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Mary shines in her final role!
David Atfield8 December 2002
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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Little-known film, but good
rvbunting-112 September 2008
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.
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Mary Pickford's Farewell
drednm28 January 2007
An odd film, but it has several terrific moments thanks to the great Mary Pickford.

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.
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An American Cavalcade
calvinnme9 December 2009
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 husband.

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.
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A movie and Pickford's plea of forgiveness to Douglas Fairbanks
adt12526 July 2009
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.
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Pickford's Antiquated Swan Song Shows Her Charm …and Her Age
Ed Uyeshima13 September 2008
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.
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Mary Stands By Her Man
bkoganbing12 September 2008
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.
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Not As Bad As Its Reputation
Michael_Elliott13 May 2010
Secrets (1933)

** (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.
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Mary rides into the cinematic sunset
jjnxn-14 July 2016
Pickford's screen swan song is her best talkie, admittedly not a high bar, that moves at breakneck speed through its tale of the romance, marriage, struggles and ultimate success of its main couple. It crams too much into its 83 minute running time but as early sound films go it's not bad.

At 42 she's unconvincing as a young belle at the beginning of the film but after about ten minutes she's out of that guise and from then on her performance is quite good. Unsurprisingly her strongest moments, as well as the film's, are the one's without dialog. It gives a peek at why she was one of the queens of silents and it seems regretful that just as she was adjusting to sound she chose to withdraw.

The film wasn't a hit on release and Mary, nothing if not canny, sensed that though the parade had not passed her by as of yet it was just around the corner. So she retired, enormously wealthy and a power broker behind the scenes.
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Secrets: Revealed As a Real Gem ****
edwagreen14 July 2011
Warning: 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."
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A life made of small joys and big griefs
dbdumonteil10 September 2009
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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This is America's Sweetheart?...
marcslope13 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Mary's farewell to the screen (she flirted with later comeback offers and was definitely set for "Storm Center" in the '50s, but backed out) is a peculiar romantic melodrama, independently made by her own United Artists and lacking the discipline a big studio might have brought to it. When we first meet her she's 40 and playing half her age, as the rich daughter of stuffy banker C. Aubrey Smith, in love with underling Leslie Howard. Mary simpers and coos and overdoes the charm thing, like an overage Janet Gaynor, and though her speaking voice is fine, whatever charm she had as a silent heroine is lost. The young couple light out for the West and there are some nice "Cimarron"-like covered wagon sequences. They settle down in California with Ned Sparks as a typical aw-shucks Western sidekick, then Howard drives off some cattle thieves and is elected governor. Here's where the film takes a really strange turn, and here's the spoiler: We're led to believe that he's having an affair and has had many before, yet Mary stands by him, telling him that she knows she is truly his only love. And the movie takes that at face value. The excellent screenwriter, Frances Marion, must have simply written herself into a corner: There's no way to keep Howard's character sympathetic, or to explain Mary's fealty to him. The pair keep aging and get to play doddering fogies still in love with each other, to the embarrassment of their children, and it's an out-of-left-field conclusion to a movie that, as another commenter said, feels like three movies. The director, Frank Borzage, was a great romantic, and his hand is evident here: The production's stylized and attractive, with intentionally unrealistic looking vistas. And Mary has some good moments in the middle Western section, which turns surprisingly somber and tragic. But you can see why she didn't stick with movies after this: Her specialness is gone, and she's too old to compete with the leading ladies of the day.
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Mary Pickford Blows Out the Candles
wes-connors11 April 2009
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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Three Movies In One, and All Unsatisfying
TomInSanFrancisco9 April 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is like three one-act plays -- the Mary Pickford and Leslie Howard characters appear in all three of them, but it doesn't add up to a cohesive story with believable character development.

The opening act is played broadly. Mary P. is too old for the part -- certainly too old to play C. Aubrey Smith's daughter! And she plays the entire movie on the same note.

The middle section is a Western. Leslie Howard isn't a likely cattle rancher.

The final segment leaps the story forward by 20-some years -- much has happened to the characters, but we didn't get to see any of it.

