Wednesday, January 25, 2023

Tonight's Movie: The Unguarded Moment (1956) - A Kino Lorber Blu-ray Review

Longtime swimming star Esther Williams stars in THE UNGUARDED MOMENT (1956), recently released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber.

Williams has a straight dramatic role as a teacher in this very enjoyable suspense film, which believe it or not was scripted from a story cowritten by actress Rosalind Russell. Russell coauthored the original story with Larry Marcus, who then wrote the script along with Herb Meadow.

Williams plays Lois Conway, a high school music teacher. The genial Lois is liked by her students, but one, Leonard (John Saxon), likes her a little too well; he makes a violently aggressive pass at her which Lois manages to escape.

Despite that frightening experience, Lois has some unrealistic rose-colored glasses and views Leonard as a "child" in need of help, rather than as an 18-year-old man capable of doing serious harm.

Lois crosses paths with Lt. Harry Graham (George Nader), a police detective investigating a local murder. He knows that Lois was attacked, but not who did it, and he has concerns that the culprit might also be the murderer he's seeking.

Lois initially tries to help keep Leonard out of trouble with the police, but she's aghast to soon discover that it's her own reputation on the line at her job, thanks to both the principal (Les Tremayne) and Leonard's father (Edward Andrews) preferring to think the worst of Lois.

To Lois's annoyance, the fact she's single is commented on by several people in a sexist way, as though it's a character flaw; the principal, not wanting to lose Leonard as his star football player, begins to treat Lois as someone who can't be trusted around young men.

Ironically, given that, the one bright spot for Lois is that she and Harry discover they rather like bickering with one another and fall in love...

I found THE UNGUARDED MOMENT a highly enjoyable 95 minutes. It doesn't break any new ground -- indeed, it's fairly obvious where the plot is going from an early juncture -- but there's a lot of pleasure in how the story is told. Despite some overall predictability to the film, the relationship between Harry and Lois is extremely well scripted, and the film also has some solid insights into Leonard's problems.

I was charmed by the relationship between Lois and Harry; they start out arguing, but it's never intense, and they acknowledge early on that they rather like each other. It's refreshing to see an adult romance, simultaneously tender and sizzling, between two mature adults, and I also appreciated that while Harry could disagree with Lois, he also believed in her.

Not to mention that Lois's dress for the high school dance is a knockout! Harry is a lucky man.

Longtime readers know that I'm a big fan of Esther's; I've always been impressed with her smooth transition from swimming to screen star. Her film persona is typically one of poise and confidence, and that's on display here, without a swimming pool in sight.

Thanks to a nuanced script and her own acting skill, Williams navigates her character initially being unrealistically sympathetic toward her troubled student without having her come off as a complete idiot.

I like the give and take between Lois and Harry and the way they share different points of view while also listening to one another; with the passage of time Lois realizes a caring teacher isn't going to be enough to solve Leonard's problems and that Harry will need to step in.

Nader was a staple of '50s Universal Pictures films such as SIX BRIDGES TO CROSS (1955) and THE FEMALE ANIMAL (1958); he's always acceptable yet hasn't been a standout for me in other movies, but he makes a very positive impression in this film. He and Williams have excellent chemistry.

This was a very early role for John Saxon; at times he's downright creepy, but ultimately he brings deeper shadings to a boy with issues. We realize that Leonard has suffered tremendously at the hands of his disturbed father, memorably portrayed by Andrews..

The cast also includes Jack Albertson, Dani Crayne (who later married David Janssen), Eleanor Audley, and Edward Platt.

The movie was effectively directed by Harry Keller, with attractive widescreen photography by William Daniels.

Kino Lorber's Blu-ray, from a new 2K master, looks great. The disc has not one but two commentary tracks, one by David Del Valle and David DeCoteau and the other by Jason A. Ney. I'm looking forward to what each of them has to say about this interesting film.

The disc also includes the trailer and a gallery for five additional trailers for other movies available from Kino Lorber.

There's more Esther Williams on Blu-ray coming in the near future! Kino Lorber will be releasing her film RAW WIND IN EDEN (1958), also starring Jeff Chandler, in February. I'll be reviewing it here in the fairly near future.

In March, look for one of my favorite Esther Williams films, NEPTUNE'S DAUGHTER (1949), on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection.

Thanks to Kino Lorber for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray.


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