All That Melodrama Allows

The Reckless Moment 12A

Reckless moment

Joan Bennett and James Mason star in Max Ophül's noir-tinged melodrama about a mother who finds herself blackmailed after she attempts to cover up the death of her teenage daughter's lover.

In the charming Californian community of Balboa, middle-class housewife Lucia Harper (Bennett) travels to Los Angeles to meet scoundrel, Ted Darby – lover to her seventeen-year-old daughter Beatrice. Although determined to see the relationship end, Ted’s request for money in exchange for leaving Bea, is given short shrift by Lucia. But when in the fallout Ted turns up dead the next morning, Lucia – assuming that Bea has accidently killed her lover – decides to hide his body in order to protect her family. And when stranger Martin Donnelly (Mason) arrives on the scene and starts to blackmail Lucia, she finds her secure life rapidly falling apart under the threat.

A complex and ambivalent treatment of suburban values and that controversial icon - the American mother, this tender, understated love story turned out to be Max Ophüls last Hollywood film (he fled to France a year later, frustrated by the restrictions of the studio system). A strikingly shot mix of noir and melodrama, it revealed itself to be a fitting parting shot in its sophisticatedly subversive treatment of Hollywood convention.

Check out our June Podcast to hear our cinema curator Mark Cosgrove and film writer Tara Judah make the case for melodrama; and explore its heightened tension, searing emotions and progressive female characters.