THREE SECRETS (aka: ROCK BOTTOM) (director: Robert Wise; screenwriters: Martin Rackin/Gina Kaus; cinematographer: Sidney Hickox; editor: Thomas Reilly; music: David Buttolph; cast: Patricia Neal (Phyllis Horn), Ruth Roman (Ann Lawrence), Eleanor Parker (Susan Chase), Larry Keating (Mark Harrison), Edmon Ryan (Hardin), Leif Erickson (Bill Chase), Frank Lovejoy (Bob Duffy), Arthur Franz (Paul Radin), Katherine Warren (Mrs. Connors), Ted de Corsia (Del Prince), John Dehner (Gordon Crosley), Duncan Richardson (Johnny), Peter Bracco (Stephani), Frank Fenton (Sheriff MacDonald), Nana Bryant (Mrs. Gilwyn, Supervisor of ‘The Shelter’), Billy Bevan (Jackson); Runtime: 99; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Milton Sperling; Olive Films; 1950)
“A well-constructed but poorly paced formulaic soap opera, that turns sentimental with its feel-good surprise ending.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A well-constructed but poorly paced formulaic soap opera, that turns sentimental with its feel-good surprise ending. Robert Wise (“The Set-Up”/”West Side Story”/”Audrey Rose”)directs in a workmanlike but unimaginative way and it’s written as just so much mush by Martin Rackin and Gina Kaus, from their story Rock Bottom.
The wealthy Petersons are flying back to their home in LA in their small plane from a vacation in order to celebrate their adopted five-year-old son Johnny’s birthday at home, but they crash in Northern, California, on Thunder Mountain, and only Johnny survives. He’s trapped and severely injured near the top of the steep two-mile high mountain and a group of volunteers climb the mountain to rescue the child. Hard-nosed reporter Hardin (Edmon Ryan) breaks the story that Johnny was adopted from an LA shelter, but the shelter head (Nana Bryant) refuses to reveal who is his mother. But it dawns on three California mothers–the maternal housewife, married to a lawyer, Susan Chase (Eleanor Parker), the brassy divorcee careerist newspaper executive Phyllis Horn (Patricia Neal) and the notorious jailbird killer of the big-shot lover who jilted her Ann Lawrence (Ruth Roman)–that the child could be one of theirs, since the kid has the same birthday as their kid and was put up for adoption in the same shelter on the same day. The women converge on Jackson’s Lodge, the headquarters for the rescue effort at the base of the mountain, and in flashback it’s revealed under what circumstances each was forced to surrender their child. The tension mounts to see if the rescue succeeds, to find the orphan’s birth mother, and to see if the real mom could connect again with the orphan as the three potential moms wait in agony and reflect on their agonizing secret.
The theme is lifted from A Letter to Three Wives.The pic depicts the shame at the time of a woman having a child while not married. If anything, the pic points out how the times have changed as its morality kicker doesn’t quite ring the same bell in today’s more permissive society.The story didn’t get to me, as Wise couldn’t get it out of its superficial soap opera spin or make the visuals interesting. I’m reminded of how Wilder used the crowd scenes in Ace in the Hole (1951) to ratchet up the suspense, something Wise couldn’t manage. But Patricia Neal’s performance had some vinegar, while the other potential moms played their parts well even if the murky story gave them no chance to properly showoff their acting chops.
REVIEWED ON 11/14/2012 GRADE: B-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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