Undercurrent: Minnelli’s Noir, Starring Katharine Hepburn, Robert Taylor and Robert Mitchum

Vincente Minnelli’s first, disappointing foray into film noir, Undercurrent, is scripted by Edward Chodorov from a story by Thelma Strabel.

Producer Pandro Berman had already cast Katharine Hepburn as the star, and she had approval of both director and leading man. Berman’s showman instincts pointed towards Minnelli, though he was an unknown quantity with the genre of noir. Minnelli was a strange choice, having done only one previous drama before, “The Clock,” but no film noir.

This preposterous melodrama, about a young woman who marries a psychopath (played by Robert Taylor), is marred by the absurd casting of Kate as a frail, defenseless woman. Loaned out to MGM, Robert Mitchum is also miscast as Robert Taylor’s sensitive brother with an artist’s soul.

“Undercurrent” suffers from all the trappings of MGM melodramas in the 1940s, glossy costumes and set design, painted backdrops in lieu of real locations, resulting in a fake, utterly unbelievable picture.

For many reasons, it’s one of Minnelli’s and Hepburn’s weakest pictures.  The movie is marred by poor acting from the two leads, Hepburn and Taylor. Failing to find the right key, Hepburn plays the part mechanically, to an elaborate musical score that was “borrowed” from Brahms. Watching the feature, you get the strange feeling that Robert Taylor and Robert Mitchum should have switched roles.

Occasionally, Minnelli manages to produce the right menacing mood, despite the fraudulent story. Minnelli later said that he would have much preferred to work with a more suitable actress, like Ingrid Bergman, who had scored big the year before, in Cukor’s suspenseful melodrama, “Gaslight,” for which she won the Best Actress Oscar.

Credits

Produced by Pandro S. Berman

Screenplay: Edward Chodorv, based on a story b y Thelma Strabel

Cinematography: Karl Freund

Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons; Randall Duell.

Set Decoration: Edwin B. Willis; associate Jack D. Moore

Editing: Ferris Webster

Musical Score: Herbert Stothart

Costumes: Irene

Recording: Douglas Shearer

Makeup: Jack Dawn

Hair Stylist: Sydney Guilaroff

 

Running Time: 116 Minutes

 

Cast:

 

Ann Hamilton (Katharine Hepburn)

Alan Garroway (Robert Taylor)

Michael Garroway (Robert Mitchum)

Professor “Dink” Hamilton (Edmund Gwenn)

Lucy (Marjorie Main)

Sylvia Lea Burton (Jayne Meadows)

Mr. Warmsley (Clinton Sundberg)

Prof. Joseph Bangs (Dan Tobin)

Mrs. Foster (Kathryn Card)

George (Leigh Whipper)

Justice Putnam (Charles Trowbridge)

Henry Gilson (James Westerfield)

Uncle Ben (Billy McLain)