Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Undercurrent (1946)


Undercurrent (1946)

In 1946 Robert Mitchum was under contract to RKO. They had loaned him out to MGM for two pictures Undercurrent (1946) and Desire Me (1947) which were filmed back-to-back. He had relatively small roles in both as the third person in a romantic melodrama. Both films turned out to be box office failures. Not that this hurt Mitchum's career trajectory at all. In fact, placing Mitchum in movies with the type of high-caliber stars that were missing from RKO's line-up, in this case MGM heavyweights Greer Garson in Desire Me and Katharine Hepburn and Robert Taylor in Undercurrent, was incredible exposure for Mitchum. And the following year he'd make Out of the Past (1947) which would help secure him a spot as a popular leading man in Hollywood.


Katharine Hepburn, Robert Taylor and Robert Mitchum in Undercurrent (1946)
Katharine Hepburn, Robert Taylor and Robert Mitchum's shadow in a publicity shot for MGM

Directed by Vincente Minnelli, Undercurrent (1946) is part film noir, part neurotic melodrama. Katharine Hepburn stars as Ann, a scientist and 30-something daughter of well-respected Professor Hamilton (Edmund Gwenn) whom she lovingly refers to as Dink. She's a tomboy, wears pants, loves chemistry, and doesn't fuss too much over her appearance. But in the world she lives in she's really just a dowdy woman on the verge of spinsterhood. When charming young inventor Alan Garroway (Robert Taylor) comes to visit Professor Hamilton, Ann is soon swept away by his romantic gestures. Garroway is attracted to Ann much in the same way he would be to a new idea for an invention. He sees possibility to transform her into a glamorous socialite. All seems well in their marriage until it becomes apparent that Garroway harbors dark secrets. He's severed his relationship with his brother Michael Garroway (Robert Mitchum) and in conversation with Ann he paints the picture of unforgivable sibling betrayal. Ann believes him until she discovers Alan's first lie and things begins to unfold. Ann suffers the internal battle between her love for Alan and her desire for the truth. Is Alan really the man she fell in love with? And where is Michael?

Katharine Hepburn and Robert Mitchum in Undercurrent (1946)
Katharine Hepburn and Robert Mitchum in Undercurrent (1946)

 "Is there good swimming?" - Ann
"No, riptide." - Michael
"Looks very calm." - Ann
"You can't always see that undercurrent." - Michael
"Like life." - Ann

Clearly I watched this movie for one reason: Robert Mitchum. While his character Michael is central to the story, Mitchum himself doesn't appear until 62 minute mark of a 2 hour movie and his total screen time is probably less than 10 minutes. Needless to say this was a disappointment for me but I was grateful for to check off another Mitchum movie off my to-be-watched list.

While it's categorized as a film noir, I like the term "neurotic melodrama" a lot better. It really captures the overall theme of the movie. The build up of tension is slow and methodical. None of the roles suited the main players. Ann was a weak role for Katharine Hepburn whom we all know shines when she has strong characters to play. Mitchum as the mysterious brother was also a weak character for him. Robert Taylor's performance was decent. I grew more fearful of his character as the story progressed so I thought that was an effective part of the movie. I think this film is worth watching for the main players, the melodrama and the build up of tension. This was Jayne Meadows film debut. She plays Sylvia Benton, a no-nonsense socialite who was unwillingly caught in a love triangle with the two brothers. She has a small but fantastic part as the tough woman who opens Ann's eyes to what's happening around her. Clinton Sundberg plays Taylor's right-hand man. Marjorie Main has a small role in the beginning of the film as the Hamilton's maid and mother figure to Ann.

This movie was a departure for Minnelli so he wasn't the only one on set who out of his element. From what I've read, Hepburn and Mitchum didn't get along which could be why there is very little to no tenderness between them in what should be tender scenes in the film. In an interview with Dick Lochte, Mitchum remembered overhearing Hepburn refer to him as a "cheap flash actor." This was the only time they worked together which was probably for the best.

