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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.
An odd film, but it has several terrific moments thanks to the great
She plays a sheltered New England girl who runs off with Leslie Howard rather than marry the stuffy Englishman her father has picked out for her. We see the couple trek across the country in a covered wagon and set up ranching in California, and finally we see Howard run for political office. The film covers 50 years of their lives together, all in 3 acts (as was done on the Broadway stage).
The film is uneven but Pickford gives a tremendous performance in her final film. She's very funny in the undressing scene before the elopement and she has an Oscar-worthy moment in the final scene where they are being attacked by cattle rustlers. Truly remarkable. Howard is also very good.
Co-stars include C. Aubrey Smith, Ned Sparks, Blanche Frederici, Doris Lloyd, and Mona Maris.
Pickford's talkie career was brief and not very successful despite her Oscar win for COQUETTE. But she is excellent in this film and also in KIKI.
Yes, it's dated now, but it has moments that are riveting by any
standard. Both Mary Pickford and Leslie Howard are very good, and give
the film an authenticity that is rare indeed.
Pickford goes from somewhat naive young Eastern girl to frontier housewife in convincing manner, endures the hardships, bolsters the reticent Howard, and raises her family that over the roughly 50 years, transitions to success.
Her scenes in the cabin, under attack, are not to be missed. I think her experience in silents helped her in these, because even without dialogue, she conveyed panic, terror, resolution, grief, yet determination within seconds. Not many actors could have done it.
One terrific part, is that all the costumes and armaments were original. None of the hats had the silly "cowboy roll" of later years, the gun-belts I hope made it to collections.
This in 1933 was Mary Pickford's last movie though she would not have
known it at the time. Historically this is a particularly special movie
for Mary's personal life.
Mary used this movie to make a statement to her husband Doublas Fairbanks (they were separated at this time and seemingly finished as the intense and deeply passionate couple they were). She at this time was telling Douglas Fairbanks she could forgive his meanderings and in fact the tenor of the whole movie is also about these sorts of choices.Mary was in fact seemingly desperate to get back together with Douglas. I think Mary chose this movie because it spoke to her current marital problems with Fairbanks.
Douglas Fairbanks responded to Mary in his last movie in 1934 - appropriately in the role of Don Juan in 'The Private Life of Don Juan'. His response - that he was tired, he needed to rest and to sleep. In real life Douglas Fairbanks in the end couldn't get Mary Pickford out of his heart and made a number of attempts to restart their relationships, but Mary had hardened her heart. And when eventually Mary did relent and decided she couldn't live without Douglas she was a few hours too late. Fairbanks in the end gave up, resolved himself that Mary wouldn't come back and booked himself on an overseas cruise. Mary sent him a message but it was too late, he had already left. And thus it was one of the great and passionate relationships of Hollywood finally died. It should not be under estimated how much these two loved each other. It was something neither got over for the rest of their lives.
Secrets was an odd movie that apart from the message it directed at Douglas Fairbanks certainly show cased some of Mary's great skill at comedy and at evoking an emotional response from the audience not to mention the last we got to see some her acting habits that created an attachment between her and the viewer. Mary's acting has always been effortless, always natural with a natural tempo. A study of her movies through the years is a revelation. Lillian Gish always thought Pickford the greatest of all actors.
Right from the beginning in 1909 Mary Pickford worked out and stated clearly many times that Stage Acting was NOT the way to act in moving pictures. Pickford pioneered method acting and the skill of silent acting, inventing a new type of acting for film, - where very subtle movements, gestures facial use and so forth had to be used to tell a story and engender emotion. She became the greatest and most skillful silent actor of all time. Revealing also are around 24 newspaper interviews she gave during her early and mid career that showed, that even the very young Mary Pickford made a very careful study of acting for the silver screen and her development of method acting. Even the teenage Pickford took the job extremely seriously.
Another thing people viewing this movie must remember about 1933. Sound was still new to film and the film technology for it still very young and the means of recording actors still in it's development stage, sound quality was not very good. In Mary's movie Coquette, her first talkie, sound microphones were stationary. Actors couldn't speak until they were in proper range of the microphone which created all sorts of problems and curiosities in the earliest talkies. They would speak their line, remain silent until the moved to the next designated spot where a fixed mike was and speak their lines and so on. Mary's other talkie Kiki wasn't a success at the time, though now it is thoroughly entertaining and in some parts great fun and one of the funniest comedic dance scenes you will run across in movies.
The success of Mary Pickford's talkie movies wasn't about Mary but what the public wanted Mary to do. She went in to totally different and unfamiliar roles. But one has to understand what was going on in Mary's life at this very time. She lost her deepest love and closest friend, her mother, which caused her to cut her hair for the first time every - totally changing her image and to reassess her life. She was devastated. Her other family members sister and brother were also in great troubles through alcoholism and sickness and of course she was having trouble with her husband. On top of this her studio UA needed to put out movies to make some money, this being the Great Depression, and Chaplin wasn't pulling his weight at the time. Pickford was under huge emotional, family and business pressures at this time.
