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  Unguarded Moment, The The Town They Speak Of In Whispers
Year: 1956
Director: Harry Keller
Stars: Esther Williams, George Nader, John Saxon, Edward Andrews, Les Tremayne, Jack Albertson, Dani Crane, John Wilder, Edward Platt, Eleanor Audley, Robert Williams
Genre: Drama, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In this American smalltown there is a dark shadow hanging over the population, the recurring curse of a murderer who has not been caught but periodically attacks women and has done over the past few years. Tonight he has struck once again outside the high school, and Lieutenant Harry Graham (George Nader) is baffled. The next day music teacher Lois Conway (Esther Williams), unaware of the recent tragedy, is drilling her cheerleaders when football hero Leonard Bennett (John Saxon) practically runs into them, leaving the girls swooning. Lois politely asks him to get back to the game practice, but when she finds a rather forward note in her purse shortly after, she suspects she has a secret admirer...

Esther Williams remains a cult star to this day thanks to her musicals which she would often spend much of in the water performing aquatic dance routines, but every so often she felt the need to stretch herself and took a role where she never went near the water, and The Unguarded Moment was one of those. It had originally been concocted by a star of an earlier era, Rosalind Russell, as her own vehicle in the previous decade but it took so long to make it to the production stage that she was "too old" to take the lead, which given her reputation of hanging on to celebrity status like grim death can't have gone down well with her. Anyway, Williams was the star now, and as a cliché woman in peril.

The nineteen-fifties were renowned as an era of repression in the United States, or at least that's the impression we are offered these days, thanks to efforts like this where the sexual undertow is the source of much dramatic tension. In this case, such is its pull that it becomes more ridiculous the further the story progresses, which is another reason aside from the novelty of seeing Esther not immersed in a pool that it has its fans, purely because as camp it's ideal when the participants are unaware of their silliness from a modern perspective. Certainly there are those who roar with laughter through this, only that might be selling it a little short since the themes of a wholesome, all-American setting harbouring morally turbid undercurrents is often a winner.

Therefore with Lois the epitome of unblemished womanhood, she is about to get a rude awakening when those notes land her in, er, hot water as she is foolishly persuaded to meet with the author and ends up in a darkened schoolroom with the pervert shining a torch in her face. She was so innocent she couldn't believe anything except a reasonable chat would solve the issue and the film takes some pleasure in alerting her to the fact that some people do not have the most noble of motives when it comes to the opposite sex. She escapes but when she returns home she finds the creep has broken into her home and stolen the notes, though not before another confrontation in the dark - why not just switch the light on, Lois? She doesn't really need to, however.

That's because when the thief flees he is caught in the headlights of a passing car and revealed in a glimpse to be... Leonard! This leads Lois to continually taking him aside to try and discuss things with him, which gives her a reputation of being obsessed with him when it's really the other way around, and his father (Edward Andrews) doesn't take kindly to that. Except that aforementioned sexual repression seems to be taking its toll on him too, and the corruption at the heart of, I dunno, the American ideal or whatever, puts Lois in danger. Fortunately there's a tall, dark and handsome lieutenant to be her knight in shining armour, and soon in a most unprofessional turn of events she is romanced by Harry who becomes convinced Leonard not only is harrassing her, but could be the murderer. The odd thing is, in spite of the kid being apparently caught bang to rights, he denies it all, and as he's a local hero the townsfolk side with him. All this turmoil broiling beneath the prim surface is amusing, and when it erupts you can tell this was definitely the era of Peyton Place: they weren't so innocent. Music by Herman Stein.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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