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Below average melodramatic psychodrama. 2.5 Stars

Though aiming to be something more sophisticated than the usual woman-in-danger potboiler, Harry Keller’s The Unguarded Moment squanders some potentially tantalizing elements for a pedestrian effort with far more flaws than merits.

The Unguarded Moment (1956)
Released: 27 Dec 1956
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 95 min
Director: Harry Keller
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Cast: Esther Williams, George Nader, John Saxon
Writer(s): Herb Meadow, Lawrence B. Marcus, Rosalind Russell
Plot: A beautiful teacher is protective of a high school boy who sexually harassed her, and later he becomes a murder suspect.
IMDB rating: 6.3
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Universal
Distributed By: Kino Lorber
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 35 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 11/29/2022
MSRP: $24.95

The Production: 2.5/5

Harry Keller’s The Unguarded Moment, a pedestrian psychodrama concerning a schoolteacher and an emotionally stunted student who begins a series of harassing assaults on the teacher, somewhat wastes the talents of its skilled cast and insults its audience with a narrative that for its serious subject matter is still occasionally idiotic and unbelievable in equal measure. Possibly trying to tap into the hip tension of Blackboard Jungle released a year earlier, The Unguarded Moment couldn’t be a less likely sibling having only a high school setting and a troubled teen in common without scoring the incisive points about human nature that it’s desperately trying to portray.

Attractive, single music teacher Lois Conway (Esther Williams) begins receiving a series of anonymous mash notes scrawled in crayon with no idea who’s sending them. Attempting to solve the riddle of her harasser, she arranges to meet him at the high school stadium at 10 p.m. where she’s physically assaulted, barely making it to safety before being assisted by police lieutenant Harry Graham (George Nader). Having lost her purse in the struggle, she returns home only to find her attacker having rifled through her desk searching for the incriminating notes and finding them whereupon she recognizes the culprit as high school senior football star Leonard Bennett (John Saxon) who tears from her house and returns home to his cynical, misogynistic father (Edward Andrews) whose wife had left the two of them years earlier leaving him embittered and suspicious of all women. Naturally, with no evidence against Leonard, the father and even the wimpy school principal (Les Tremayne) take Leonard’s word for his innocence, but Lt. Graham has his own suspicions about the boy and begins his own investigation.

The screenplay by Lawrence B. Marcus and Herb Meadow is based on a story written years before by Rosalind Russell as a starring role for herself, but as she had aged out of the part, Universal cast Esther Williams who had just finished her long-standing contract with MGM. There isn’t a swimming pool in sight (and it’s clear from Esther’s awkward style of music direction that she’s unaccustomed to holding a baton in her hand), but the character Esther is playing clearly has water on the brain making one nonsensical decision after another in attempting to deal with an obviously disturbed young man and his equally unbalanced father. The script doesn’t delve into any deeply psychological impulses driving the main characters, so the personalities involved in the story are surface-level simple, and the drama, routinely directed by Harry Keller, strikes very few sparks: the initial confrontation between teacher and student near the beginning and the climactic face-off between the teacher and the father at the end being the few moments of genuine tension in the entire enterprise. In between is the rather banal police investigation and a burgeoning romance between the teacher and the police lieutenant. It’s all pretty much by the numbers and not in any way memorable.

Though Esther Williams had gotten to do one non-swimming spectacular during her long tenure at MGM (1946’s The Hoodlum Saint), she was a decent enough actress to be able to play a character without donning a swimsuit, but the writers have done her no favors here not giving her character much common sense and letting her make one mistake after another, especially ridiculous after one sees that with her job and reputation on the line, the waspish, milquetoast principal played by Les Tremayne isn’t going to give her the benefit of the doubt in this he said-she said situation. George Nader is solid but no more as the determined police lieutenant, but it’s Edward Andrews and the young John Saxon (who gets a real Universal build-up in the closing credits) with the juiciest roles and who give the movie’s most memorable performances (even if Andrews seems to go over the top as the film nears its conclusion and the father reaches the end of his rope). John Wilder entertainingly plays Lois Conway’s teacher’s pet Sandy Krupp, but the movie wastes the talents of supporting players Jack Albertson, Eleanor Audley, and Edward C. Platt.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The movie has been framed at its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. Though clear and mostly clean of debris and age-related dirt, sharpness isn’t always quite what it should be. The processed-by-Technicolor hues are also good but not luminous, while black levels are quite impressive, well lit by Oscar-winning cinematographer William Daniels. The movie has been divided into 8 chapters.

Audio: 4.5/5

The DTS-Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is very typical of films from this era. Dialogue has been well recorded (though some looping in the film is very obvious) and has been combined with the background score and sound effects into the single, very effective track. There are no instances of hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.

Special Features: 2.5/5

Audio Commentaries: two are provided on the disc. The better of them features Professor Jason Ney who is more than generous in his assessment of the film’s positives and negatives and offers an interesting critical analysis (though he errs continually in referring to actor Edward Andrews as “Edward Albert”). The other offers a gossipy give and take between film historians David Del Valle and David DeCoteau who offer a mix of facts amid some misinformation (Mary Tyler Moore did not win the Oscar for Ordinary People; the attacker of local women in the movie does not reveal himself to be who Del Valle claims near the end).

Theatrical Trailer (2:24, HD)

Kino Trailers: Raw Wind in Eden, The Female Animal, Portrait in Black, Midnight Lace, 23 Paces to Baker Street.

Overall: 2.5/5

Though aiming to be something more sophisticated than the usual woman-in-danger potboiler, Harry Keller’s The Unguarded Moment squanders some potentially tantalizing elements for a pedestrian effort with far more flaws than merits. Fans of the stars or of the film will appreciate the movie being offered in good high definition quality, but one can’t help but feel that an opportunity for something special with the story was ultimately lost.

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Published by

Matt Hough

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Robin9

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Dec 13, 2006
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Robin
It seems this disc is a big upgrade from the two DVDs despite being far from perfect. That's reason enough for me to buy it because I like Esther Williams. I've always regretted that while working at Universal she did not appear in a Douglas Sirk movie. I think he would have been the ideal director for her.
 

Matt Hough

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Apr 24, 2006
Messages
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Location
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Real Name
Matt Hough
It seems this disc is a big upgrade from the two DVDs despite being far from perfect. That's reason enough for me to buy it because I like Esther Williams. I've always regretted that while working at Universal she did not appear in a Douglas Sirk movie. I think he would have been the ideal director for her.
I agree with you. It's really a shame it didn't happen.