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Palm Springs

Enjoyable movie but so many problems with the concept!
Although I enjoyed the film, there were so many things that bothered me with the 'time travel' concept that I got distracted. Firstly, when Nyles is panicking because he can't find Sarah, he finds out pretty quickly that she spent the night with the groom - so all he has to do is go straight to the groom's room in the morning and there she will be. Secondly, unlike in Groundhog Day when Bill Murray was 'snowed in' to the town, Nyles and Sarah can travel anywhere they want before they fall asleep, which opens up huge parts of the world to them. They could go to New York and see every play on Broadway or work their way through the menus of the best restaurants in the Americas or go to every theme park in California etc etc The possibilities are endless but they spend most of their time at the resort or the bar down the road. They certainly should never get bored. Thirdly, and this is more conceptual, either everyone is also in the time loop but only Nyles, Sarah and Roy know about it, or there are millions of alternative realities going on simultaneously - because every day the three characters change the world in some way - do these worlds continue or does everything loop back? For example when Sarah throws herself in front of the truck does she just vanish and everyone forget she ever existed or do the truck driver and the attending police officer have to deal with her remains and the resulting psychological trauma? Roy says he was taken to hospital after this event, so it appears that time continued and did not loop back. So does time only loop back when all three looping people fall asleep or does time just continue in multiple realities? In another scene Nyles gives a little boy money but tells him he better spend it today, suggesting that the money will vanish when he does - this means that the boy is also stuck in time. And when Sarah is watching Nyles sleep, shouldn't he have already vanished and returned to the morning? Time travel always does your head in but try to enjoy the movie anyway.


Peculiarly emotionally distant
Given how important this true story is in American history and how emotive the subject matter, I found myself strangely unengaged emotionally by this film. It's as if the director was so determined to avoid sentimentality that he left out heart. I feel I may have been more engaged had we met the couple earlier in their love story. Meeting them as an established couple gave me no idea how they met or what sort of troubles they must have had as a new couple, facing their families and their community. And I felt we learnt very little about their families in the course of the film. Nor did we learn much about the other supporting characters like the racist policeman or the civil rights' lawyers. There was also quite a time jump in the middle of the film from the couple having their first child to suddenly having lots of them. I just felt the film did not tell the story well. It certainly looked great but I worried that the director was more concerned with getting the period detail right than telling the story.

Getting Straight

Disturbingly homophobic and paternalistic
Even for its period, I found this film's attitudes to women and gay men disturbing and this took away from my appreciation of it as a well-made film which, in many ways, has its heart in the right place. Women seem expected to serve their men both domestically and sexually and Candice Bergen's character puts up with some horrendous abuse from Elliott Gould's character - more so than most liberated educated women of that time would do. Then there is a crack early on about Arizona being a good place to live because of its low rate of homosexuality. And Nick tries to get out of the draft by pretending to be a stereotypically effeminate gay man, with Gould repeatedly using the 'F' word to describe him. And then there's the argument in the last scene. I suspect the writers just wanted the academic to say something absurd but the choice they made suggests that there is something inherently wrong in being gay and/or that academia has been taken over by gay men pushing their "homosexual agenda". Of course it is then up to our heterosexual male hero to violently protest against this. Perhaps the students' rights campaigns of this time were paternalistic and homophobic and this film just reflects that, but I hope at least some of the people at that time had a more progressive way of looking at the world.

The Midshipman

Excellent star vehicle for Ramon Novarro
Typical MGM star vehicle of the period allowing, in this case, the great Ramon Novarro to play moments of high drama and comedy while being gorgeously photographed. He even gets a shirtless fight scene to show off his fine physique. The plot is slight, involving the tribulations of a new trainee at the US Naval Academy, and is well filmed on location in Annapolis. It also features an early uncredited appearance by Joan Crawford, as a girlfriend of a midshipman surprised by an inquisitive dog while making out with her beau. But the film is all about Novarro, at the height of his beauty, demonstrating why he was such a great star. The film deserves a full restoration and rediscovery.


