“Dear God, by whose mercy I am shielded for a few hours, let no one snatch me from this heaven.”
When a disturbed young woman (Mia Farrow) insists that a prostitute (Elizabeth Taylor) is her “missing” (dead) mother, Taylor takes advantage of the situation and moves into Farrow’s enormous house. Soon Leonora (Taylor) begins to feels protective of the childlike Cenci (Farrow) — but their domestic tranquility is threatened by the presence of two meddling aunts (Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown) and Cenci’s incestuous stepfather (Robert Mitchum).
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Elizabeth Taylor Films
- Incest and Incestuous Undertones
- Joseph Losey Films
- Mia Farrow Films
- Mistaken or Hidden Identities
- Robert Mitchum Films
This melodramatic thriller of mistaken identities, mental disturbance, and sexual deviance — based on a prize-winning short story by an Argentine civil servant — received reasonably positive reviews upon its release, but has since been criticized by most as either campy and/or “ill-conceived”. The truth, as usual, lies somewhere in between: while the convoluted narrative occasionally defies belief (and completely devolves by the end), it remains bizarrely compelling until then, thanks in large part to the brave performances given by both Farrow and Taylor. From her first appearance on-screen, Farrow — wearing a long, black wig and tights:
— is completely convincing as a 22-year-old with the mind of a child; but it’s Taylor who really cements the story: while her performance gets off to a bumpy start, we’re soon captivated by her increasingly nuanced portrayal as a self-sufficient prostitute who knows a good deal when she sees it, yet can’t help feeling genuine maternal concern for Cenci. Despite its flaws, Secret Ceremony offers enough provocative moments to make it worth checking out.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Mia Farrow as Cenci
- Elizabeth Taylor as Leonora
- Peggy Ashcroft and Pamela Brown as Cenci’s thieving aunts
- Effective use of mirrors as a visual device
Yes, simply for its status as an unusual cult favorite. Listed as a Cult Movie in the back of Peary’s book.