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Secret Ceremony (1968)

A penniless woman meets a strange girl who insists she is her long-lost mother, and becomes enmeshed in a web of deception, and perhaps madness.


Joseph Losey


Marco Denevi (short story "Ceremonia secreta"), George Tabori (screenplay)
Nominated for 1 BAFTA Film Award. Another 2 nominations. See more awards »




Complete credited cast:
Elizabeth Taylor ... Leonora
Mia Farrow ... Cenci
Robert Mitchum ... Albert
Peggy Ashcroft ... Hannah
Pamela Brown ... Hilda


Leonora Grabowski (Dame Elizabeth Taylor) mourns the death by drowning years earlier of her daughter. She encounters a strange waif-like girl, Cenci Engelhard (Mia Farrow), who bears a strong resemblance to her lost child. Cenci is struck by the great resemblance of Leonora to her own mother, whose death the mentally unstable Cenci has been unable to accept or even acknowledge. The two women quickly develop a symbiotic relationship, moving in and out of the illusion that each is the lost loved one of the other. The complicating factor is the arrival of Albert (Robert Mitchum), Cenci's stepfather, whose incestuous attachment to her may well be the cause of her mind's unbalance. With Albert's arrival, no one in the strange trio is safe. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis


No one admitted the last 12 minutes. See more »


Drama | Thriller


R | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Did You Know?


During filming, Robert Mitchum persuaded Mia Farrow to turn down the Mattie Ross part in True Grit (1969) by telling her that director Henry Hathaway would be too difficult with whom to work. See more »


Leonora: [singing] Hush little baby, cry no more. Father's gone fishing, mother's a whore. Back in the morning, to guard your life, with two short prayers, and a carving knife.
See more »

Alternate Versions

Network TV version is eight minutes shorter than the theatrical release, removing some scenes and featuring alternative footage for others. See more »


Referenced in Videoman (2018) See more »

User Reviews

Embarrassingly awful psycho-drama
14 September 2020 | by AlsExGalSee all my reviews

Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor) has been walking about in a haze of grief ever since her 10 year-old daughter drowned five years ago. On the way to visit the child's grave, a strange young woman named Cenci (Mia Farrow) begins following Leonora, eventually explaining that Leonora looks like Cenci's recently deceased mother. Leonora sees a certain resemblance to the woman that her daughter might have grown up to look like in Cenci, and realizing that Cenci has more than a few screws loose, the older woman decides to move into Cenci's opulent home to look after her. The two spend time in a giant bed and a giant bath tub, but Cenci's bizarre behavior continues to get worse, a situation that is exacerbated by the arrival of Cenci's lascivious stepfather Albert (Robert Mitchum).

How a movie this bizarre, one that struggles so much to be outrageous and push the new freedoms of the time in cinema, can still end up being so boring and dull, is a real testament to director Losey. Farrow is going through the wide-eyed, fragile waif period of her career, which is in full effect here. I So I mainly watched this for Mitchum, but even he's pretty terrible, with a shoddy accent that only accentuates the lurid absurdity of his "shocking" discussions of incest or measuring the sexual arousal of hamsters as they watch Jean Harlow movies (No, that's really part of the dialogue!). Turner Classic Movies timed the showing right, playing it as a TCM Underground entry, and I can see this having a fervent, if misguided, cult following thanks to the general silliness of it all. But for me it was just a boring slog of "Ooo, look how naughty we're being!" dialogue and ham-fisted psycho-babble encased in a poorly-acted waste of time. You get a lot of that in 60s movies as film shakes off the shackles of the production code era for good.

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Release Date:

23 October 1968 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Secret Ceremony See more »


Box Office


$3,200,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

World Film Services See more »
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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)



Aspect Ratio:

1.85 : 1
See full technical specs »

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