An exquisite masterpiece - ignore the critics!
Tolkien is a wonderful film, I venture to say it is close to a masterpiece. Derided by some critics, who seem to have expected Tolkien's life would be full of the kind of fantastical adventures that populate his novels, this is a subtle, beautiful and deeply moving film about the genesis of creation. I knew little of Tolkien's life, so the film was full of refreshing discoveries for me. It's about how the deep friendship between four young men, who were all thrust into the horrors of World War 1, created the heart of the Fellowship of the Ring; how a real life platonic love, that overcame the deeply entrenched English class system, inspired the fantastical adventure at the centre of one of the Twentieth Century's greatest literary works; how real life acts of bravery, sometimes quite small, helped create in the mind of one person a story that would en-trance millions of people. Nicholas Hoult is one of the finest young actors working today and he cements that reputation here - a whole world comes alive in his eyes. Lily Collins glows as the great love of his life. The other seven young actors who portray Tolkien and his friends at various ages are all outstanding and there are sublime cameos from the great Derek Jacobi and Australian actor Genevieve O'Reilly. You wouldn't expect this quintessential English story to be directed by a Finnish director of Cypriot heritage, but that's exactly who Dome Karukoski is - he does a gorgeously delicate job here, helped by a fine screenplay, beautiful cinematography and an exquisite music score by Thomas Newman. There are some truly sublime moments of beauty, sometimes merged with moments of great horror, in this film, with expressionist battlefield images that really linger in the mind - special effects that really are special. Above all this is a deeply moving film that will ensure you will never look at Tolkien's work in the same way again.

Three Days to Live

Lively melodrama, edited by Frank Capra, with a fine central performance.
Frank Capra was learning his trade when he took on editing and title-writing duties on this low budget San Francisco production. At its heart this melodrama features a glowing performance from Ora Carew as a wealthy young woman who springs into action when the lives of her father and fiancé are threatened by a mysterious rajah, played with eye-rolling menace by Hal Stephens. It's great to see a woman taking charge here as the men flounder. Interesting also to see that America's suspicion of Muslims was very much alive back in the 1920s. Helen Lowell, who Capra would marry, is also effective as the Rajah's lustful slave-girl. Capra does some nice editing tricks and keeps the action rolling at a brisk pace. Exteriors include the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, substituting for the Middle East! This is not a great silent film but it is a fun and lively one, and an interesting recent re-discovery for the Capra canon.

Combat!: Finest Hour
Episode 15, Season 4

Extraordinary performances from two Hollywood greats!!
It must have been quite an occasion in 1965 when two of MGM's greatest pre-war stars returned to the MGM lot to film this episode of 'Combat'. Ramon Novarro, who MGM had dumped thirty years earlier after 14 years, and Luise Rainer, who had dumped MGM in 1938 after winning two Oscars, were both outstanding actors and they throw their full star-power into this little war-time drama.

They play a French Count and Countess who find themselves sheltering a couple of American soldiers while their château is being occupied by Nazi officers. The total emotional control these two great artists exhibit here is extraordinary and they make the episode deeply moving and completely engrossing, despite conventional plotting and over-the-top direction.

Novarro's final scene is particularly fine and seeing Rainer and him perform scenes in extreme close-up, you cannot help but be impressed by their total emotional honesty and their extreme physical beauty (although Novarro was in his mid-sixties and Rainer in her mid-fifties).

Hollywood was spoilt for choice in the mid-sixties, and these two great stars should have worked a lot more at this time. So it is a rare privilege to be able to see them in this aptly titled episode 'Finest Hour'. It is certainly one of the finest hours of television you will ever see.

War Story

An overlooked silent gem, made ten years before "The Artist".
"War Story" (2001), like "The Artist" (2011), is a beautifully realised homage to silent cinema - this time the silent comedy one-reelers of people like Charles Chaplin. John Baumgartner does a truly amazing job in writing, directing, producing and starring in the film, creating a charming on-screen character, and some beautifully timed slapstick routines. Like Chaplin, Baumgartner also adds some serious themes, and pathos, to the comedy, because, somewhat surprisingly, the film centres on a romance between two men, one a soldier, the other a waiter, in 1918.The romance is so sweet, that it makes the often violent reactions of the other characters to it, seem absurd. This is an absolute gem and I am surprised at its lack of profile - I hope this is not because of the gay themes, but I suspect it is. "War Story" is, in its way, as fine a work as "The Artist", and well worth seeking out.

