The Reckless Moment (1949) - Joan Bennett/James Mason Suburban Drama

When you think of 1940s movies, what comes to mind?

Casablanca? War films? Romance and intrigue under distance skies? Betty Gable in red, white and blue? Film Noir where a shady gumshoe picks up a doll-faced dame whose alibi is as thin as the paint on her cheeks?

Well, among those images should be the suburban drama. Post-World War II  movies are great for psychological thrillers, mysteries and tension in ordinary places.


The Reckless Moment (1949) is set in the quiet, unassuming peninsula of Balboa, CA. Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett) is a loving mother who seeks to protect her rebellious daughter from suspicion of murder.

The teen daughter has a secret affair with an adult boyfriend. The lover is found dead, a criminal acquaintance, Martin Donnelly (James Mason), has acquired their love letters and blackmails Mrs. Harper.

Raising a large sum quickly and without raising suspicion takes up the bulk of this drama. Mrs. Harper must move through her genial, placid world as if all is well. It's a comment on the facade behind which many people live every day.

Sometimes a movie wants to redeem its villain and show that he or she is not an incorrigible crook. Mason, portraying the blackmailer who begins to empathize with the family as Mrs. Harper struggles to gather the money, is perfect casting. As they wait for the cash, he observes Mrs. Harper's daily life, and expresses sentiments about her slightly claustrophobic familial existence, sentiments that she will never utter, but doesn't deny.

Though the definite article is used in the title -suggesting there is only one reckless moment that changes everything- in truth there are many reckless moments onscreen and ones merely alluded to by the characters.


Is the reckless moment allowing the daughter to apply to an art school (where she meets the shady boyfriend) against the parents' better judgement? Taking up with a guy she knows her parents would never approve of? The mother meeting the boyfriend in person to breakup the relationship? Tossing the man's body into the water? Agreeing to be blackmailed instead of going to the police? Wanting to tell her husband but deciding against it?

These, and many other decisions made in an instant, twist the plot this way and that. To which reckless moment does the title allude? That's for you to decide.

The Reckless Moment is a tense drama in ordinary spaces, meant to make the audience think, "this could be me." Chilling.


  1. I am one of the world's most enthusiastic promoters of this film - it seems like every time it makes the rounds on TCM, I tell people to watch it if they haven't already. It's most assuredly my favorite Joan Bennett film, an amazing transition from her femme fatale roles like The Woman in the Window and Scarlet Street to the more matronly stuff of Father of the Bride and Father's Little Dividend. It's not available on Region 1 DVD but I do have a copy of a Region 2 disc and it's worth a flutter.

  2. I've only just come across this film. In truth, Joan Bennett has been one of those stellar actors whose work I put on the back burner and decided to watch "some day." That day has arrived, and -boy!- does she give you your money's worth.

    Never seen Scarlet Street. I'll need to search for it...
    Thanks, Ivan.


  3. Good point about the suburban dramas - tension in ordinary places, indeed!

    This sounds like a great film. I'm not sure why I haven't seen this yet, but I must remedy ASAP.


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