The Reckless Moment ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

James Mason plays a terrifying blackmailer who unexpectedly softens in this unusual, fluid film noir from Max Ophuls that takes the captured-Nazi scene from Mrs. Miniver and makes a whole picture out of it, with Joan Bennett's shaky but tough matriarch going to the moon and back to protect her impressionable art-student daughter, who fell into a toxic relationship with an older sleazebag, newly deceased. Now the whole family is, mostly unconsciously, trapped in a Gun Crazy-like world of anti-Americana with racketeering, bloodshed and the usual intimidating Mr. Big behind the scenes. This is a tremendously entertaining and tense suspense story (based on an Elisabeth Holding story), gaining a lot from its positioning of an outsider from the criminal underworld as its protagonist, and playing on the classical upper-middle class fear of nefarious influence infiltrating the nuclear family -- in the absence, of course, of Dad, who's on a business trip. You see past the traditionalism of the film's social constructs because Ophuls locates the emotional essence of every single scene, and delivers it with his camera; it manages to become human and touching, and gritty and believable enough to be disturbing. Props for the "as if nothing ever happened" structure of the story, too; I saw Mason's sacrifice coming about half an hour early, but didn't believe Ophuls would so effectively sell it as a cathartic act of love, or that Bennett would pull off that last scene -- in denial that she won't ever forget any of this madness -- so brilliantly.

Roy Roberts makes a fine psychopath, delivering ample justification for Mason's early-on relentlessness; looking disheveled and offering no respite of patience, Mason has one of his trickiest roles and fully throws himself into it. It almost makes up for yet another horrendously bad Hollywood child actor performance; David Blair sounds like he's been dubbed by the same kid they used for "generic child" in seemingly every U.S. print of a Godzilla or Gamera movie.