Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
One of the great female-centered noirs, Max Ophuls’ “The Reckless Moment,” first released in 1949, has been ill-treated by whatever multinational entertainment conglomerate owns its video rights. Some 20 years after the dawn of modern video formats it has yet to appear in the United States on either DVD or Blu-Ray. Maybe it’s streaming somewhere?
The U.S. one-sheet issued to advertise the movie, seen above, has pretty explicit emphases. It tells us the plot involves letters and an ambiguous James Mason. The spotlight motif dominates; presumably there’s a risk (or maybe a hope?) of discovery or revelation. Though it’s not the most inspiring design, it adequately represents the movie.
This independently produced poster would have been available to theater owners seeking something punchier than the studio-issued poster seen at the top of the page. It treats the movie’s woman’s-picture aspects more explicitly; it also foregrounds the sensational nature of the scandal at the heart of the narrative. It’s clear from the text that the Bennett character has entered, or allowed herself to fall into, an unwholesome arrangement. The familiar spotlight element is referenced by the shadows cast by the principals’ heads, but the circular emphasis of the design is now indebted to a whirlpool-like graphic that threatens to overtake the figures. It’s indelicate, but also hard to ignore.
This French poster takes the spotlight motif as its organizing principle, though a whirlpool is also suggested via the photographic reproductions swirling around the central image of Mason and Bennett. I think it’s more clever than successful. My initial impression is one of confusion. That light discovers too much; there isn’t enough mystery.
This larger French poster is, I think, much more successful. It should be — it was designed by one of the great French poster artists, René Péron. Péron manages to synthesize the spotlight and whirlpool motifs without drawing undue attention to either. The focus remains firmly on the figures and the enigmatic turbulence engulfing them. Bennett’s scarf, which both connects her to Mason and strangles her, is a great touch; so are the crisply modeled hands. The poster was created using the quasi-lost art of stone lithography, and it has the velvety depth and richness unique to products of that craft. It’s a great example of technique contributing to meaning: the composition wouldn’t have its peculiarly immersive effect had it been produced using offset printing.
Despite my affection for the Péron design, I have a hard time placing it above this Italian interpretation by Alfredo Capitani. Along with Anselmo Ballester and Luigi Martinati, Capitani was among the Big Three of Italian movie illustration. Where French poster artists of the ’40s tended to work in a printmaking mode, the Italian poster, having transitioned to offset printing, was very much a forum for painters. A painterly emphasis on realistic detail and abrupt tonal transitions dominates this composition. So does the characteristic Italian focus on sexualized menace. Where in the other posters we’ve examined Mason tends to look either stoic or wilted, Capitani’s Mason is positively tumescent. That ever-present spotlight doesn’t shine on him, it emanates from him, and Bennett is awed by it; it seems to take all her might just to maintain some measure of composure.