Pickford never decided to make this her last movie - it just turned out that way as other business and family pressures kept her too busy and eventually she thought not to bother with it anymore - wrongly thinking that her popularity had gone past its use by date.
In this movie the comedic undressing scene bespeaks the effortless grace, timing and organizational skill of Pickford. The death of the baby silent scene fittingly gives us one last glimpse of the great actress.
It was a pity that Pickford never returned, she still had much to give and all the skill in the world to apply. Her acting was as good as anybody and probably would have reached its great heights again.
The main reason Mary Pickford never made movies again one feels, despite all the other reasons, is the loss of Douglas Fairbanks. If these two had reconciled, rejoined, it is inevitable their great passion and love of life would have seen Mary back in movies, instead this time being a great pioneer of the talking movies. Her career in acting spanned from the age of 5 when she traveled by train day after day, year after year, learning her trade.
There is a certain old-fashioned charm to this strangely truncated
historical epic. Running just 83 minutes, this 1933 film offers the
last performance given by silent screen legend Mary Pickford, and one
feels conflicted about her performance here. On one hand, she produces
some poignant moments and surprising comic ones with her character - a
headstrong, late-19th-century debutante named Mary Marlow intent on
marrying John Carlton who heads west in a covered wagon to raise
cattle. On the other, Pickford is over forty and looks it - playing
first a teenager and then a young bride and mother. Gauzy lenses aside,
she never quite convinces, especially since her accentuated acting
style is so reflective of the silent era.
Even with revered director Frank Borzage ("Seventh Heaven") at the helm and a script co-written by Frances Marion ("Dinner at Eight", "Camille"), there is no getting around the fact that it feels like a vanity production for Pickford to present her as relevant in the sound era. By all accounts, the effort failed. The plot follows Mary and John's courtship in New England under the suspicious glare of her tyrannical father. They head west where they face cattle rustlers and a rather lugubrious shootout at their ranch with tragic consequences. The disjointed story abruptly flashes forward years later where they now have four grown children and John becomes a contender for Governor of California. A nasty senorita shows up at a formal reception threatening to expose John's infidelities an odd plot development since we are given no hint of this character flaw before. The movie flashes forward again where John and Mary are now elderly and facing a life without obligations.
The irony with casting Pickford (whose voice bears a striking resemblance to Jean Arthur's) is that as Mary ages, she looks more physically appropriate, but she gradually loses much of the on screen vitality for which she was known. That's why the early scenes are far more entertaining even if she looks too mature for them. There is an extended, wordless scene in the cabin with her baby that does showcase why she was a fine silent screen actress. Cast against type as rowdy John, Leslie Howard comes across as much younger than Pickford even though they were almost the same age. C. Aubrey Smith ("Wee Willie Winkie") is great in the early scenes as Mary's father, while sour-voiced Ned Sparks ("Imitation of Life") shows up for typical comic relief. When the camera shows Pickford as an old lady in the Model T, there is a genuine feeling of finality to her career. The 2008 DVD is a welcome reminder of Pickford's legacy, but her earlier work will provide you with a better indication of her onscren talent.
Mary Pickford's farewell to the screen was this film Secrets which
seems like a cut rate version of Cimarron with a little bit of pre-Code
infidelity thrown in. Whole chunks of the film I viewed tonight seem to
have been edited out unfortunately and the viewer has to piece together
what is missing.
I will say that Pickford did give a good performance in her farewell film, she ages quite nicely from the young ingénue she normally plays all the way up to being a little old lady, a queen of Washington society besides.
Her leading man in Secrets is Leslie Howard, an earnest young fellow in the employ of her father C. Aubrey Smith who's arranging a marriage with a stuffy English title in a suit. Mary's got eyes only for Howard though and they elope with proper ladder and all right out from under the noses of Smith, mother Blanche Fredirici, and the empty suit title Herbert Evans.
Smith has the power to make sure Howard's name is mud in New England so Howard and Pickford go west by wagon train the way Yancey and Sabra Cravat do in Cimarron.
Leslie Howard's as much not home on the range as he was in The Petrified Forest. But he does have grit and so does she.
There's also a question of infidelity which would not have gotten by the Code in a couple of years. It reflects the real life marital problems that Pickford was having right about then with her storybook marriage to Douglas Fairbanks ending. On screen Howard is having a fling with Mona Maris and he mentions there've been others. Still Mary stands by her man, unlike in real life.
One should see Secrets for no other reason than seeing Ned Sparks in the role of sidekick to Howard. He's less home on the range than Leslie. Who'd have thought both their screen credits would include a western or semi-western as the case may be.
The way the musical score was played during the film it was very reminiscent of silent films. Probably something Mary Pickford arranged as she was the producer as well.
Secrets is not a great film, though the stars perform more than adequately. It was too old fashioned for public taste when it was released in 1933, let alone now.
This movie was released the same year as the Oscar winning British film
Cavalcade. I've seen them both, and yet Cavalcade was more celebrated
then - and now - than "Secrets", even though Secrets is similar to
Cavalcade in many ways. Secrets tells the story of a couple through 50
years from their secret courtship in New England and elopement, to
their days building up a farm in California, through the husband's rise
in politics and then their old age. It really is strongly structured
into three acts, but that neither adds to nor subtracts from the film.
