Tonight's Saturday Night Cinema feature stars my favorite hunk o' man, Robert Mitchum. But star power abounds in the strangely facsinating "Secret Ceremony," with glam queen Elizabeth Taylor playing opposite the otherworldly Mia Farrow.
"....this psychologically twisted tragedy begins when the boozy prostitute Leonora (Elizabeth Taylor) encounters a young woman on a London bus. Cenci (Mia Farrow) looks very much like Leonora's late daughter. The two lonely women start talking and seem to get along quite well, so Cenci invites Leonora to stay at her house."
Screen: 'Secret Ceremony,' Directed by Joseph Losey, Opens:Elizabeth Taylor and Mitchum Featured 5 Other Movies Begin Local Engagements NY TImes, October 24, 1968
"SECRET CEREMONY," which opened yesterday at the Sutton and New Embassy Theaters, is Joseph Losey's best film in years—incomparably better than "Accident." The opulent, lacquered decadence works well this time, with Mia Farrow as a rich, mad orphan, whose mother Elizabeth Taylor pretends to be and, in effect, becomes. Robert Mitchum is good as Miss Farrow's stepfather, in a relationship as violent and complicated as relationships in movies like "Accident" and "Reflections in a Golden Eye" tend to be. The lines are spoken so slowly, with such long pauses in between (it is as though a speech guidance drama class were reciting immortal iambic pentameters) that one thinks for a time that all this affectation is going to be unbearable.
But there is something not at all arbitrary and far-out at the heart this time, with people — essentially confidence men—drawn into the frank needs of the insane, until their confidence roles become a personal truth about them.
Miss Farrow takes a lot of sleeping pills with a glass of milk. (I wish a presence as delicate as hers were allowed to play somebody normal for a change; from Rosemary, the lapsed Roman Catholic neurotic, to this doomed, loony child must be a harrowing professional route.) But there is something about people who have become addicted to other people standing by them beyond some outer limit of rejection and yet abandoning them just one minute too soon—well, in all the elaborate fetishism and dragging prose, there is a touching story of people not helping enough. There is also a ceremonial quality—coffins like cribs, parallelisms, people reunited in death—that turns crude and embarrassing at times; although I don't usually like this colored genre of sick ritual film, I rather liked this one.
Miss Taylor, as the role requires, is far more rotund in "Secret Ceremony" than she has ever been. Robert Mitchum is thinner than usual. Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown are excellent, as a pair of bohemian, masculine, stealing aunts who run an antique shop. There are longueurs, but not beyond endurance.
SECRET CEREMONY, screenplay by George Tabori, based on a short story by Marco Denevi; directed by Joseph Losey; produced by John Heyman and Norman Priggen; a Universal Pictures Limited/World Film Services Limited/Paul M. Heller Production presented by Universal Pictures. At the Sutton Theater, Third Avenue and 57th Street, and the New Embassy Theater, 46th Street and Broadway. Running time: 109 minutes.
Leonora . . . . . Elizabeth Taylor
Cenci . . . . . Mia Farrow
Albert . . . . . Robert Mitchum
Aunt Hilda . . . . . Pamela Brown
Aunt Hannah . . . . . Peggy Ashcroft