Friday, October 14, 2011

Secret Ceremony (1968).




See Part 1 of the full film HERE.

Entering into one of my favorite times of year, the fall harvest Halloween to Thanksgiving season, I'm starting it off with a creepy film featuring two it-girl lead actresses whose generation gap is as wide as possible set in a fabulous old creepy London mansion.  Vixon Elizabeth Taylor plays a strange adopted mother to the frail gamine Mia Farrow in this story of relationships, resurfacing past traumas, and incestuous triangles in the twisted game of love (familial and romantic).  The film is strange tale of two troubled females with a strange bond confined in self-imposed isolation in a mansion of history and secrets.  Those who are fans of the two stars and weird, obscure films of the occult may enjoy this one.

"Critical reception of the film has tended to be mixed, with some critics essentially maintaining that it is a bad film but yet one that can be enjoyed due to a certain camp quality evident in Losey's mise-en-scène and the actors' performances. However, other film analysts regard the film as compelling because of its deep psychological portraits. Taylor's performance has been characterized as occasionally tacky, but justified by the fact that she is playing a prostitute and mother at the same time. Fans of the film cite its many moments of heart-rending emotional truth in the character, which Taylor conveys effortlessly. The role has been called one of her best ever. Farrow's performance is referred to by fans as outstanding, and Mitchum as the perverted stepfather has been described as nothing short of searing.
The chief set of the film, the house where Farrow lives, was originally a mansion in Kensington, London, decorated in the style of Art Nouveau Losey was famous for his so-called baroque style which he put to full use showing off the architecture of the set.  


There are apparently varying versions of the film, the result of Universal Pictures tampering with Losey's original cut, possibly to de-emphasize the lesbian aspects of the Taylor-Farrow relationship. Writer Harlan Ellison has noted in many articles that Universal Studios executives tend to savage their own films to the point of vandalism.
[SPOILERS BELOW] 
While riding on a bus in London, Leonora, a fading prostitute, discovers that she is being stared at by Cenci, a sad-faced girl who bears a remarkable resemblance to Leonora's deceased daughter. Cenci follows Leonora to her daughter's grave and invites her to the shuttered old mansion where she lives. There, Leonora learns that she closely resembles Cenci's dead mother. Touched by Cenci's need for love and intrigued by the luxury surrounding her, Leonora succumbs to the young girl's wish that she stay on and live with her as her mother. Explaining to Cenci's two greedy aunts, Hilda and Hannah, that she is the dead mother's sister, Leonora assumes her role with ease, settles down to a life of comfort, and becomes devoted to the child-like Cenci. Eventually, however, Leonora learns that Cenci is really 22 years old, that her stepfather, Albert, was banished from the house for attempting to seduce her, and that her mother was hopelessly insane. Returning to the mansion one day, Leonora finds Cenci cowering under a table after a visit from Albert. Cenci convinces Leonora that she has been raped by her stepfather, and the two leave for the seashore. Albert follows and confronts Leonora with the fact that Cenci is a sexual psychotic who has repeatedly tried to seduce him. Realizing the truth of his statement, which is supported by Cenci's infantile attempt to appear pregnant by stuffing her dress with a doll, Leonora desperately tries to force Cenci to face reality. Instead, Cenci seeks out Albert on the beach, consummates her love for him, and sends Leonora away. A short time later, Leonora visits Cenci, asks to be forgiven, and pleads for the chance to resume their former relationship. But Cenci sends her away once more and then commits suicide. When Leonora and Albert meet in silence at Cenci's funeral, Leonora pulls out a knife and plunges it into Albert."  -Via TCM.com



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