|Vintage Pulp||Dec 27 2020|
Esther Williams learns that privileged pretty boys can get very ugly.
The Unguarded Moment is one of those films that, although it's basically a lifetime old, is amazingly topical in 2020. The subtext of this mystery concerns whether a person is redeemable, whether they deserve forgiveness for their errors. When a high school football star stalks his beautiful thirty-five year old teacher, sends her provocative notes, breaks into her house, and even physically accosts her, the script positions him as someone who can be redeemed. He's just frustrated, confused, and acting out behavior taught to him by his terrible father. You know the sentiment by heart, because it still pervades today (though not for the non-white or non-privileged): “He has his whole life ahead of him and it's a shame to ruin it over one youthful mistake.”
Surprisingly, Esther Williams herself becomes this wayward soul's main advocate, despite the peril and fear she's endured. It's a noble turn for her character to take—and an unlikely one. Barring interruptions, Williams would have been raped. That's not our opinion. The script leaves no real doubt. The plot contrivance of giving this almost-rapist a break didn't sit well with us, but leaving that aside, it's interesting to watch Williams negotiate this role. It was a leap for the former Olympic swimmer and longtime musical star. The idea was to nix the singing and water ballet and get her into meatier roles, and sure enough, the only singing and dancing she does here is singing the praises of her attacker and dancing around her duty to assist the law.
The film wasn't well received by the public, though we aren't sure if the reticence had to do with performance, casting, subject matter, or something less tangible (a feeling of overall creepiness, perhaps). Even so, we think it's pretty well made, and Williams as an angel of mercy is worth watching, if only for the discussion her role might engender. Our girlfriends didn't like it at all. But for our part, we'll watch just about anything that has brand name stars in it, and Esther Williams, around this period, was about about big as they came. Watch and debate. After a special in premiere in Los Angeles, The Unguarded Moment began its nationwide run today in 1956.