Secret Ceremony is a 1968 British thriller-drama film released by Universal Pictures. Based on the book by Argentine writer Marco Denevi, it stars Elizabeth Taylor, Mia Farrow, Robert Mitchum, Pamela Brown, and Peggy Ashcroft. Joseph Losey directed, from a script by George Tabori.
|Directed by||Joseph Losey|
|Produced by||John Heyman|
|Written by||George Tabori|
|Music by||Richard Rodney Bennett|
|Edited by||Reginald Beck|
|Distributed by||Universal Pictures|
|23 October 1968|
|Box office||$3 million (US/ Canada rentals)|
Leonora, a prostitute, is despondent over the death of her daughter. Cenci, a lonely young woman, follows Leonora to the cemetery and strikes up a conversation with her, inviting her home.
A resemblance to Cenci's late mother becomes obvious once Leonora notices a portrait. Cenci, who is 22 but looks and acts much younger, asks Leonora to stay. A lie is told to her aunts, Hilda and Hannah, that Leonora is actually Cenci's late mother's cousin.
Cenci is found one day cowering under a table. Albert, her stepfather, has paid a visit. Cenci is terrified of him, claiming that Albert had raped her. Leonora is repelled by the man's presence until Albert tells her that Cenci is mentally unstable and had repeatedly tried to seduce him.
On a beach one day, Cenci and Albert have sexual relations. A despondent Cenci commits suicide. At the funeral, Leonora now knows whom she chooses to believe. After standing beside Albert in silence during the burial, Leonora produces a knife and stabs him.
The film ends with Leonora lying in a dingy apartment, listlessly hitting the cord of a ceiling lamp, reciting a poem about perseverance.
Some critics essentially maintained Secret Ceremony is a bad film yet one that can be enjoyed due to a certain camp quality evident in Losey's mise-en-scène and the actors' performances. Other analysts regarded 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.
The chief set of the film, the house where Farrow lives, was Debenham House in London's Holland Park district. The house is a noted example of the Arts and Crafts style. Losey was famous for his so-called baroque style which he put to full use showing off the architecture of the set. For the scenes on the beach Losey chose a spot in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
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.
The short story on which the film is based won a $5,000 prize in a competition run by Life en Espanol. It had already been filmed for Argentine television when it was optioned in 1963 by Dore Schary.
- Alexander Walker, Hollywood, England, Stein and Day, 1974 p345
- "Big Rental Films of 1969", Variety, 7 January 1970 p 15
- Weiler A. H. Local Views: 'Odd' Sale: Paramount Acquires Neil Simon Play—Schary 'Ceremony'—New Team. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] 15 Dec 1963: 123.