I thought Mary Pickford still seemed young enough to play the youthful
part at this point, and Leslie Howard gave a strong performance as her
Even though this film was well acted, ably directed by Frank Borzage, and had an interesting storyline, it failed at the box office. Perhaps it was just not what Depression era audiences wanted, or perhaps Pickford fans still couldn't get used to Mary in talking roles. At any rate, because Pickford financed her own films, this hit her hard financially. She had started making this film in 1930, stopped production, and then started over, finishing three years later. Thus, this was Mary Pickford's last film, although she remained active behind the scenes as a producer for many years.
If you like films like "Cavalcade" or "Giant" that tell epic stories of families over time, you should like this one. It does show that Mary Pickford did very well understand how to take on a talking film role.
** (out of 4)
Mary Pickford's final film isn't nearly as bad as its reputation but at the same times it's way too dated and I'm sure people in 1933 felt this way as well. In the film she plays a rich girl who turns her back on her father's money and an arranged marriage so that she can run off with the poor boy (Leslie Howard) she loves. The two head out West where we see the next fifty-years, which includes many highs and lows including an attempt for him to run for Governor only to have a lover come out to try and destroy the family. When you bring this film up to film buffs a big fight usually starts as to whether or not Pickford should have called it quits after this. Some will argue that her voice and acting style didn't blend well in sound pictures and others will say that she was perfect in this picture and will bring up the fact she won her Oscar for a sound movie. I'm somewhere in the middle because I feel she has some incredibly wonderful scenes here but the majority of them are during silent moments. There's a heartbreaking scene she has with her kid during a shoot out that is among the best work I've seen from her. The part of her performance that doesn't work is early on when the star, who was pushing 40, tries to act like a teen. I know American loved this but it was clearly out of style by 1933 and her voice, also trying to act younger, just doesn't work and comes off very silly. Howard is very good in his role and manages to handle the comedy as well as the drama. C. Aubrey Smith plays Pickford's rather silly father and seems to be having a great job with it and especially in one sequence where he calls Howard's character countless bad names. The biggest problem with the film is its pacing, which is extremely slow for the first hour but finally picked up in the last thirty-minutes. The original director was fired by Pickford so I'm not sure how much of this might be his fault. Another problem is that the film seems to want to be an epic but it's cut down to a rather brief 84-minutes, which means we're jumping around way too much. We go from the two of them being happily married and then cut to nearly twenty-years in the future when Pickford learns that her husband has been cheating on her. There's not too much character development and things just happen way too fast. With that said, there's still enough here to make this worth viewing as fans of Pickford and Howard will certainly want to check it out.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
A very good 1933 film with Mary Pickford and Leslie Howard.
John and Mary love each other; though her obstinate parents want her to marry a British Lord. She flees with John to the frontier of California, the wild west. The picture makes a sharp turn and shows their life of desperation there as well as the old west phenomena: cattle rustling.
The two emerge from such a thief and his brother. The years pass and as they become prominent, he rises in politics and is about to be elected governor; only scandal intervenes: the old fashioned scandal-other women.
This film is revolutionary in that how it deals with the above subject and problems of domineering parents earlier on.
The ending where the aged parents seem to be like children to their adult children is so appropriate in today's world.
The wonderful Mary Pickford captures every moment of the young daughter in love; the run-away bride fighting for survival in a hostile frontier, success, scandal and ultimate redemption. She is well matched here by Leslie Howard; a man who fought for survival, had the world at his feet, but only to throw all away in near scandal. Howard shows many of the same traits as his famous portrayal of Ashley in "Gone With the Wind."
Today ,I'm still wondering how Frank Borzage could make so many
wonderful movies for so many years !Think of it!"Secrets" came after "A
farewell to the arms" and just before "a man's castle" followed by "no
greater glory" and "little man what now?"!And there were plenty of
masterpieces in the silent era and there were so many to come
afterward.Who can compete with him?I'd like to know! "Secrets" is more
of the same : the lovers against the hostile world,two lovers who will
"see it through for their love is true".It is composed of three parts
,apparently disparate ,but when the movie is over ,you feel it's a
seamless whole ,mainly after the old folks want to be alone to share
their secrets .
First part displays echoes of Romeo and Juliet ,complete with ladder ,a bourgeois family and a romantic escape;in the second part ,Borzage shows us the heroine in a less comfortable house where drama gives way to tragedy:this scene in which Mary Pickford is holding her dead child is one of these heartrending moments which abound in Borzage's canon : other examples can be found in "no greater glory" when they carry the dead little soldier home or in "the mortal storm" ,when James Stewart holds Margaret Sullavan's body or in "young America" this drawing which shows the two boys flying.The last third can seem weaker by comparison but further acquaintance shows this: Borzage had already anticipated the future and its great sagas/serials which appeared in the fifties :and he made this in about 40 minutes whereas the others would take two or three hours.
Borzage was certainly equaled,but never surpassed.
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