Tuesday, July 21, 2020
In fact it not only starts out as a romantic melodrama, it remains pure melodrama for a very long time before any thriller elements kick in. That’s not necessarily a problem. I quite like melodrama and it’s something Minnelli had a definite flair for. There is however one major problem, for me at least. The stars are Robert Taylor and Katharine Hepburn. Now Robert Taylor is no problem. He was a fine and very underrated actor. But I really really dislike Katharine Hepburn, for a myriad of reasons. On the other hand it does also feature Robert Mitchum, at that stage not quite a star but on the way to being one.
All this takes up a large chunk of the film’s running time and it has to be said that it’s rather dull. Nothing much happens at all until Ann finds a book that she thinks belongs to her husband. In fact it belongs to his brother Michael. The brother he hates with a passion. Alan Garroway convinces himself that Ann has started quoting from the book (a book of English pastoral poetry) as a way of baiting him.
Now getting back to my problem with Katharine Hepburn. As so often with Hepburn’s performance there’s a brittleness and a lack of real warmth. We need to care about Ann but it’s not easy. The one thing Hepburn was good at was playing slightly odd women and Ann certainly comes across as slightly odd but I’m not sure that it’s the right approach for this story. We’re also supposed to feel that Ann is vulnerable, that she’s a Woman in Peril, but Hepburn just can’t achieve that. She’s too naturally domineering. It was a very unsuccessful piece of casting.
Mitchum was a different style of actor but in this film he tries to achieve the same effect. He’s laid-back and perfectly at ease with the world but we’re supposed to still sense that he could well be dangerous. He could also turn out to be the hero, or the villain. The ambiguity of the two major male characters is obviously the core of the movie. Mitchum was a great actor but in this film he’s totally overshadowed by Taylor.
The Warner Archive release offers a very strong transfer (in the correct 4:3 aspect ratio).
Undercurrent slots into the women’s noir sub-genre (mostly dominated by Joan Crawford’s 1940s movies) which combines melodrama with touches of film noir. The miscasting of Katharine Hepburn and the excessively tame performance by Mitchum are the two problems that prevent it from being a success. Robert Taylor’s superb performance almost manages to save it. Worth a rental, and maybe a purchase if you’re a hardcore Robert Taylor fan.