Monday, September 19, 2022

Pamela Franklin Reveals the Third Secret and Takes on Miss Brodie

Actress Pamela Franklin.
With the exception of Hayley Mills, Pamela Franklin may have had the best 1960s career of any young actor. She started the decade with a spellbinding performance in The Innocents (1961). She sparkled in the offbeat Disney film A Tiger Walks (1964) and Hammer's underrated suspense film The Nanny (1965). However, Pamela Franklin's best performances were reserved for the unusual thriller The Third Secret (1964) and the Maggie Smith classic The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969).

The Third Secret opens with the apparent suicide of renowned British psychoanalyst Dr. Leo Whitset. It's an unexpected event that shakes American journalist Alex Stedman (Stephen Boyd), one of Whitset's patients, who is convinced that the doctor wouldn't take his own life. When Whitset's teenage daughter, Catherine (Pamela Franklin), seeks out Alex, she expresses the same doubts. The two eventually team up to find Whitset's murderer, focusing their investigation on three patients: an art gallery owner (Richard Attenborough), a secretary (Diane Cilento), and a barrister (Jack Hawkins).

Pamela Franklin and Stephen Boyd.
The core of The Third Secret is the somewhat disturbing relationship between Alex and Catherine. At times, it projects a father-daughter vibe, but then it lapses into an uncomfortably adult-like friendship between a 33-year-old man and a fourteen-year-old girl. It's no wonder that Catherine's uncle assumes the worst when he finds the two of them alone in Catherine's bedroom in her empty home.

As she did in The Innocents, Pamela Franklin gives a remarkable performance as a youth who behaves well beyond her years. She keeps The Third Secret afloat as it rambles occasionally towards its surprisingly satisfactory conclusion. Incidentally, the first secret is what we don't tell other people and the second secret is what we don't tell ourselves. And the third secret is....well, I'm not telling (a good print of the movie is currently on YouTube).

Four years after The Third Secret, Pamela Franklin played one of the "Brodie Girls" in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which was written by Jay Presson Allen (Marnie) and based on the 1961 novel by Muriel Spark. 

Maggie Smith as Miss Brodie.
Maggie Smith stars as the title character, a forceful teacher at a girls' boarding school in Edinburgh in the 1930s. Popular with her students and armed with tenure, Miss Brodie defies the school's headmistress and teaches whatever she wants (e.g., she sings the praises of Mussolini and Franco). Miss Brodie enters into a relationship with the school's conservative choir teacher (Gordon Jackson), but still harbors passionate feelings toward the married art teacher (with whom she had a brief fling).

As the years go by, Sandy (Pamela Franklin), one of Miss Brodie's favored students, becomes disillusioned toward her mentor. She becomes the art teacher's mistress, but breaks it off after learning he is still infatuated with Miss Brodie. Following the death of a fellow student, Sandy decides that Miss Brodie has become a dangerous influence and takes matters into her own hands.

Pamela Franklin as Sandy.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie is Maggie Smith's movie and her tour-de-force performance earned her both Oscar and BAFTA best actress awards. However, Pamela Franklin holds her own in the climatic confrontation between Miss Brodie and Sandy. She earned a BAFTA supporting actress nomination, but lost to her co-star Celia Johnson, who played the schools' headmistress. (For the record, Rod McKuen's song "Jean" was also Oscar-nominated; the singer Oliver's cover of it reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 later in 1969.)

Pamela Franklin's career stalled unexpectedly in the 1970s after a move to the U.S. She appeared in a Green Acres episode that served as a failed backdoor pilot for a sitcom called Pam. She was a frequent guest star in TV shows like Cannon, Medical Center, and Fantasy Island. She occasionally starred in movies, with The Legend of Hell House probably being her best film during this period. Pamela Franklin retired from acting in 1981 at the age of 31.


John Fitzpatrick said...

I had never heard of "The Third Secret" until somebody recently praised the music of the neglected composer Richard Arnell. It turns out to be a very interesting movie with really superb cast and photography. Franklin shines here. It's a remarkable transition for her. In "The Innocents" her performance is essentially a creation of the director. She wasn't even told what the story was about. In "Jean Brodie" she gives a remarkable adult performance and goes toe to toe with Maggie Smith at her most flamboyant. So "Third Secret" must have been a transitional role. She's asked to play her own age (14) but with feelings far beyond her experience. I wonder how much they confided in the chaperoned child performer on the set

Mike Doran said...

My understanding was that Pamela Franklin's retirement from acting was roughly coincident with her marriage to character actor Harvey Jason in 1980.
This union is now apparently in its 52nd year (2 children), so we may assume that it has gone well ...

Mike Doran said...

Correction: 42nd year.

Mike Doran said...

Corrected Corection:
Marriage was in 1970, so it is 52 years after all.
Anyway, many happy returns ...

John Fitzpatrick said...

Last theatrical movie credit "The Food of the Gods" (1976), Got tired of "scream queen" horror roles. She did TV "guest star" bits until 1981. Did a nice commentary on the "Jean Brodie" DVD.