Monday, October 24, 2022

The Unguarded Moment (1956)

The Unguarded Moment is a 1956 crime melodrama.

The setting is a perfect American high school in a perfect American town. The school is full of clean-cut youngsters filled with all the exuberance of youth. But there is a shadow hanging over the town. A woman has been brutally murdered and the police fear that more murders may follow.

Esther Williams is Lois Conway, a music teacher at the high school, and she has a problem of her own to deal with. It appears that one of the boys has a crush on her. That’s not that unusual. Dealing with schoolboy crushes is just one of the things a female teacher has to deal with, just as male teachers have to deal with schoolgirls getting crushes on them. But this boy seems very persistent. He keeps sending her notes.

It doesn’t occur to our young teacher that this could be anything other than just another harmless schoolboy infatuation.

The latest note suggests a date at the locker room at the gym at ten o’clock at night. Rather rashly the teacher decides to show up at the appointed time, to have it out with the love-struck teenager.

As a result she almost gets raped. She just manages to make her escape. The cops find her running down the street with her dress torn half off. They take her down to headquarters. Lieutenant Graham (George Nader) finds her story puzzling. Why would an apparently sensible woman go to a meeting such as that with an unknown man, in the middle of the night in a deserted locker room? He figures there’s more to her story than she’s telling.

After fruitless questioning by the lieutenant Lois returns home, to discover that there’s an intruder in her home. He gets away but she gets a look at him. Now she knows the identity of the mystery man. It’s Leonard, star of the school football team.

Of course the audience knows as well, and we know about his strange home life. He lives with his dad. Dad has always told the boy that his mother was a whore. Dad now hates women. We can surmise that the boy has a few issues with women as well.

Lois is definitely a bleeding heart. After narrowly escaping being raped she still wants to cling to the idea that she’s just dealing with a harmless love-sick schoolboy. She doesn’t want to get him into any trouble.

Lois doesn’t want to tell the police the identity of the boy who broke into her house.

Lous does report the matter to the high school principal but he doesn’t believe her. She’s only a teacher. Leonard is a football star. Naturally he believes Leonard.

Lieutenant Graham and Lois start to get quite friendly. Maybe Graham is just hoping to soften her up so she’ll tell him the truth. Or maybe he’s getting keen on her. And maybe she’s getting a bit keen on him.

Lieutenant Graham is frustrated because he knows he’s not dealing with a harmless teenager. A number of women have been assaulted and one was murdered. While the movie can’t come out and say it it’s obvious that the assaults were rapes and that the murder was a sex murder. Graham really does have good cause to fear that there will be further murders.

It seems like the solution to the case is clear from the start but it’s always possible that we’re jumping to conclusions. We have reason to suspect Leonard but neither we nor Lieutenant Graham have incontrovertible evidence.

Esther Williams was mostly known for lighthearted romances and musicals involving swimming. This is a rare straight dramatic rôle for her and she’s reasonably good. We feel extraordinarily frustrated at Lois’s stubbornness but Williams manages to make us understand where she’s coming from.

George Nader makes a fine cop hero. He’s not too hardboiled but we believe he’s tough enough to be a good cop. He’s a sympathetic character.

This was a very early rôle for John Saxon and he does well, displaying at least some of the larger-than-life quality we later came to expect from him.

There is certainly a crime plot here but The Unguarded Moment plays more like a melodrama. Which is not a criticism as far as I’m concerned. It’s also to some extent a Social Problem Movie but it’s much much less irritating than most movies of that type.

Umbrella’s Region 4 DVD is barebones and 16:9 enhanced but the transfer isn’t sensational. The colours are fairly bright but they come and go and the image is soft and lacks the razor-sharp clarity we’ve come to expect from quality DVD releases. On the other hand it’s cheap and this does seem to be a slightly difficult movie to get hold of.

The Unguarded Moment is melodrama and melodrama tends to be contrived but it’s reasonable entertainment. Worth a look.


  1. Nice commentary! This movie is a favorite of mine. My copy is from The Video Beat, and is very watchable, although it would be wonderful if someone would release this on Blu-ray with some extra features.

    1. I'm told that Kino Lorber have a Blu-Ray release on the way.

  2. I remember liking this film more than I had expected to. Williams is surprisingly good in her role, and I hope one day to see Raw Wind in Eden.
    Nader has been good in pretty much everything I've seen him in and he should have become a bigger star.

    1. Nader was one of those American actors who ended up making a lot of movies in Europe. He's pretty good in the German Jerry Cotton crime thrillers such as The Violin Case Murders (which I reviewed not long ago).