Susan “Estrellita” Caldwell (Gloria Grahame) is a well-known radio singer, a rising star. But she’s tired of putting so much effort into her career. Actually, she’s tired of her career, period. She wants to give it up.
Susan been mentored by Marian Washburn (Maureen O’Hara), a retired singer with whom she also shares an apartment. When Susan returns home after a show, an argument ensues over her wish to put a stop to her singing career.
The night ends with more tragedy than just the argument: Susan is shot. She isn’t dead, but pretty close to it. The doctor isn’t sure she’ll be able to recover.
But did Marian really shoot her? Marian’s composer friend, Luke (Melvyn Douglas), doesn’t think so. He enlists the help of attorney Brooks Matthews (Victor Jory) to prove Marian’s innocence.
A Woman’s Secret was directed by Nicholas Ray and written for the screen by Herman J. Mankiewicz. It is based on a novel by Vicki Baum.
This film makes use of the good ol’ flashback to tell its story, not only the events leading to Marian and Susan’s argument, but also Marian’s own tragic story of “losing” her voice. Once a promising talent, she began having trouble with her vocal cords and was forced to give up her passion of singing. She later channeled her energy into mentoring a young star, Miss “Estrellita.”
It’s easy to understand why Marian’s devotion to making Susan a star borders on obsession. It isn’t just Susan’s dream, but her own that she’s attempting to fulfill. She’s trying to protect Susan from the same shattered-dream fate. She also seems to feel sort of motherly toward Susan, in a way. In her quest to make Susan a star, she changed the girl’s life. She feels responsible for Susan’s safety, happiness, and success.
Marian is overbearing with Susan, which certainly isn’t right, but the viewer can at least understand what motivates her to act that way, between her own lost dream and her wish to create a prosperous life for Susan. Naturally, there seems to be a fair bit of jealousy infiltrating the mentorship, too.
A Woman’s Secret‘s story is a little soapy and more than a little underwhelming — not too high on drama, and not as mysterious as I hoped. The plot takes a few shaky turns and the ending seems a bit too clean/convenient. However, the cast is packed with talented folks and they make the best of it. The performance of Maureen O’Hara kept me interested even in the film’s least-exciting moments.
If you’re looking for a truly “classic” tale of the dynamics between an older, fading star and a young, on-the-rise starlet, I’d recommend sticking with All About Eve, a powerhouse of a film with a very clever script and stellar performances. But A Woman’s Secret isn’t all bad. Fans of O’Hara or Gloria Grahame should give it a look. The score: 2.5/5