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teaser Undercurrent (1946)

When producer Pandro Berman approached Vincente Minnelli with the project Undercurrent(1946), the director was surprised to say the least. Minnelli usually made upbeat musicals such as Meet Me in St. Louis (1944) and had only one dramatic film to his credit: The Clock (1945) starring his then wife, Judy Garland. Undercurrent was a film noir about a woman whose new marriage to a rich industrialist is threatened by the mysterious disappearance of her husband's brother. Minnelli trusted Berman's judgment and signed on to the project knowing that MGM star Katharine Hepburn had already agreed to play the wife, Ann. Berman had produced many of Hepburn's finest pictures when they were both at RKO including Alice Adams (1935) and Stage Door (1937).

The three lead actors, Hepburn, Robert Taylor, and Robert Mitchum, were all cast against type in Undercurrent. Hepburn normally played strong women characters. However, the role of Ann called for her to be timid and fearful much of the time. Robert Taylor, who was returning to the screen for the first time after serving in World War II, portrayed Hepburn's sinister husband Alan. He was a leading man used to being the hero of a picture, but in Undercurrent, audiences got a chance to see him in a darker and more complex role than he ever played before.

Robert Mitchum, in a rare sensitive "nice guy" role, was loaned out to MGM by RKO to make Undercurrent. He was a hot property at the time coming off the success of The Story of G.I. Joe (1945) for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. Even so, Mitchum failed to impress Katharine Hepburn, who made her disdain for him known. Mitchum was also spreading himself a bit thin during the filming by working on two other movies - Desire Me (1947) and The Locket (1946) - at the same time. This grueling schedule prompted Vincente Minnelli to comment, "No wonder he became famous for his sleepy eyes."

At first Katharine Hepburn was also not thrilled to have Vincente Minnelli as her director. Though they had met several times before, Minnelli was still intimidated by Hepburn. "I'm sure we'll get along," Hepburn told Minnelli at the beginning of the picture. To him it sounded like "both an order and a threat," he recalled in his 1974 autobiography I Remember it Well. "Never had I met anyone with such self-assurance. She made me nervous." The two eventually did grow to be good friends once Minnelli learned how to handle the actress. Hepburn also took a welcome interest in Minnelli's newborn daughter, Liza, which pleased the proud first-time father. Initially, Robert Taylor was irritated at the developing friendship between his leading lady and the director and felt that Undercurrent was becoming a showcase for Hepburn. However, he soon relaxed once he realized Minnelli's directorial skills were actually improving his own performance.

Undercurrent is also highlighted by the gorgeous black and white cinematography of Karl Freund that conjures up a menacing atmosphere for the noir-like suspense thriller. Veteran character actors Edmund Gwenn and Marjorie Main play supporting roles, as does Rommy the dog, who was taught by the Rudd Weatherwax family, Hollywood's most prestigious dog trainers. Undercurrent was the first collaboration between Minnelli and Pandro Berman, and they would go on to make several other successful pictures together including Madame Bovary (1949) and Father of the Bride (1950).

Producer: Pandro S. Berman
Director: Vincente Minnelli
Screenplay: Edward Chodorov, George Oppenheimer, Marguerite Roberts
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Cinematography: Karl W. Freund
Costume Design: Irene
Film Editing: Ferris Webster
Original Music: Herbert Stothart
Principal Cast: Katharine Hepburn (Ann Hamilton), Robert Taylor (Alan Garroway), Robert Mitchum (Michael Garroway), Edmund Gwenn (Prof. Dink Hamilton), Marjorie Main (Lucy), Jayne Meadows (Sylvia Burton), Clinton Sundberg (Mr. Warmsley).
BW-117m. Closed captioning.

by Andrea Passafiume

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