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In the late 1800s New England, banker William Marlowe and his wife Martha have arranged for their daughter Mary to marry the officious and older Lord Hurley of England. Mary does not want to marry Lord Hurley, but rather John Carlton, a lowly clerk at her father's bank. The two fell in love at first sight. When John and Mary's relationship is discovered by her parents, William discharges John. Knowing he can't get another job in New England, John decides to move west to California to start a new life off the land. Despite the probable hardships, Mary wants to go along and the two elope. They do face those initial hardships, most specifically an especially violent encounter with cattle rustlers, but they are able to carve out a successful life as ranchers. Twenty years, several children and a mansion of their own later, John is a popular choice to run for governor. Some past indiscretions may not only threaten his gubernatorial run but his marriage altogether. Written by
In director Frank Borzage's 1924 original version of this film, the character "Mary Carlton" (played by a matured Norma Talmadge) looks back on her life, and its "Secrets". For this re-make, Mary Pickford (as Mary Marlowe) is initially photographed to appear as young as possible. Later, Ms. Pickford is "aged" (although, she is photographed in soft focus throughout). So, the entire "framing" of the film - as about an old woman looking back on the "Secrets" of her life - is lost. Moreover, the movie misses an opportunity to startle audiences by opening with an "aged" Pickford.
"Secrets" is not a bad film - but, it is frustrating to look at a miscalculation, in this last career appearance for Mary Pickford. Both Pickford and Borzage should have had the storytelling wherewithal to go ahead with the "old age" framing. Borzage had success with Talmadge's version, and Pickford supported Charlotte Smith (her mother) in Thomas H. Ince's similarly structured "Sweet Memories" (1911). Without the framing, the story blindly lurches, uncomfortably, through the years.
Pickford surely knew audiences weren't responding well to her recent features, and likely made what she thought were wise decisions about the filming of "Secrets". So, it is a first class production. This shows in Pickford's selection of director Borzage, photographer Ray June, and co-star Leslie Howard (as John Carlton). Mr. June's photography is beautiful. Mr. Howard, a stage star close to Pickford's own age, is a smart choice for leading man. Ironically, Howard looks much younger than his years.
Pickford's choice of vehicle and co-star reveal her continued belief in "stage" acting as a way to succeed in talking pictures. To her portrayal, Pickford adds some of the cutesy mannerisms which came to be expected by fans, but plagued much of her later work. These factors help mar her overall performance. Yet, watch for a stand-out scene featuring Pickford and a baby, played silently, during the film's "western" portion. Pickford and Howard would never appear on film into their 70s, which makes the ending of "Secrets" a sweet farewell.
****** Secrets (3/16/33) Frank Borzage ~ Mary Pickford, Leslie Howard, Mona Maris, Allan Sears
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