THREE SECRETS, a reasonably interesting 1950 melodrama, bears surface resemblance to the previous year’s A Letter To Three Wives, but the screenplay written by Martin Rackin and Gina Kaus came from “Rock Bottom”, a short story Kaus developed, possibly with input from Rackin. Though the earlier movie was a big hit and is lauded yet, this one, directed by Robert Wise and featuring a trio of arresting, on-the-rise actresses did only moderate business ($4,000,000 gross, 79th in ’50) and is rarely mentioned today.
“He divorced me two weeks ago… Is he going to be surprised … You know what his
grounds were? He said I wasn’t a woman.”
A small plane crashes in the California Sierra’s with the only survivor a five year old boy. As rescue teams try to reach him, news coverage of the story reveals he was adopted and the crash happened on his birthday. That poignant byline provokes a coincidental conscience crisis in three women. They all gave up their child for adoption, to the same agency, on the same day: each baby bore the same birthday as the boy on the mountain. One is married and her husband wants a kid, another is a career woman (a journalist), the last just got out of prison.
“Well, then I recommend you turn your baby over to an accredited agency, which will care for it and plan its future.”
Robert Wise marked his career with a wide choice of projects: he’d just aced the superior boxing drama The Set-Up, and immediately followed this picture in ’50 with Two Flags West, a sweeping, oddly neglected western. The sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still was on tap. From the inventive and jarring opener, he balances the soap opera elements with the rescue dynamic, bringing in tension and suspense.
Ostensibly the material fits what used to be termed—and was often dismissed as—“a woman’s picture”. Thanks to Ms. Kaus, an émigré Viennese novelist/playwright with strong feminist credentials, while melodrama is obviously at play, and ultimately orthodoxy wins out in the touching finale (the “right” woman “wins”), the underlying themes speak to the 2nd class status of women in society at the time, and the restricted parameters of family. While all three women had children “out of wedlock”, and were thus shamed, direct mention of pregnancy, let alone fooling around, is avoided. Yet it works.
“Susan, get a hold of yourself.”
If nothing else, it’s a good showcase for Eleanor Parker, Patricia Neal and Ruth Roman as the maternally stirred secret-keepers. Parker and Roman, both 27, had been climbing the parts ladder since the early 40s; Neal, 23, had been at it for just a year. Parker could tend to overplay (sometimes as fulsomely as Susan Hayward) but she managed three Oscar nominations within five years, starting with Caged, also in 1950. Neal nails her more cynical role, as she did that same year in The Breaking Point and Bright Leaf, and alluring Roman does quite well as the character with the most problematic past: she was kept busy in ’50 decorating three westerns (Dallas, Barricade, Colt.45). They’re all sympathetic in this story, and play off each other to good effect: the script doesn’t have them indulge in catfight nonsense, each character is written and played as a serious adult.
With Frank Lovejoy (he disses Neal with “Just for a moment there I thought you were a human being” and “I’m sorry for you, Phyl. You tried hard to be a woman. You just couldn’t make it”, Leif Erickson ( Ted de Corsia (calm for a change, as a lawyer named ‘Del Prince’), Edmon Ryan, Larry Keating, Katherine Warren, Arthur Franz (the war-bound Marine who dumps pregnant Parker with “All I can ask is please forgive me… Say something. Say goodbye to me. Tell me you hope I get killed. But don’t just stand there looking at me.”
In bits, spot a clutch of soon-familiar character types getting a foothold: Jay Adler, Peter Brocco, Russ Conway, John Dehner, Kenneth Tobey, Willard Waterman, Paul Picerni. 98 minutes.