I finally got to see Max Ophüls’ second film noir, The Reckless Moment. It hasn’t been available on home video in recent years, as far as I can tell, so I had to wait until Noir City showed it. Like Ophüls’ first noir, Caught, it’s a female-centered story, but it’s more of a traditional noir in examining a middle class suburban family sucked into a nightmarish underworld of crime via underage sex and murder. The Czar of Noir City, Eddie Muller, calls both films “domestic noir,” and he thinks The Reckless Moment in particular is neglected both because the protagonist, played by noir superstar Joan Bennett, is a woman and not a tough guy detective, and because the story is based on a Ladies Home Journal story by Elizabeth Saxnay Holding, not a hard-boiled crime story by Hammett, Chandler, Cain, or Woolrich.
The Reckless Moment is unusual because it makes a sympathetic character out of the blackmailer played by James Mason, and in fact hints at an adulterous love affair between Mason and Bennett, whose husband is away on business throughout the movie. Caught is also unusual for a Hollywood movie in the way it presents an adulterous affair as the happy solution to an abusive marriage. A sophisticated approach to adultery became Ophüls’ signature after he returned to Europe in the ’50s.