Robert Wise’s obscurish 1950 melodrama, “Three Secrets,” has been remade into a handsomely mounted but dramatically inert TV film about three very contemporary women who fear they may be the mother of an 8-year-old boy stranded in the wilderness after a plane crash. Lead performances by Jaclyn Smith, Nicole Forester and Katy Boyer are uniformly excellent, but much of the story centers on the tedium of waiting around for updates at the site of a breaking news story, and on that level, the telepic is too convincing.
The story has been updated for our technological age — the women no longer find out about the story in the newspaper, but on live reports on TV.
This has the unintended result of straining credibility more than the original had to — the fact of the child’s adoption would hardly come out in the first reports of the accident, particularly given that his adoptive parents have no close relatives who would provide that sort of information to the media. Moreover, it’s highly unlikely that even the most grasping telejournalist would declare, as one does here, “We need to push the adoption angle” — why? — and equally dubious that TV cameras would stalk and hound the attorney (Tyne Daly in a cameo) who arranged the adoption. The film’s insistence on making an issue out of the identity of the child’s birth mother in the ’90s seems just a smidge artificial.
Each of the women has compelling reasons for having given up her child at birth eight years back. TV journalist Diane Caulfeld’s (Smith) career was taking off at the time of her pregnancy, which was further complicated by her lover’s untimely death. Kelly (Forester) was abandoned by her boyfriend upon her pregnancy while still in college –in no condition to serve as a good mother — and is now imminently due to marry a man unaware of her past. And Cassie (Boyer) was embroiled in the same abusive relationship she remains in, and was arrested and imprisoned on trumped-up charges.
At the rescue command center, the women find and bond with one another. Unfortunately, the flashbacks accompanying their remembrances are so indifferently evoked that they feel like little more than padding.
Though most of the actual rescue occurs, thanks to budgetary constraints, off-screen, viewers see enough to know that the little boy isn’t in any real danger, despite repeated vague references to weather problems complicating things. This undercuts some of the dramatic impact the film, which insists on plopping us back at the rescue command center, where the filmmakers try to build tension in a subplot concerning just how big a dirtbag one of Diane’s colleagues is. (And there’s no reason for Diane — who works for a magazine-style news show with a regular time slot — to be delivering live remotes as she does.)
So the film’s pleasures boil down to watching three sensitively layered performances. Smith credibly conveys a newswoman’s brisk professionalism, yet allows conflicted emotions to seep through the cracks in her demeanor.
Forester effectively essays a callow, privileged young woman who, perhaps for the first time in her life, is forced to confront some difficult choices. And Boyer excels in the film’s most complex role, an earthy woman who uses good humor as an armor protecting her from the realities of her hardscrabble life.
Tech credits are solid.