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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
SECRETS was the last movie Mary Pickford would appear in as an actress. In it she displays a much greater ease with the microphone than she did in her earlier talkies. Her performance is really quite superb, and should have paved the way for a long career as a character actress. She was 40 when she made this film, and it does stretch credulity a little to see her playing a virginal debutante in the early scenes - however, as the film goes on, and her character ages, she displays a tremendous range as an actress. And she's beautifully matched by Leslie Howard, who gives a very charming performance as her lover/husband.
Under the skilful direction of Frank Borzage, Mary is allowed many moments to do what a silent screen actor could do better than any other actor - express emotion without words. There is one scene, involving the death of a child, that is amongst the most moving scenes I have ever witnessed - and it is virtually a silent scene. All the emotion comes from Mary. All actors should watch this scene and learn what great screen acting is all about.
The screenplay is a little meandering, and peculiarly episodic. Based on a stage play, I get the impression that the film follows the three act play structure - First Act:light romantic comedy, Second Act:Western melodrama, Third Act:relationship drama - and finally an epilogue to tie-up all the loose ends. It's not an unentertaining structure, but it does seem a little odd. Through it all Pickford, Howard and Borzage stride with great skill, to create a memorable film, and a triumphant farewell to one of Hollywood's greatest stars.
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