Secret Ceremony (1968) Poster

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A Gothic Triangle
duffjerroldorg16 April 2017
What an unexpected, odd, treat. Films that travel undetected, spotted by accident - as it was in my case. I was reading about this startling Argentinean writer, Marco Denevi, when I discovered that one of his short stories had been adapted for the screen, directed by Joseph Losey of "The Servant" fame and with a cast to die for. Elizabeth Taylor as a prostitute that takes advantage of a peculiar girl, played with real zest by Mia Farrow who mistakes her for her mother, and Robert Mitchum, as the disruptor. This classy if bizarre production also includes Pamela Brown and Peggy Ashcroft in the cast. I enjoyed the weirdness thoroughly. It unsettled me and made me wonder how this film had been received in 1968. Apparently not very well. The one thing that made people talk about Secret Ceremony at the time was an infamous still with Elizabeth Taylor and Mia Farrow in a bathtub together. For lovers of the odd and unique this is a real treat.
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Farrow and Taylor at their maddest, baddest and very best
I have liked this film since first seeing it upon its original release. It seems a little slow at times now and I'm really not sure I think very much of any of Robert Mitchum's, for me, lazy performance. In part, I feel this is not just his fault, as I understand that in the original story, some street kids (this was in Mexico) broke in and raped the Farrow character. So in the original her fear and excitement/obsession over sex is caused by this and not by any suggestion of impropriety on the part of Mitchum, playing her step-father. Seems to me this would have worked much better had the original scenario been retained. But never mind, we have what we have and we still have a most spooky and atmospheric movie, with Farrow and Taylor at their maddest, baddest and very best. Eerie location shooting in the art nouveaux decorated mansion and plenty happening to keep the hairs raised at the back of the neck. Unpredictable, worrying and well worth catching
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This IS entertaining, more amusing than You'd think
Chricke-231 May 2006
Warning: Spoilers
This movie was to me surprisingly good. I have read the Ralph Benner review and many other user comments, which have been very negative. Given that Maltin has given very positive reviews, I realise that this film is an acquired taste of a movie. You have to be a certain type of person to really like it. As a Liz Taylor fan I do it by default, however, I was not prepared for how good Mia Farrow was here, neither for how effective Mithcum was, and how wonderfully the all interact with other. In all its dark tragic topic, it has a certain absurd humor that completely took me. Some scenes are comically genius, Monty Python couldn't have topped the absurdity of the restaurant scene where Mia Farrow's Cenci enters in an unexpected state with Liz's Leonora swiftly adjusting to Cencis madness.

The DVD-copy of the film I recently purchased, has excellent colour and image quality, which gave justice to Loseys very detailed work with the environment and sceneries. The claustrophobic but yet shielding Victorian house is a secret hideaway for the women who have been deeply hit by tragic events. In their recluse they can revive and live out the relationship they have been deprived of in reality. I don't find their relationship necessarily lesbian, although it is hinted that there are tendencies of sexual role playing of the two (escepically when the "man" arrives in the form of a poignantly seedy and sexually beastly Mitchum). Mia Farrows Cenci is a seductive tease in spite of her absurd black long hair and pale white face. Liz Taylors Leonora is a washed-up prostitute, and I agree with some reviewers that it is a shock to see Liz so plump and bloated, she is actually fatter than in Who's Afraid of Virgina Wolf. But I disagree with for instance Ralph Benner that Liz doesn't convey the role of Leonara convincingly, actually she does a good job in spite of her diffuse accents (Liz penchant for using different accents is a long story probably stemming from the fact that she's been raised in England until eight years old, and often sways from British to American accents in an unpredictable fashion). and when the interaction with Mia Farrow starts, they are both heavenly to watch.

And let's not forget the two kleptomaniac sister-in-laws, vultures of the worst sort and a direct menace to the secret ceremonies of Leonara and Cenci. Pamela Brown and Peggy Ashcroft are deliver two scary old spinsters with no shame.

What is the story all about then; we cope with our tragedies and losses differently, some even drown in the process, some survive but as the other mouse left in the milk bowl, standing on a pile of butter - lonely.

