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Friday, 2 February 2018

Not yet on Blu-ray - David Hare finds Max Ophuls final American film THE RECKLESS MOMENT (1949)

"I liked Mr Donnelly" says Sybil, played by the superb Frances Williams (screen below, click on the image to enlarge) to Joan Bennett, with a dying James Mason in Max's last American picture from 1949, The Reckless Moment.

Having spotted this 1080p download in the backchannels I gobbled it up greedily. I've since watched it through, then back to back with the PAL Second Sight Brit DVD which - hold your hat folks - was released way back in 2005. That was the film's first and still its only release on home video which makes the latest incarnation even more unexpected.
Let's get the technical stuff out of the way. The source for the 1080p is I am certain the same, very good - I am guessing here - 35mm fine grain inter-positive or archive print from Sony as it has the exact same tiny emulsion flaws down to one small gate hair in exactly the same spots. It also has the same very nice density and black levels with quite a glossy white tone and good contrast as the old DVD.
The new 1080p however displays one dead giveaway for an uprez rather than a native HD encode, the facial details are waxy even while the contrast and detail are quite sharp on background. But they also are in the 576i PAL transfer on Second Sight so I believe this is not a native 1080p master. I was hoping it would be because these things sometimes signal a forthcoming Blu-ray. But this, which is a Sony property, along with Universal's The Exile are just sitting in the vaults biding their time until perhaps everyone just forgets they're there.
TCM USA broadcast an excellent high quality transfer of The Exile maybe five or so years ago, including the alternative ending, but this too seems doomed to remain in back channel p2p hell until somebody at Sony and Universal finally gets their finger out and at least issues the titles on VOD. So this leaves us with only Caught and Letter from an Unknown Woman from Max's American period available on Blu-ray and in reasonable to very good 2k and 4K DCPs respectively.
I had not previously reconciled the ending of this and its double whammy of paroxysms for Joan Bennett's characters as having some parallels with "Bab's" role also as a mother in Sans Lendemain 10 years earlier. It's the imprisonment of family duty which leads both women to a fatal climax.
The second last sequence of Reckless, (in the screen above) shows Bennett weeping copiously onto the dying Mason's hair, yet she is still so inhibited by her moral rectitude and her enslavement to "propriety" she can't touch or even kiss him. In the last sequence, Bennett still overwhelmed with grief is called to the phone, yet again, by the all-consuming family to attend to the father who has been absent, in fact invisible throughout the picture, like some kind of ghostly, even malevolent superego, or abstracted moral arbiter. Joan's babbling through a wall of tears is entirely for her and for the loss of Mason, and has absolutely nothing to do with her husband or her largely indifferent family.
This final image is one of the most powerful of domestic and human reality, not only in Max's films but in the movies. Having just come out shaken from a Blu-ray screening of Zvyagintsev's astonishing, brilliant, icy cold, magisterially terrifying and disturbing Loveless from 2017, that should have been a tough call, but Ophuls' vision easily meets and overtakes even Zvyagintsev for sheer power of formal authority, although any other comparisons between the two films must of necessity be slight.

What an incredible transitional film to the last French period, and what a farewell to American cinema!



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