All in all, not much to recommend.
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too formalistic, but still okay
mukava9911 October 2008
Warning: Spoilers
SECRETS is one of director Frank Borzage's lesser-known romantic dramas. It's essentially a three-act play divided by artfully shot poetic montages, much more interesting than the usual succession of newspaper headlines used in cinema of the time (though this film too resorts to headlines near the end). We follow Mary Pickford and Leslie Howard from east- coast mansion to rough-and-tough cattle ranch and finally to west-coast mansion through 50 years of tender loving marriage. Pickford shines, especially in sequences without dialogue, as when she discovers that her baby has died as her house is under attack by cattle rustlers; she is at her most visually magnificent later in the film as the mature mother of grown children with hair swept high on her head giving her a regal aspect and framing her face in the most flattering way. Borzage seems to have been drawn to economy of shots. Much information is telegraphed by the perfect close up. ***POSSIBLE SPOILER***For instance, at one point Howard leaves the ranch house to pursue the cattle rustlers who have stolen his herd. The next shot shows the shadows of the legs of three hanged men. ***END OF POSSIBLE SPOILER*** Although the surface of the film is that of a sweeping saga, the core of it is the loyalty of the lovers, a type of story that Borzage directed often. Despite the beautiful cinematic touches, the result is not terribly gripping. There is a packaged, formalistic feel to it, probably because of the episodic structure that too often breaks our connection with the main characters.
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More than a bit disappointing!
JohnHowardReid6 January 2018
Warning: Spoilers
Although it wasn't planned that way at the time, Secrets (1933) turned out to be Mary Pickford's last film. An odd choice for her, since the male role is the main one. Although not a total write-off, the film's more than a bit disappointing. Most movies adapted from stage plays do their best to disguise that fact. This one doesn't! The action falls into three very distinct Acts. The first is played mainly for comedy with Leslie Howard (of all people) enacting a clownish young man on an idiotic penny farthing bicycle - and playing it most unconvincingly. I suspect that Marshal Neilan directed most of this rubbish before producer Pickford woke up to his incompetence and fired him. His replacement, Frank Borzage handled the night garden scene with pictorial finesse, but didn't do much with the rest of the movie, although the Second Act turned out as actually the most interesting of the three. It's a western, would you believe, with Leslie Howard as a gunslinger? He's more convincing than you might expect, but we have to wait for Act Three before we encounter really charismatic acting - and it doesn't come from either the stars or the main support players, but from Mona Maris who plays her one scene with presence and style.

The aim of the stage play was obviously to show the main male character through three stages of his life - young, unsure romantic, then reluctant hero, and finally discredited heel. This sort of stagey device can work well in a theater where the Acts are conspicuously separated by long Intervals while the stage-hands change the set. In a movie, where the Acts are divided by no more than an insert title, the device seems both jarring and artificial - here especially as neither Howard nor Pickford can muster enough gusto to bring it off. No wonder Pickford never returned to the screen! You might have the main role, but even an incompetent male lead - or a really jazzy also-in-the-cast whom the director, the photographer and the dress designer wish to indulge - can muscle you right off the screen and put you in the shadows!
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An underrated gem
Martin Bradley2 January 2017
For reasons best known to posterity this thoroughly delightful comedy-drama has been almost totally forgotten despite starring none other than Mary Pickford, (it was her last film), and a young Leslie Howard, (before he grew stiff). It was directed by the great Frank Borzage who already had two best director Oscars under his belt and it was written by Francis Marion who also had two Oscars under her belt by the time this came along. Everyone is at their best here, whether it's in the full-blown comedy of the early sequences or in the melodramatics that follow as the somewhat over-egged plot progresses. Something of an undervalued gem and a well-kept secret.
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Pickford's Farewell and a Great Screen-Acting Moment
joe-pearce-116 August 2015
This is by far the best performance Mary Pickford gave in a talking film; in fact, it is one that needs no apologies from anyone for it. If she was a bit too old for the early scenes, well so was Leslie Howard (actually he and Pickford were the same age, but nobody seems to mention him in this respect), she still carried them off very well and, indeed, if you didn't already know she was 40 at the time from outside sources, you really would not know it while viewing the film.