The Iron Lady

Brilliant Meryl, disappointing film.
Something of a missed opportunity, this is a film not worthy of its brilliant leading lady. Meryl Streep is astonishing as Margaret Thatcher but director Phyllida Lloyd (who also directed Meryl in "Mamma Mia") seems uncertain about what she wants to say about the women. Evidently hampered by an inadequate budget, the big events of Thatcher's life are depicted with an awkward cobbling together of real news footage and re-enactment, while in other scenes Lloyd tries to disguise the lack of budget by using more crazy camera angles than an episode of "Batman". The low budget also might account for us seeing more of the elderly dementia ridden Thatcher than the Prime Minister Thatcher. Nonetheless Meryl makes this film unmissable - it is sometimes hard to believe we are not looking at Thatcher herself! Maybe she could play the part again in another, better film!

The Sign of the Cross

Stunning combination of debauchery and drama!
How did DeMille do it? How did he make a film that is wildly decadent, revelling in the debaucheries of Ancient Rome, while still making it a moving tribute to the Christian martyrs of the time? The way he balances spectacle, comedy, drama, moralising and debauchery is pure genius! If you've never seen a pre-Hollywood-production-code movie before you may be surprised to see a glimpse of Claudette Colbert's nipples as she's bathing in milk, to see an erotic lesbian dance sequence, to see a naked young man sitting next to the very gay Nero of Charles Laughton! And then DeMille joyously recreates a whole day of gruesome spectacles in the arena in all their gruesome detail. But then, somehow, he switches the whole mood and, thanks to excellent performances from Fredric March, Elissa Landi and young Tommy Conlon, creates a deeply moving finale, that tragically anticipates the horrors of the Holocaust. An amazing film in every way, and so much better than "Quo Vadis"!


It's a shame they couldn't sack the producer!
As a kind of antidote to "Quo Vadis" I watched this fascinating film last night. It's probably a more realistic depiction of Ancient Rome and its debauchery, which is shown in explicit detail. There is the kernel of a great film here, with stunning sets and costumes, Oscar calibre performances from Peter O'Toole and Malcolm McDowell, and a script by Gore Vidal. Sadly the director was replaced by Bob Guccione from Penthouse, who was producing the film, because the film wasn't explicit enough for Bob's taste. So he re-edited it, and added some completely gratuitous hard-core porn sequences. The result is something of a mess (if you excuse the pun), but the controversy ensured the film's big box-office success. This is the first time I've seen the uncensored version and it is pretty full-on! Sad really because this could have been a great film instead of just being an infamous one.

Quo Vadis

Grand Spectacle but Poor Drama!
I watched this last night on blu-ray, and greatly admired the restoration work. But it's really not a very good movie. Despite moments of grand spectacle, and the gloriously camp performances of Peter Ustinov and Patricia Laffan as Nero and his wife, the film takes itself way too seriously to be enjoyable. Robert Taylor and Deborah Kerr play such boringly pious characters that you can't care for them, but Leo Genn as a clever senator is excellent. Ultimately the film is also too historically inaccurate to forgive. It exaggerates the importance of Christianity during Nero's reign, it was still just a tiny sect and certainly never blamed for the fire that destroyed Rome. Nero didn't light the fire either, and apparently acted quite bravely during it, saving thousands of lives by opening up his private gardens to the fleeing citizens. His downfall, and death (murder or suicide), only followed, years later, after his grandiose rebuilding plans nearly bankrupted the Empire. The film also leaves out, understandably for 1951, the fact that, after Nero murdered his wife, he had one of his slave-boys castrated and made him impersonate her for years!

The Great Lie

The quintessential Warner Bros melodrama.
To my mind this film is perfect - a classic example of what the studio system of the golden years of Hollywood could achieve. Strong direction, witty dialogue, beautiful music, sublime cinematography, crisp editing, gorgeous production design and costuming, brilliant performances - every element of this film is perfect.

Add to all that the daring (for its day) story-line, Bette Davis at the height of her dramatic powers and at her most beautiful, and Mary Astor delivering what I think is one of the great screen performances of all time, and you have a very special film indeed.

Although the film may seem to have dated elements, especially in the depiction of the African-American characters, if you let yourself watch the film with 1941 eyes you will be richly rewarded. Besides which the wonderful Hattie McDaniel brings so much depth to what could have been a simple stereotype.