To sum up, a true Gothic feast, mystic, beautiful photography, Hollywood legends and British professionals giving very good performances, haunting scores, and beneath the surface a dark absurd humor.
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Creepier than a horror film
Putzberger19 October 2008
This movie is a tad pretentious and muddled, but it'll get under your skin. All the characters are either so deluded (crazy rich girl Mia Farrow), desperate (middle-aged hooker Liz Taylor) or demonic (scummy pedophile Robert Mitchum) that watching it is like spending two hours in a psych ward with no attendants on duty. Also gripping is the atmosphere created by director Joseph Losey, who was considered as a genius in the 60s and is pretty much forgotten today. With wide-angle shots and a minimum of noise, Losey reinforces his characters' isolation and solipsism by making London, one of the most crowded cities in the Western world, seem as empty and quiet as a tomb.

The plot is a psychological inversion of the classic haunted house story -- Liz and Mia take shelter from an outside world that threatens their relationship. And that relationship is, to put it mildly, weird. Mia lures Liz into her huge, empty home because she resembles her late mother. Liz indulges Mia's fantasy because as a homeless prostitute she's in need of shelter, plus, she lost a daughter who looked a lot like Mia. This arrangement could be sweet to the point of treacly if these two grown women didn't enjoy doing things like bathing together and discussing ex-lovers. And Mia has a particularly repulsive ex-lover in Mitchum, her former stepfather who started molesting the girl in her early teens. Though the experience clearly ripped Mia to shreds, the creep still has some power over her and the film becomes a battle of wills between Taylor and Mitchum. Along the way there's a fake pregnancy, a nightmarish seaside holiday and a visit to Mia's two horrid old-maid aunts. The movie isn't particularly pleasant or coherent, but it does pull off the impressive feat of telling its story the way its characters are experiencing it, and that's pretty damn disturbing when you're dealing with a bunch of warped people. See it, then watch a romantic comedy or something so you're able to sleep that night.
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Interesting, much underrated film
baker-924 October 2000
"Secret Ceremony" was critically lambasted on its release - undeservedly so. Having come on the heels of another Elizabeth Taylor/Joseph Losey collaboration - the truly awful "Boom" - I suppose the critics were sharpening their knives again.

Admittedly, "Secret Ceremony" is probably an acquired taste. I first saw it on network TV in its mutilated form, with new non-Losey scenes filmed to supposed "explain" what was happening. Nevertheless, what remained of the original film was good enough that I sought out the uncut original.