The film suffers badly from a lack of continuity. All kinds of things appear to have happened at various stages of the story - most especially the husband's adultery - and we never know it until someone comes upon the scene and practically bellows it forth - but as others have said, this film is very much in the tradition of the old three-act play, where one act may not have very much to do with what comes before or after that act, especially when encompassing a half-century of story. Anyway, it does appear that an entire film might have been structured out of all the important story lines pretty much left out of this one. Still, old-fashioned or not, it holds the interest throughout, played first for comedy, then for drama and tragedy, and finally for pure sentiment, and both Pickford and Howard are perfect throughout the fifty years the story covers.

James Agee, a film critic many consider a great one (I do not, but will hypocritically reference him here when it suits my purposes) made one of his most memorable comments on acting when, in reviewing moments of John Wayne's trek across the parched desert holding a newborn baby in his arms, determined to save its life because of a promise he made to the baby's dying mother, a total stranger to him (THREE GODFATHERS, 1949), he said that you could read pages out of all the great acting manuals and never begin to describe what Wayne achieves in those moments, and that constitutes great screen acting. That came to mind immediately in the scene of the cattle rustlers' attack on the Howard/Pickford home in this film, one that results (without our realizing it at first) in the death of their infant baby. The scene of Mary finding the baby, thinking it is asleep, slowly realizing it is not breathing, sitting down drained of every emotion except grief, suddenly getting an idea and going over to get a face mirror to bring back, put in front of the baby's mouth in the hope that she is wrong and that it is still breathing, the ultimate realization that her child is indeed dead, her combination of both stoical and expressed grief, and then her placing her baby back in its crib and going through the door into the next room to help load ammunition for her husband's continuing fight against the rustlers, must be one of the greatest 'silent' acting moments in the history of the screen, and it should be shown in acting classes to demonstrate what silent acting, even in a talkie, could encompass. Just wonderful!
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Pickford shines but film is uneven.....
sdave759617 April 2010
Warning: Spoilers
"Secrets" released in 1933, stars Mary Pickford and Leslie Howard as two people who meet and marry and spend over 50 years together. Mary Pickford was 40 when she made this film, but she looks great -- although certainly her playing a young New England girl at the beginning is a little tough to believe. Mary's parents do not consider John (Leslie Howard) a good match for her, so she elopes with him, and the two move to a rugged California ranch. Oddly, there is never any mention of her parents nor do they appear again in the film. Together, they tame the western front, fight cattle ranchers, and lose an infant son. Then the picture just suddenly shifts to many years later, and John is running for Governor of California, and they have children who are now young adults. John's future could be jeopardized because of his infidelities (hence the title "Secrets). This film, while not bad, is full of holes and unfinished business. The script jumps around a bit, and it is never fully explained how the couple managed to go from living in a modest ranch (almost resembling a log cabin) to living in wealth and luxury. But the best part of the picture is Mary herself. Pickford delivers a fine performance, as does Leslie Howard -- although listening to Howard and his upper-class British accent while playing a wild west cowboy was a bit much to take. Mary Pickford made the transition to sound films just fine, and she should have had a career ahead of her -- but by now she had been around so long it is likely audiences of that era had just grown tired of her. But what a legacy she left!
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Ignore the Kool-Aid drinkers, this is a bad film!
MartinHafer13 September 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I love Mary Pickford films and would list many of them among my very favorite silents. She was magnificent in gems such as DADDY LONG LEGS, SUDS, SPARROWS and MY BEST GIRL and is perhaps my favorite silent actress. However, I am NOT a "Kool-Aid drinker"--you know, a person that loves a star so much that I can't objectively review their films. This is the type person that gives every single one of the movies scores like 9 or 10! And, when I looked at the overall score for this (7.4) and some amazingly positive reviews, I knew I was in the land of Kool-Aid!

The bottom line is that the talkies were not kind to Miss Pickford. Even though she received an Oscar for COQUETTE, she clearly didn't earn it for that performance. The Oscar was more an acknowledgment of her past film achievements. However, by 1933, it was obvious that America's Sweetheart was no longer a guaranteed box office draw and SECRETS fell flat in theaters. However, its failure wasn't due to Pickford this time as much as it was due to a terribly dull and episodic plot. Her acting here was actually better than COQUETTE, as at least she was believable and didn't put on a crazy accent--though she was rather old to play such a young girl. At 41, she played a woman who was probably about 16 at the beginning of the film--though she did a great job of making it all seem possible and this really didn't hurt the film.