As you can tell, I love this film. I understand Bette Davis and Mary Astor loved working together - and you can see that on the screen. The scenes between the two of them are electric, with so much being said beyond the words. Thank God Astor won an Oscar for her work here. She truly deserved it.

Bonanza: The Brass Box
Episode 3, Season 7

Ramon Novarro makes this episode a must-see.
Ever wanted to hear Pavarotti sing "Baby One More Time", or see Gordon Ramsay make a hamburger, well that's what it's like watching the great silent film star Ramon Novarro act his heart out in this episode of "Bonanza". It is extraordinary to see him playing his scenes with such an intensity of emotion that you could swear his dialogue was written by Shakespeare. More than anything his performance reveals what a wasted talent he was in Hollywood. It is sadly ironic too that his character is physically tortured in one scene, given the terrible nature of his murder just three years later.

To give the episode its due, it is actually pretty good. The story of an elderly Spanish man who claims his family legally own the Ponderosa, and a large part of the land around it, has resonance with the the land rights claims of indigenous people all over the world today, and Novarro manages to capture the dignified humiliation of a once great family reduced to being an object of ridicule living on the fringes of society. Perhaps he was drawing on his own fall from being a major Hollywood star. In any case he gives his scenes a greater depth than they perhaps deserve, and makes this episode unforgettable. Lorne Greene especially seems to pick up on this and matches him well in their scenes together.

This episode is a must-see for all actors.


A genuine masterpiece.
Ana Kokkinos' Blessed is a heartbreaking tale of the love between mothers and their children, and is one of the finest achievements of Australian cinema. The flawless screenplay follows a number of characters through a single day, deftly telling their stories from different points of view until we develop a full understanding of the day's events. Geoff Burton's stunning cinematography focuses on unexpected things – a pattern on a wall, a flash of fabric – and then moves in close to the characters, creating a rich visual texture. The music of Cezary Skubiszewski is one of the finest movie scores of recent years, gently enhancing the drama and the brilliant performances of the actors. The entire cast is superb, but I must make special mention of Frances O'Connor, who gives the performance of her life, and the splendid Monica Maughan, whose brief appearance in the film is truly unforgettable. Blessed represents a triumphant return to form for Kokkinos, after the disappointing Book of Revelation, proving that the astonishing Head On was no fluke. Her uncompromising, insightful, deeply humanist eye makes her one of the most exciting directors working today. Blessed is a deeply moving film that you will never forget, and deserves to be showered with awards.

In Bruges

Quite simply, the best film of the year (so far)!
The wittiest script since "All About Eve", combined with deep insights, magnificent performances, brilliant scenery, fine cinematography, excellent music - it's hard to fault this great film. At its core is the superb performance by Colin Farrell, proving yet again that he is one of the finest actors of his generation (check him out in Woody Allen's "Cassandra's Dream" as well and you'll see what I mean). A perfect blend of comic timing, rough charm and vulnerability - it's a knockout performance. And that's not to diminish the work of Brendan Gleeson, Ralph Fiennes or any of the other cast members - even the bit part players are terrific. Best not to say too much about the plot, as it's better to see it with fresh eyes - but Martin McDonagh deserves to be showered with awards for his work as both writer and director (and it's his first feature!). And it's not a bad tourist ad for Bruges either! I hope this film comes up at Oscar time - it truly deserves to.

Glory Alley

MGM enters the Fifties in a state of confusion!
GLORY ALLEY is one of the films that signaled the end of the golden age of MGM. Set in a silly back-lot New Orleans, the drama centers on a prizefighter who inexplicably flees a championship bout just as it is about to begin. We have to wait the whole movie to find out why - and when we do the reason is so silly that it makes the whole movie seem like a complete waste of time. Ralph Meeker, a good-looking but rather genteel actor, struggles to play the street-wise boxer. It's the sort of part John Garfield played so well, but Meeker, lovingly filmed by William Daniels, just seems too pretty. The ludicrous 'on-the-skids' montage hardly helps - nor does the fact that his character is called "Socks"!

Then we have Leslie Caron as his love interest. It looks like this part was hurriedly re-written for her after her triumph in AN American IN Paris. She performs ridiculous ballet routines in a seedy bar (you know the patrons would have booed her off immediately). You see she wanted to be a ballerina, but she gave it all up to support her blind father. He's played by Kurt Kaszner - an actor still in his thirties but donned with silly silver hair to make him look ancient and wise.

