Monday, December 12, 2022

Secret Ceremony

TCM recently put out a new book that's a tie-in to TCM Underground, and as part of the promotion, had the book's two authors on in prime time a few months back. One of the movies they showed as part of this block was Secret Ceremony.

Elizabeth Taylor plays Leonora, a woman who's been living in the UK for some time. Long enough, in fact, that her young daughter drowned in the country quite a few years ago. One day, while at the cemetery, Leonora meets Cenci (Mia Farrow). Cenci's mom died some time back but when she sees Leonora, she thinks of Mom. Cenci invites Leonora back to her house. Leonora figures out pretty quickly why she reminds Cenci of her mother when she sees a picture of Cenci's late mother. And, to be honest, Leonora finds herself thinking of her own daughter when she sees Cenci.

Meanwhile, there are a lot of complications. Cenci may have some sort of mental illness, as she's legally an adult but acts like she's much young, to the consternation of her two aunts (Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown), who look in on Cenci from time to time and aren't above taking some of the knick-knacks from the house. They wonder who this stranger is, and Leonora tries to pass herself off as a cousin of Cenci's mother.

And then there's Albert (Robert Mitchum), who is ostensibly Cenci's stepfather, in the mold of the Dirk Bogarde character from Our Mother's House. He may or may not have had an incestuous relationship with Cenci in the past, and Cenci seems not to want that to happen again. Albert, for his part, is a little bit rough with Cenci.

Things get really weird when Leonora takes Cenci with her to one of those fading British seaside resorts, and Cenci decides she's going to fake a pregnancy, a development that as far as I could tell came out of nowhere. And wouldn't you know, but Albert shows up again, leading to the movie's climax when everybody gets back to London.

Secret Ceremony made me think of some of those other late 1960s movies with older stars, made in a time just after the breakdown of the Hollywood Production Code when societal mores were really changing. Some of these movies, like The Big Cube, are gloriously awful and made more fun for wondering what the cast and crew were thinking as they made the movie. Secret Ceremony, however, commits a much bigger sin, which is that it's just plain boring. One gets the impression that the people involved thought they were making something deep and psychological, but instead it's just impenetrable.

Still, Secret Ceremony is a movie that developed a cult following, and you can see why some people might think they're part of a select club by watching this movie and talking knowingly about how great they think it is. So judge for yourself.

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