The movie seems very much like an Edna Ferber novel (such as CIMARRON)--a sweeping saga that is so grand and so bigger than life that the characters seem more like caricatures than real people. In particular, Leslie Howard comes off as rather wooden and tough to understand--especially since his personality in the film changes so wildly and unpredictably. In spite of this, Pickford stood by her man like Tammy Wynette and this hurts her character as well--making her seem like a sad door mat late in the film.

The plot involves rich Easterners Pickford and Howard eloping and going West in the mid-nineteenth century. Pickford came from a rich family and gave up everything for her love. Once they arrive, life is hard but the film is engaging...for a while. The segment where they fight against cattle thieves and they lose their baby is reasonably well done and engaging--and none of the rest of the film is anything like it!! After this decent segment, the final half of the film is more like watching a highlights reel--with only very short snippets shown of various decades until the pair become old and decrepit. Amazingly, although this is dull and unsatisfying, the writers manage to make it worse by sticking in some pointless sexual peccadilloes that manage to make you wonder why you even care about the characters any more. The film would have been MUCH better had it stuck to a much briefer time span or if they'd filmed it as a series of two or three films. Shoving all this into 131 minutes was just impossible.

The bottom line is that this film is a huge disappointment to fans and will do nothing to make those not in love with Pickford care a bit about her. Despite decent acting on her part, her character seems a bit desperate and stupid and her husband, Leslie Howard does an unconvincing job playing a human weasel! Don't bother with the film unless you are a die-hard fan or if you want to see Ned Sparks in one of his better supporting roles.
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Great Film Classic
whpratt121 September 2008
Just recently viewed this film and was pleasantly surprised to enjoy Mary Pickford's last film. Apparently this film was not reviewed very well in the public's eye in 1933 and this film turned into a bomb which was completely financed by Mary Picford at a great loss. This story deals with Mary Carlton, (Mary Pickford) who came from a rich family and her father was intending for her to marry a man she does not love. Mary runs off with a young man who wants to go to California named John Carlton, (Leslie Howard) and Mary gives up a soft way of living for a very hard struggle to the West and the loss of family members. This is a nice loving film with a great ending. Enjoy.
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And with this last movie the history of film is told in full
yumredwine26 July 2009
This is an average movie as movies go and it is only the presence of the glorious Pickford and the fascinating Howard that makes it worth the while, not to mention of course the two scenes that everybody remembers, both of them by Pickford.

Others have mentioned here and elsewhere that this movie was also a vehicle for Pickford to make a statement to her estranged husband Douglas Fairbanks, and his reply in his 1934 movie is the stuff of Hollywood legend, as was their relationship.

This film is important for it being the last of Mary Pickford's many movies.

We are fortunate to have still available many of Pickford's movies, stories about her films and acting from contemporary media and colleagues and her own interviews then and later.

The extreme talent of Pickford is easily revealed by the fact that for twenty years the whole world was deeply in love with her (from China, to Russia to Australia), not just for what she was, a movie star, but for the person they thought she was through watching her movies. People were convinced that this acting Mary had to be the real Mary and that this acting Mary was a very special person indeed. It is testament to her skill that through silent films Mary could affect so many so deeply in such a way.

She was attractive, a little short and dumpy at times but never the stereotypical tall glamorous elegant type.

Mary was no fool, already a tough heavily traveled veteran of stage for 12 years by the time she came to film at the age of 17. A woman with her head screwed on tightly, deeply thoughtful and analytical and assertive. But equally as sweet and gentle and fun loving.

Mary came into early film, saw how it looked and very early transformed it into something entirely new. Her gift was not only knowing how to act and convey a message in silence but when to apply what techniques, and art in itself.

Her last movie Secrets gives a few looks at her skills though the movie itself was struggling with the new technology which badly affected its directing. Nevertheless, Mary was still the natural.

Pickford was the first and last of the greats, in fact the only real great. All learned their art from her template. She was being Chaplin before Chaplin got going, she was at times a Katherine & Audrey Hepburn, she was the sweet and gentle Lillian Gish.

Last of all she was one of the toughest businesswomen of the times, never intimidated. For two decades she was the heart of the nation.
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