Then there's Louis Armstrong, sadly named "Shadow", and seemingly the only African-American in New Orleans. He's supposed to be Meeker's trainer, but he spends the whole movie playing his trumpet and leading absurd sing-a-longs at the local bar. He does have a couple of good acting scenes though. The excellent Gilbert Roland floats around the film's edges with nothing to do, while John McIntire adds pseudo profound narration to the story - told in flashback like a film noir.

Probably the worst sequence in the film, and that's saying something, is the ludicrous Korean War scene, with some stock footage, four soldiers, some sort of pine forest and a rear projected bridge deemed sufficient to portray a major world conflict.

So we have a boxing picture, a musical, a film noir, a war film, and a pseudo-Freudian psychological study all rolled into one! What more could you ask for?

It's hard to believe a fine hard-boiled director like Raoul Walsh oversaw this mess - he probably wanted to run straight back to Warner Bros afterwards.

Confidential Agent

Any old accent will do!
This enjoyable minor noir boasts a top cast, and many memorable scenes. The big distraction is the complete disregard for authentic accents. The Spanish characters in the film are played by a Frenchman (Boyer), a Belgian (Francen), a Greek (Paxinou) and a Hungarian (Lorre)! And to top it all off Bacall is supposed to be an English aristocrat! Despite these absurdities, the performances are all very good - especially those of Paxinou and Lorre. But the scene in which Boyer, Paxinou and Lorre meet, and talk in wildly different accents, is a real hoot! And I guess, seeing as how they were alone, that they should actually have been speaking in Spanish anyway! It seems pretty weird that the Brothers Warner couldn't find any Spanish speaking actors in Los Angeles! Of course Hollywood has often had an "any old accent will do" policy - my other favorite is Greta Garbo (Swedish) as Mata Hari (Dutch), who falls in love with a Russian soldier played by a Mexican (Ramon Novarro). Maybe they should have got Novarro for "Confidential Agent" - he would have been great in Boyer's role or at least in Francen's (which would have saved greatly on the dark make-up budget).

The Love of Lionel's Life

Who renamed this one OPEN CUT?
When I caught this Aussie telemovie on Pay-TV, unfortunately renamed OPEN CUT, I was surprised not to have heard of it before. The cast is excellent and the director has a distinguished background, so I wondered why the movie had such a low profile. I was even more surprised by this as I watched it, because the first half of the movie is a very charming romantic comedy with great performances by Matt Day and Nadine Garner. The concept of a big city girl being won over by the sense of community in a small country town, and the honest charm of a country boy, is hardly an original one, but it is very well realised in this movie - although it is a shame, given the Jim Carrey movie, that the cinema which plays an important part in the plot is called THE MAJESTIC.

But then the whole movie falls apart in the second half. Seeming not to trust the delightful simplicity of the story, the film-makers take the film into a completely unbelievable melodramatic direction. The criminal act committed is so extreme, that the small motivation for it seems ridiculously out of proportion, despite the best efforts of that fine actor Alex Dimitriades. And then things just get sillier, and more unpleasant, until the charm of the first half is completely destroyed. What a shame - because this could have been a genuine Aussie classic. What remains in my mind though is the excellent performance of Matt Day, whose emotionally true work almost makes the silly second half believable.

But who renamed this OPEN CUT? The original title was bad enough, but the new one, which has ugly sexual connotations (especially in a movie involving a rape), is just plain tacky.

The Outriders

Ramon Novarro steals the show!
THE OUTRIDERS is a good workmanlike Western. There are no real surprises in the story, but there are some very strong performances. Joel McCrea gives his usual conviction to the hero role, with Barry Sullivan nicely devious as his comrade/rival. Arlene Dahl looks great, but tends to pout a bit much, James Whitmore lends sturdy support in the type of role normally played by Walter Brennan, Claude Jarman Jr. plays another of his doomed youths, and Jeff Corey is quite extraordinary as the villain (with almost expressionist make-up, and did he intend to imitate Kirk Douglas?).

But the movie is stolen by silent screen legend Ramon Novarro in one of his more substantial later roles. He essays his character perfectly, giving it much more depth than was in the screenplay. He also lends the part style, grace, dignity and humor (that "Pagan" sparkle never left his eye, despite his rather sad life).

