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Ruth Chatterton's "comeback picture" after 2 years off the screen ...
Early into the telling of Lady of Secrets we discover that Chatterton's character, Celia, has a troubled past that easily surfaces into emotional outbursts. A Fourth of July parade with marching soldiers outside Celia's window sets her off like a firecracker. "Put on your uniforms and beat your drums!" she cries. "Tell the world that war is glorious. Let's have another one!" When she calms down, and wistfully calls out, "Michael ... Michael ... I've got to learn to forget"--we assume that the man she speaks of is among the dear departed.
Celia's younger sister, Joan (Marian Marsh) punishes the young man she loves, by announcing her engagement to a middle-aged millionaire, David (Otto Kruger). Celia is up front with the fiancé and tells him, nicely, "I don't feel this marriage should take place. If I find I'm right, I shall declare war on it." The simpatico between the talented actors, Chatterton and Kruger, is tangible. So far, Lady of Secrets holds the interest.
Halfway into the film, Celia is left alone to reminisce. We have the misfortune of experiencing a flashback which hammers more nails than necessary into the cross she bears, as well as the film's coffin. Any subtlety that Lady of Secrets had quickly vanishes. Instead, we look aghast as Chatterton is asked to portray Celia as a sixteen-year-old. A younger shade of blonde, giddy innocence, and clever lighting cannot disguise the fact that Baby Jane Hudson (Chatterton was 43) is attempting a comeback. 17 minutes of drudging up things we already suspect, deflates any delicacy the film possessed.
Lady of Secrets attempts to regain the charm, tempo and poignancy it had, but it comes too late. The inflated flashback has become a burdensome anchor, dragging its weight and the film with it.
Even so, I recommend this film for the talents of Chatterton and Kruger. Marian Marsh does well as the naive, younger sister. She and Chatterton got along well during the production, sharing a mutual interest in horses, and taking morning rides together in Griffith Park.
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