The Unguarded Moment (1956)
John Saxon is extra-cool. A nice Brooklyn yoot who went to Hollywood, showed up for work every day, didn't get involved in the glitz and the politicking, came across likeable and tough onscreen, and quietly wound up starring in many great releases such as A Nightmare On Elm Street, Enter The Dragon, From Dusk Till Dawn, The Electric Horseman and Queen Of Outer Space.
And it's not being the only actor to co-headline with Clint Eastwood and Bruce Lee or starring in The Bees that makes him extra-cool.
Dig dis. I struck up a casual friendship with John upon approaching him for some background info on The Bees. Not saying we hang, just that we corresponded a number of times. Turned out he didn't have a DVD of The Unguarded Moment, it not commercially available at the time. I happened to have a copy taped off TV and dotted with ads, but still better than nothing. Sent John a dupe with a note stressing he was under no obligation of any sort, having been more than generous with his time in the past.
A couple of weeks later, my mailbox is stuffed with a martial arts magazine featuring John on the cover--he recalling me once telling him my first national mag features appeared in Inside Karate--and ten inscribed autographed photos from various Saxon films! Didn't have to, but he did it because he's just that cool.
(In case you didn't know, John can also kick your ass. He didn't just show up in his many action films with a karate gi from the wardrobe department. Man's a legitimate black belt.)
Which brings us to this issue's selection, The Unguarded Moment, co-written by actress Rosalind Russell(!), starring swimming sensation Esther Williams in a rare dramatic role, and billed as "introducing John Saxon" though he had appeared in mopix prior to this one. It also features cultpic god Les Tremayne, career sleazeball par excellence Edward Andrews, Jack Albertson and even the "Chief" (Edward Platt) from Get Smart!
Lois Conway (Williams) is a high school music teacher in a small town, but trouble is a-brewing when a local woman has been murdered, Lois begins finding mash notes addressed to her, and the school's star football player Leonard Bennett (Saxon) not only appears to be behind the latter, but is also a suspect in the homicide investigation.
Leonard may be able to pass a pigskin with aplomb and smile cute for the girlies, but he's not real right in the noggin, no doubt due to his father (Edwards) constantly drilling him about the evils of womanhood. Mrs. Bennett had abandoned her hubby and Junior many years ago, and daddyo has decided the entire gender is snakes in sheep's clothing...though he doesn't at all mind peeping in curvaceous Ms. Conway's window when she doffs her dress.
The locals, being compassionate individuals and supportive of the educational system and its staff, immediately accuse Lois of making lecherous advances on Leonard--so what if he got a teeny-weeny bit rapey?--leading to her being suspended from her teaching gig. Damn it, Leonard is a FOOTBALL STAR and they need him out of jail to win the Big Game!!!
Never mind that there's not a shred of evidence to support a single syllable of the slander. As Len's pop has preached, all attractive single women are treacherous harlots out to rob innocent young men of their virtue and send them straight to hell. That's common knowledge, right? No one needs trivial details like proof, before ruining a reputation and crushing a career. Gossip and puritanical attitudes will do just fine. Besides, none of this would have happened if she knew her place.
Not only that, but FOOTBALL!!!!!
As if The Unguarded Moment wasn't misogynistic enough--and bear in mind this was co-written by a woman--Leonard's chief supporter besides his demented dad is Miss Conway herself, who even refuses to press charges when it has been determined that the twisted teen has broken into her home!
Adhering to the Manor On Movies "no spoilers" policy, it should be pointed out that Moment is a straight drama, not some sort of morality play leading up to shamed townsfolks hanging their heads in shame. Nor is it any form of allegory. This is what was deemed as acceptable in an era full of witch hunts for Commies on every corner and mob mentality.
Which is what makes it so great.
Imagine a major studio producing something like this today. (Moment's producer Universal International cranked out nearly 500 movies between 1947 and 1963.) Stop it right now, because there's NO FREAKIN' WAY that would happen.
So much for the Fifties being happy days, eh, Fonz?
Unlike so many of the titles featured in M-O-M, The Unguarded Moment is well-made, had a significant budget (Ms. Williams pulled down 200 large for her role) and the acting is solid. Edward Andrews--who those of a boomer age will recognize from countless TV guest roles as officious windbags and bullies--owns every scene in which he appears; and what happens to the senior Bennett in the denouement is classic stuff.
And of course John Saxon is aces, because, well, he's John Saxon!
So, don't expect Styrofoam gravestones, nonsensical storylines, head-scratch-inducing dialogue and the usual junkfilm fare. This one gets the Stately Salute for the goings-on and for being so magnificently Politically Incorrect.
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