In short, definitely worth seeing for the performances, and the gorgeous technicolor. What a shame the script and direction don't match them.

L'éclipse du soleil en pleine lune

The screen's first gay love scene??
In this marvellous Melies fantasy, an eccentric astronomer is overwhelmed by excitement at the approaching eclipse. His students make fun of him initially but then become excited too as the moon approaches the sun.

Through the astronomer's telescope we see the man in the moon winking at the man in the sun. Both begin to lick their lips and wriggle their tongues with excitement as they draw closer together. Finally the sun goes behind the moon, and the man in the moon's face suggests orgasm!!

Finally they part again looking exhausted and satisfied. And the sky explodes in an orgy of sperm-like stars, each one carrying a scantily clad woman or man.

Surely this must be the first gay love scene ever put on film. It's hard to believe it's happening in a 1907 movie. You've gotta see it to believe it.

Great mix of gorgeous special effects, slapstick comedy and eroticism. One of Melies best!

Laughing Boy

MGM shows what not to do with Mexican talent.
The combination of the two dynamic Mexican actors Ramon Novarro and Lupe Velez should have guaranteed a dynamite movie.

But someone at MGM, in their wisdom, cast them as Native Americans - a disastrous decision that doomed this film to failure even before it was begun.

Both struggle to make their characters even slightly believable, as they try to curb their Mexican passion into some sort of wise aboriginal spirituality. The spitfire in Lupe just can't help but surface, and all Ramon can do is try to maintain some dignity under that terrible wig. His singing is nice but anachronistic, and there is far too much of it.

Hard to believe this disaster was directed by Woody Van Dyke, who had made one of Ramon's best silent movies "The Pagan". Novarro was deeply ashamed of this film, and it's no wonder. What is saddest of all about it though is the way it wastes what could have been one of the most exciting star combinations of all time. Just imagine if Novarro and Velez were playing a pair of violently passionate Mexican lovers - what fireworks we would have seen!

Shame, MGM, Shame!

The Old Swimmin' Hole

Luminous Leatrice too good for this tripe!
Hollywood wasted many talents, including, sadly, most of the wonderful stars of the silent era. In this cheap and shoddy production, the excellent Leatrice Joy, former leading lady of Cecil B. De Mille, shines, in a deeply moving performance - a performance that eclipses the maudlin and sentimental script. She plays a single mother in a small country town, who can't afford to send her talented son to school, and fears that this will prevent him achieving his ambition to be a doctor. She's also in love with the local doctor, and he loves her, but they have never revealed their love to each other. In the scenes Leatrice has with the doctor, she conveys a tenderness that is rare to see on the screen. All her scenes are vividly real, but she also has that mischievous twinkle in her eye, that made her one of the best comediennes of the silent era.

It is only her performance that makes this film worth seeing. All the other performances are forced and labored, especially those of the young people, who play "cute" in a very self conscious way. It doesn't help that, like so many films of the 1940s, the film is patronising in its treatment of the emotions of young people. At times it even ridicules them. No wonder youth would soon rebel and embrace James Dean as their hero.

Overall this is a B-grade attempt to make an Andy Hardy-like "all-American, apple-pie" type comedy/drama about young people and "real" values. It fails on every level, except that it allowed the magical Leatrice Joy to light up the screen once more.

The Girl Who Had Everything

Liz learns that a woman's place is in the home.
In this loathsome piece of 1950's propaganda, a luminously beautiful Elizabeth Taylor learns that striving for adventure and excitement in life is a mistake. A woman can't really be happy flying around the world with a handsome Latin lover, what she really wants to do is stay home, have babies, and darn her husband's socks! Furthermore Lorenzo Lamas learns that if you're born in the gutter then that is where you should stay. Striving to rise above your station, especially if you are not an Anglo-Saxon male, is not to be encouraged in any way.

What such intelligent and gifted actors as William Powell, Gig Young and James Whitmore are doing in this rubbish is hard to fathom. The scenes set in a Senate inquiry into Lamas' business operations are reminiscent of the real House Un-American Activities inquiries that were happening at the time, but in this movie I think we are supposed to be on the racist senators' side! Sexist, racist garbage - I wonder what Liz thinks of it now!


Mary shines in her final role!
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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