The Reckless Moment

Released:  1949

Cast:  James Mason, Joan Bennett, Geraldine Brooks, Shepperd Strudwick

SUMMARY:  Lucia Harper (Joan Bennett) is the mother of two teenage children, Bea (Geraldine Brooks) and David.  Her husband Tom is currently in Berlin, working on rebuilding projects; Lucia is left to care for the children and her father, who lives with the family.  Trouble arises when Lucia learns that Bea has been seeing an unsavory character named Ted Darby (Shepperd Strudwick).  When Lucia attempts to warn Darby away from her daughter, he asks for a payoff.  Lucia tells all of this to her daughter, but Bea is unfazed:  she sneaks out that night to meet Darby in the boathouse.  There, Darby reveals that what he said about the money was true.  Bea tries to leave, and when Darby tries to hold her back, she knocks him on the head with her flashlight, leaving him dazed and reeling.  She rushes back to the house and tells her mother what happened.  The next morning, Lucia goes down to the boathouse and finds Darby laying facedown in the sand.  She manages to drag the body into the family’s boat, then drives to a swamp and disposes of it, along with the boat’s anchor.  To Lucia’s horror, the body is quickly discovered, and an investigation is launched.  No suspicion falls on Lucia or Bea (who does not know what her mother did), but a strange man named Martin Donnelly (James Mason) shows up at the house.  He has letters written to Darby from Bea, which would at the very least draw police attention to the family.  Donnelly demands $5000 for the letters.

With her husband away, and on a tight deadline, Lucia is forced to look everywhere for the money.  At the same time, she struggles to retain normalcy in her life, so that her family will not suspect her.  She tries to take out bank loans, but is unable to do so; her attempt to pawn her jewelry only results in a few hundred dollars.  As this is happening, Donnelly is trying to appease his partner, Nagel.  Nagel wants the blackmail money immediately and is growing tired of Lucia and Donnelly’s excuses.  Donnelly makes these excuses because he is beginning to fall for Lucia, and can see the difficulty she is having in procuring the money.  Then, he suddenly announces that there is no need for the money:  the police have arrested the killer.  Lucia realizes that the arrested man is not really the killer, and confesses to Donnelly that she killed Darby and disposed of the body.  Donnelly argues that they should let the man take the fall, but Lucia cannot bear this.  She decides to go to the police and confess everything.  Meanwhile, Nagel has had enough.  He goes to Lucia’s house and demands the money in person.  Donnelly then arrives and attacks Nagel, ultimately killing the man but getting wounded himself.  Lucia still wants to call the police, but while she is occupied Donnelly loads the body into the car and takes off.  He crashes the car, and is fatally wounded.  Lucia follows just behind him and arrives at the scene while Donnelly is still alive.  He gives her the letters back and tells her that everything will be alright now.  Lucia returns home to the news that the dying Donnelly confessed to Darby’s murder.

MY TAKE:  My biggest issue with this movie was that I didn’t find any of the characters very sympathetic.  Bea is an idiot who should have listened to her mother.  Lucia is an idiot who thought she could hide a body. Donnelly is an idiot who blackmails people and doesn’t have a problem with an innocent man taking the rap.  It’s a total cluster when all of this stupidity collides.  Seriously, if Lucia had just called the police when she found the body, things probably would have been okay.  Bea could have claimed self-defense (which it was) and would most likely have gotten off.  Everything (for the Harpers, at least) would have been hunky-dory.  But no.  Lucia decides that it’s a better idea to try to hide a body in a swamp.  She evidently does a terrible job of it, because the body is found really quickly.  Then the whole blackmail issue arises.  I did find it curious that Lucia doesn’t have any problem potentially killing a man and disposing of his body — and trying to hide this from everybody — but she doesn’t want the wrong man to be blamed.  I suppose it’s a mother thing:  she was trying to protect Bea by hiding the body.  However, she’s apparently okay with Donnelly ultimately taking the blame, because it didn’t seem like she was going to fight that.  Her morals are just really murky for me.  I also didn’t find James Mason to be very intimidating as Donnelly — I would expect a blackmailer to scare you, not fall for you.  The tension did get pretty good when Lucia was frantically running around town trying to raise the money, but my total lack of connection to the main characters kind of made this movie a wash for me.

RATING:  Nothing special.


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