Friday, August 27, 2010

Undercurrent (1946) Vincente Minnelli

It’s from Minnelli at MGM but this is no extravagant technicolor musical. It’s not really film noir either but more an interesting melodrama and sometime thriller. Although not his usual fare, director Minnelli does his best to build the slow-growing tension and suspense throughout the movie culminating in the somewhat exciting yet overwrought ending.

Tall, dark, and handsome Robert Taylor has a very strong role and plays his switching personalities very effectively. He sweeps Katharine Hepburn off her feet but she soon senses that everything may not be as it seems, or is it?

And Katharine Hepburn is the star, here playing a timid woman. Sometimes she’s a little over the top but on the whole she does a fine job and is enjoyable to watch as she slowly pieces things together.

The third character in this ever-evolving story is Robert Mitchum. And he is revealed throughout the movie without physically being there. He appears three short times, most compellingly in a scene with Robert Taylor in the stable. Light and shadows, good and evil, unerring cinematography, and a rearing horse make this one of the best scenes in the movie.

Minor roles that complete the picture are played by Edmund Gwynne, Marjorie Main, Jayne Meadows (in her first film role), and Kathryn Card, better known as Mrs. McGillicuddy, Lucy’s mother in T.V.’s “I Love Lucy.”

The usual MGM talent is present: Sound by Douglas Shearer, and Art Direction and Set Decoration by Cedric Gibbons and Edwin Willis, respectively. Shearer and Gibbons have been noted previously, and Willis needs special mention for being a talented Set Decorator with more than 600 movie credits and eight Academy Awards for his set designs.

Adding to the great atmosphere created in this film is the stunning cinematography of Karl Freund, who moved into television in the 1950s. (While working for Desilu Productions, Freund developed the three-camera system to film a television show and finished his career as the head cinematographer for “I Love Lucy.”)

And lastly, Irene Lentz Gibbons, who billed herself with first name only. Married to Cedric Gibbons’ brother, she became a gown designer for many stars, beginning with Ginger Rogers, and ended up with about 200 design or costume supervisor credits to her name. Her life did not end well but her name is always recognizable as the credits roll: “Costumes by Irene.”   

The best part of this movie is the atmosphere: storms, sinister shadows lurking everywhere, and mysteries abounding. It could have been a better movie with a different director but it is also the only movie Hepburn ever made with Mitchum, Taylor, or Minnelli. So maybe that in itself merits a viewing. And if you’re wondering about the memorable, uncredited music theme - it’s Brahms Symphony # 3, third movement.

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