The story is bizarre but consistently intriguing, and the Taylor/Farrow combination works. Taylor is very good in this film; I think it's one of her best performances (her scene at the very end is excellent). I highly recommend this film for those with eclectic, adventurous tastes.
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Secret Ceremony: A First-Rate Psycho-Drama.
chad47829 May 2001
Joseph Losey's brilliant psychological drama follows the strange relationship between a prostitute(Elizabeth Taylor) and a waif-like girl(Mia Farrow) who resembles her deceased daughter. Taylor also bears an incredible likeness to Farrow's deceased mother, enabling the two women to create a world of their own where they can live as mother and daughter. Their secret world is disrupted, however, when Farrow's lecherous stepfather(Robert Mitchum) enters the scene. "Secret Ceremony" features expert performances from all, but it is Elizabeth Taylor who walks away with the honors, delivering a truly moving portrayal of an emotionally broken woman searching for some stability in her life. It's one of her most daring roles, and Miss Taylor handles it like the consummate actress that she is. The screenplay is by George Tabori, based on the prize-winning short story by Marco Denevi. (Universal later cut footage from the film and added extra scenes to make the picture acceptable for a television audience. Luckily, the video version is the original, uncut theatrical release).
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Haunting Classic!
jery-tillotson-122 June 2017
After winning an Oscar for her role as the shrieking, voluptuous, vicious harridan in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolfe?", Elizabeth Taylor felt encouraged enough to look for riskier parts where her beauty and star power were deliberately played down. In SECRET CEREMONY, she had one of her most cutting-edge, risky role as the aging, down-trodden prostitute whose little daughter drowns. She meets a strange, mad girl, Cenci (Mia Farrow) who's convinced Liz is her recently dead mother, Leonora and takes her home where both women play a game: Elizabeth becomes Leonara and Cenci has found her mother alive and well. Director Joseph Losey creates a sumptuous world where most of the action occurs in this fabulous Victorian mansion, jammed with striking lamps, toys, dolls, furniture, lighting,etc. IT all contributes to making this an A Plus horror film where madness rules. A haunting musical score, outstanding lighting and camera-work and an unforgettable wardrobe for the star all combine to make this a true cult movie--which was lambasted by critics and audiences at the time of release but has since grown in stature as a treasured art-house classic.
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Best of Taylor's Lesser Known
jboerner-12 September 2007
This is a must see movie. Any film lover cannot miss Elizabeth Taylor's performance. Her portrayal of Leonora is the deepest soul searching look into a mother's love. The added twist of Mia Farrow, before Rosemary's Baby, as her daughter, searching for her mother's love. Each in such desperate need of what the other has, and has lost. If that doesn't wet your appetite, you have no taste buds. This story has stayed with me these many, many years. My favorite line of Ms. Taylor is when she is imitating Robert Mitchum saying, "you could have killed yourself, honey". Mitchum is the perfect male to fear and despise. The delivery is unforgettably a Taylor original! If you appreciate a movie that accentuates a couple of great actors, in an unusual, intense story, this hits it like no other film. I'm only sorry I haven't seen it on TV in I cannot remember how many years, and it is not readily available in my local video stores. If you can find it, you will treasure it as an unheralded gem.
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Gothic Masterpiece
msubrizi4 January 2007
Beautifully dark movie which grants Mia Farrow the freedom to showcase the strange range of her gift. Elizabeth Taylor stays close with a deep and sensitive touch, flashing a legitimate side of herself, oft covered up. Robert Mitchum achieves repulsive perfection lurking in the garden, symbolic of the disgust and fear we share in our hide. The entire cast in breath and stone include every sense in totality, placing the actors and ourselves together to spy on each other from above, and within the ornamental mansion. Intense hallucinogenic 1968 camera shots intimately portray the family by chance's horrific existence. The music tastefully gentle dries the humid landscape making its absurd subconscious logic almost digestible. The story weaved with such expertise, it would be a stab in the back to reveal it any other way. The truth that you always expected was rampant, but waited for the excuse of insanity to reveal. In my opinion, one of the most tragically honest all around performances I have ever witnessed on the screen. A true feat and gutsy effort from the entire bloody pool of talent. Bravo!
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Taylor's vaudevillian strut appears in a quite different context in "Secret Ceremony."
Nazi_Fighter_David19 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Here, she is a tired two-bit hustler, or as Liz put it, with typical finesse, "I play a dikey prostitute in this one." For the first time in her career, she plays a character who doesn't like men, a middle-aged woman battered by a life on the streets who has come to regard men as her natural enemies… Given her animosity, this is a Taylor triangle with a twist: her character fights a strong Robert Mitchum for possession of a foolish girl Mia Farrow…

A psychological thriller, the movie depicts the fantasy world created by the young girl and the older prostitute… The girl thinks Taylor is her mother, and she brings her home to her once resplendent, now faintly decayed London town house…. The two women, locked away from the world outside, enact a "secret ceremony" in which fantasy mingles with and reshapes reality, and Taylor is only too willing to exchange her role of streetwalker for that of the mad girl's rich mama…

"Secret Ceremony" is a thickly dark, arty movie, and her role is tricky, complex: the hooker must become a big lady… Nervous, agitated and confused in the face of a supply of illusion and reality, Taylor uses her Virginia Woolf number for a role that needs cunning shadings…

"Secret Ceremony" looks terrific (Joseph Losey again going to work on a magnificent dream like house), but this is no triumph for Liz… The role pushes against Taylor stereotype, but she isn't elastic enough to transcend her new-found image…
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