave. As he bashes through the door to get away, Lois is now certain that Leonard is her attacker. Leonard is able to get home without his dominant and overbearing father (Andrews) noticing he is gone. Mr. Bennett lectures his son on the dangers of women, stimulated by the occurrence of him being left by his wife and Leonard's mother when he was very ill.
The following day, Lois reports the incident to the principal Pendleton (Tremayne), but when Leonard denies the whole matter, Pendleton protects the school's most valuable athletic asset by suggesting to Lois that she should provide evidence. Soon the story spreads around school, and with gossip surrounding Lois allegedly pursuing Leonard, both her personal and professional life becomes a mess. One day, she pulls him out of class and tries to reason with him, but he refuses to listen to her. Meanwhile, she grows closer to Graham, who does not understand why she is sympathetic to Leonard. Nonetheless, she decides to visit the Bennetts, but the father does not want her to interfere with his son and accuses her of seducing Leonard. He is startled, though, upon finding out the police are now involved in the matter. Mr. Bennett is unaware that Leonard again sneaked out of his room to visit a waitress whom he has dated in the past.
Sometime later, Graham accompanies Lois to a football game, where Graham is inspired to retrieve Leonard's fingerprints from his locker. It turns out the fingerprints match those found at Lois' place. At a school dance, she tries to warn Leonard about the police discovery, assuring him he will get into big trouble if he does not come clean. Leonard, for the first time, speaks truthfully to her, but they are interrupted by Mr. Bennett, who convinces Leonard Lois is manipulating him. Leonard asks her to meet him in the cloak room to discuss the matter, but Lois is unaware Mr. Bennett and Pendleton are hiding in the same room. Her presence convinces them she must be having an affair with the teenager. Lois, being tricked by Leonard, falls into Graham's arms, and finally allows him to arrest the kid.
At the police station, the now suspended Lois is brought in by Graham to get an honest confession from Leonard. During the interrogation, the couple is informed that another man has admitted to having committed the murder. Graham wants to continue prosecuting Leonard for breaking into Lois' apartment, but she wants to drop the case and orders him to bring the boy home. Back home, Lois is about to undress, when suddenly Mr. Bennett jumps out of her closet and starts assaulting her. At the same moment, Leonard, impressed by having been forgiven by his teacher, confesses to Graham that his father is responsible for the murders. Graham decides to share the news with Lois and arrives at her home just in time to save her from being murdered by Mr. Bennett. Bennett suffers a heart attack after attempting to flee the scene, and dies in front of Leonard.
- Esther Williams as Lois Conway
- George Nader as Lieutenant Harry Graham
- John Saxon as Leonard Bennett
- Edward Andrews as Mr. Bennett
- Les Tremayne as Principal Pendleton
- Jack Albertson as Prof
- Dani Crayne as Josie Warren
- John Wilder as Sandy
- Edward Platt as Attorney Briggs
- Eleanor Audley as Mr. Pendleton's Secretary
- Robert Wiliams as Detective
The story of the film was written by actress Rosalind Russell (under the pen name C. A. McKnight, her mother's maiden name) in her screenwriting debut. In a 1951 draft of the story, Harry Graham was a fellow teacher instead of a policeman, and Leonard Bennett was revealed to be responsible for the murders, before being killed. Russell envisioned the film would be released under either The Lie or The Hidden Heart, though she was not involved with the film's production due to other commitments, and the film was released as The Unguarded Moment.
Actor John Saxon had yet to make a name for himself when the film went into production. He received the co-starring role after several screen tests, and the studio attempted to make him fill the void actor James Dean left when he died. For Esther Williams, the film was her first since her contract ended with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and it proved to be her first non-swimming dramatic role since The Hoodlum Saint (1946). In her autobiography, she noted:
- "I thought it was a curious choice for Universal to offer me the lead in a 'dry' psychological thriller, and I wasn't sure the public would accept me without my glittering crowns and sparkly swimsuits. Nonetheless, Universal offered me $200,000, which was more than I ever made for a single film at MGM in or out of the water...Later, after we had started shooting, Rosalind Russell came up to me at a party and said, 'I hear you're doing my script.' I looked at her blankly until she explained that she had written it under the pseudonym C. A. McKnight. 'I wrote the part for me, but I got too old.'"
The film flopped at the box office. Saxon received warm reviews for his performance of Leonard Bennett. Some reviewers lauded Williams' performance, others lamented her change of milieu. In present days, the film is regarded as a B film, despite the fact it was heavily promoted in the 1950s.
According to Turner Classic Movies, Williams "unintentionally accents [her] limitations as a dramatic actress though she still looks gorgeous. [..] While Esther Williams is the top-billed star of The Unguarded Moment, it is Andrews' unexpectedly creepy performance that hijacks the film and imbues it with an underlying mood of malice and menace."