The Reckless Moment

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The Reckless Moment
The Reckless Moment.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMax Ophüls
Produced byWalter Wanger
Screenplay by
Based onLadies Home Journal story "The Blank Wall"
by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
Music byHans J. Salter
CinematographyBurnett Guffey
Edited byGene Havlick
Walter Wanger Productions
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
  • December 29, 1949 (1949-12-29)
Running time
82 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$717,188[1]

The Reckless Moment is a 1949 American film noir melodrama directed by Max Ophüls, produced by Walter Wanger, and released by Columbia Pictures with Burnett Guffey as cinematographer. It starred Joan Bennett and James Mason, The film is based on The Blank Wall (1947), a novel written by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding. The Deep End (2001) is based on the same source material.


While her husband is away on business, Lucia confronts Darby, a slimy Los Angeles criminal, to get him to stop seeing her 17 year old daughter Bea. Darby agrees but only if Lucia pays him money. Lucia refuses to pay and tells Bea of the meeting. Bea is upset and when she later meets Darby they become involved in a struggle during which Darby is accidentally injured and dies as a result. Lucia later finds Darby lying dead by a jetty near her house and hides the body in a swamp, where it is found by the police.

Another LA criminal, handsome and smooth-talking Donnelly, then starts blackmailing Lucia over letters Bea had written to Darby. As she tries to get together the 5,000 dollars he demands, he starts falling in love with her and allows her more time. His brutal partner Nagel steps in, calling at Lucia's house to demand the money on the spot. Donnelly arrives and attacks Nagel; in the ensuing fight Donnelly strangles Nagel to death but is wounded. Donnelly drives Nagel's body away with Lucia in pursuit, but overturns the car. As he lies dying, he gives Bea's letters to Lucia and tells her the matter is closed.



This was Mason's third U.S. film, after having appeared in director Ophüls in Caught (released February 1949) then in Vincente Minnelli's Madame Bovary (released August 1949).



The film made a loss of $565,775.[1]

Critical response[edit]

When the film was first released in 1949, the film critic for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther, praised the actors but wrote, "But it isn't all right with this picture. Although it is rather well staged, with credible location settings in Balboa and Los Angeles, it is a feeble and listless drama with a shamelessly callous attitude. The heroine gets away with folly, but we don't think this picture will."[2]

In the recent years, however, the film has received very positive appraisal and is now generally considered as one of the best films by Max Ophüls.[3] It has been highly regarded by film critics, historians and audience, and entered in the list of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Matthew Bernstein, Walter Wagner: Hollywood Independent, Minnesota Press, 2000 p445
  2. ^ Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, "'Reckless Moment' New Feature at the Palace -- British and Two French Films Also Arrive", December 30, 1949. Accessed: July 10, 2013.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Schneider, Steven (2017). 1001 movies you must see before you die. Schneider, Steven Jay, 1974-, Smith, Ian Haydn, (Updated ed.). Hauppage, New York: Barron's Educational Series. p. 237. ISBN 1438050062. OCLC 972773850.

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