Saturday, March 14, 2009

Secrets (1933)

Director: Frank Borzage
USA 1933
83 min

Spoiler warning.
My movie reviews are more of the synopsis-type, so if you will hate me for spoiling the film for you, save the reading until after you've seen it. Or read carefully!

Back to the plot in Secrets. This film is Mary Pickford's last as an actress (she continued to produce some other films), and possibly her greatest. Opposite her is the perfect gentleman Leslie Howard in one of his first major roles.
The film was at first supposed to be directed by Marshall Neilan (director of Pickford's Daddy-Long-Legs (1919), among others), but was fired by producer Mary Pickford for showing up drunk at work. The director's chair was therefore given to Frank Borzage, who made a fantastic job on this film.

Some people say that this film is a little uneven. I wouldn't agree. There are bits and parts were the cutting could have been done less than half a second earlier or later, and stuff like that, but there is nothing that messes with the continuity in the film.
The plot is divided into four parts:
  1. The first part were John and Mary meet and fall in love. This part is quite farcical, but funny and sweet.
  2. The second part begins when John and Mary has run away together and star a-new in The West. Here the film makes a more dramatic turn, and develops into pure tragedy.
  3. The third part begins after a leap of about twenty years. John and Mary has a great family, and John runs for governor. The film takes up a lighter tone, but reveals the seriousness underneath.
  4. The fourth part takes place when the couple is in their seventies. It's a short chapter, funny and intelligent. We get to know what the title of the film is all about.
Of course, this dividing of the film might be the source of the "uneven" opinions, but I still don't agree. Every time we take a leap in the story, the different parts are linked together with meaningful, telling collages of short film clips and matching music. The story of John and Mary's lives couldn't have been told better.
Now, over to the pictures and the texts underneath them, that will tell you more about the details.

Publicity still, with Howard trying to undress Pickford.

Part one:

Mary Marlow (Mary Pickford) is the daughter of an upper class family. John Carlton (Leslie Howard) works for her father. Her father plans to get her daughter to marry another high society man, Lord Hurley, but she resists.

The first scene. John rides a bicycle next to Mary and her mother's carriage.
Their eyes open for each other.

Mary receives a note from her admirer.

Mary saves John from drowning himself by meeting him in the garden.

Scene: The escape from the upper class! And a lot of kerfuffle with the under skirts.

Part two:

Mary and John has run away, wanting to start a-new in The West.

A long journey with horse and carriage.

A happy family and proud parents to a son in a small cottage.

Cattle thieves surprise Mary when she's alone with her son.
They threaten her and her baby to get some food.

"When I'm hungry my finger ain't as steady as it outta be..."

When John comes home and finds out about the incident he decides upon revenge.

People hang, the war has started.

Scene: John and Mary Carlton are attacked by cattle rustlers. Their friend Sunshine is helping out, but there's also a baby that needs to be protected.
This must be Mary Pickford's finest acting in her whole career.

Heart-breaking scene.

Part three:

A collage of film clips tells us that more babies are set to the world. We end up with the Carlton family in Monterey, California, where John runs a campaign to become a governor. The Carlton family, having climbed the social ladder, throws a party where some secrets are uncovered.

A montage of children leading up to the governor campaign, with the proud family of John Carlton waves at him from the balcony of their mansion.

A woman named Señora Lolita Martinez (Mona Maris) arrives uninvited at the party, accompanied by some invited guests.

Señora Martinez steals a dance with John from his wife.

Mary Carlton, a lady in distress.

Señora Martinez interrupts Mary for a revealing talk.

John and Mary have a marital talk, and more secrets (or are they?) are revealed.

The newspapers catches up the story.

Part four:

John and Mary's now grown up children are furious when their parents have locked themselves into a room. Why? They want to go away on their own. Pick up their relationship were it was interrupted by the arrival of their children, as they so beautifully put it.

A loving couple having grown old together.

And here is the end of my plot summary.
As you can see from the screen shots the camera work was mighty fine, experimenting with shadows, angles and pictorial language. I'm amazed. But of course, this is a pre-code film. Censorship and "guidelines" can ruin art in an unrepairable way.

Leslie Howard, Mary Pickford and Lionel Barrymore attends a party at Gary Cooper's mansion in 1933. Possibly in connection to Secrets.

And here's two gorgeous pictures of actress Mona Maris (click on them for higher resolution).
This beautiful and intelligent Argentine actress (at the age of 19 she knew four languages) never made the great success on screen that she deserved. Her foreign accent prevented a career in Hollywood, and instead she appeared in a lot of Spanish talking films.
But even though her part in Secrets was a small one, it is without a doubt memorable. I think they could have made something with her, they could have gone with the "exotic image" that Valentino had. But everyone can't be Mary Pickford, I guess.


Nadine said...

Wow, I'm in love with your blog. You really should place a link to it on your page at Decadesilove, so we can find it!! It's so detailed and great, I can feel your love for the content. From one fellow nostalgia junkie to another. ;-)

I will have to spend some more time exploring more, but thanks for the intro to Mary Pickford and Gloria Swanson!


Lolita said...

Thank you, that makes me very happy to hear! Maybe I'm just not so good with technique, but I couldn't find an easy way to link to my blog from Decadesilove, but I have done it now! I wrote a blog post there with a link to my page, I guess some people at least will find their way here!

I'm glad I could help you with your interest for Pickford and Swanson! Please visit me again soon.

Love Lolita