At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

UNDERCURRENT (WB ARCHIVES)

By • Oct 9th, 2017 •

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Bluray Review by Roy Frumkes

Frenetic Katharine Hepburn in a Film Noir?

Fussy Vincente Minnelli directing a Film Noir?

Only Mitchum belongs here, but Hepburn wasn’t happy about his laid-back Mitch-onian presence. Yet she apparently had the approval of her co-stars, so go figure.

This was a sort of interim piece by Minnelli, and as an over-produced, lavishly mounted ‘40s MGM horror flick in the tradition of Fleming/Tracy’s JEKYLL AND HYDE, or Lubin’s THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, or Cukor/Bergman’s GASLIGHT, it bears all the genteel trappings of these 40s reactions against the brisk, lurid Universal monster showcases.  By the 40s the Universals had become assembly line product, although still quite wonderful, and MGM picked up the slack for A productions.  Over at RKO, Val Lewton was doing his poetic horrors at bargain basement prices.  We all know that the best Lewton’s are better than the MGMs…though DORIAN GRAY stands out as quite something.

Although she’s altogether too spunky for it, Hepburn plays a docile fish out of water who falls for a very urbane, supposedly gifted, definitely rich business tycoon played by Robert Taylor.  Taylor had been in the armed forces for two years, and this was quite the comeback.  Though she gets the lion’s share of coverage (which we’re told he disappreciated), he handles the transformations, from loving hubby to more-and-more dangerous sociopath, with aplomb.  But given that none but Mitch is right for the genre, it’s the art direction that steals the show – and this WB Archive restoration really polishes the frames.  German Expressionism master Karl Freund does a bang-up job over-lighting the proceedings, though again, it never feels like the Noir some label it as, more like a straightforward psychological thriller, which is what it is.

UNDERCURRENT enjoyed a luxurious three-month shooting schedule, so if you want to see Hepburn wading into waters she’d never tried before, and bask in in the visual complexity of an utterly gorgeous production, try this one out.  She never made that choice again.

And Freund ended up shooting the ‘I Love Lucy’ TV series.

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