The film didn't perform well in theaters. In 1947 playwright Fay Elhert sued MGM for using the title of his play, one he submitted to MGM for consideration, for this movie. Laraine Day had been promised the title role of Ann in exchange for her appearing in Keep Your Powder Dry (1945). MGM didn't hold up their end of the bargain and Day severed her contract with them.

I'm conflicted about this movie. I want to like it but something pulls me back. I can't quite put my finger on it. It could be shorter with even more tension. Maybe other actors better suited to the roles would have improved the film for me. But otherwise it's just an ordinary movie that I just happened to enjoy but not too much.

If you've seen this film I would love to know what you think!

I watched this film on iTunes. I missed an opportunity to see it at the Brattle Theatre as part of their Robert Mitchum centennial repertory series but hope to catch another screening soon.

Sources:
TCMDB
Robert Mitchum: Baby I Don't Care by Lee Server
Mitchum in His Own Words edited by Jerry Roberts


Monday, July 24, 2017

Obit. Life on a Deadline (2016)

Obit. Life on a Deadline (2016) movie poster
"Obits have next to nothing to do with the death and absolutely everything to do with the life." - Margalit Fox
 
Classic film enthusiasts are well-acquainted with obituaries. The deaths of our beloved stars are a common occurrence. When someone dies we take the time to reflect on their life. Reading obits on and offline is one of the ways we celebrate the life and mourn the loss. When I first started this blog I always knew that I didn't want to write obits. At first I would post little tributes instead with just a few words and a picture or two. Even then it became too much and I abandoned the practice. I have the utmost respect for those who regularly write obits even more so now that I watched the new documentary Obit. Life on a Deadline (2016).


Directed by Vanessa Gould, Obit. takes a deep dive into the work by the obit team at The New York Times. Talking heads include current and former obit writers Bruce Weber, Margalit Fox, William Grimes, Douglas Martin, Paul Vitello, their boss William McDonald as well archivist Jeff Roth and various others who contribute to the The New York Times obits.

Newspaper obit writers are a dying breed. Once considered to be the most boring section of a newspaper, today's writers have breathed new life into this form of journalism. The New York Times obit team focuses on writing pieces that educate, illuminate and entertain. They capture the essence of a life while also telling the reader an enthralling story. While they try to do justice to a life there is also the need for impartiality. These writers are not afraid to explore the negatives along with the positives. There is a keen eye on research. Obit writers race against the clock to pull together as much information as they can in a short amount of time. This means calling family members of the deceased, speed reading clips that are pulled from The New York Times' "Morgue" and using other resources to build the skeleton of the obit. Then there are the creative minds of these writers whose talent for the written word weave the tales of lives well-lived or not at all.

Scene from Obit. Photo source: Kino Lorber


One minute into Obit. and I was hooked. I was utterly fascinated by the process of researching and writing an obit. Viewers follow the writers on a typical day at the office but we also get to hear about some of their previous work too. The position of an obit writer used to be the lowest rung on the totem pole of a newspaper; a job relegated to someone on their way out. I get the sense that while The New York Times obit team isn't one of the top departments it is still respected.

"There's a tremendous amount of pressure to be as prepared as you can, knowing that you'll never be prepared." - William McDonald


We get a peak at how the obit team pitches for a page one piece (either a top story or a "refer", a call out to the obit section on the bottom of the front page). Viewers get to see the "Morgue" where decades worth of news clippings arranged by subject and subject matter. There are insights on how photographs are selected, how the length of obits are decided on and how they approach advances, obits written ahead of a person's death. There is also a spotlight on individual obits for figures like adventurer John Fairfax, author David Foster Wallace, Marshall Lytle of Bill Haley and the Comets, stunt pilot Elinor Smith, actress Farrah Fawcett and singer Michael Jackson. These were fascinating and we learn quite a bit about the process.

Archivist Jeff Roth in the "Morgue" - Photo source: Kino Lorber


I was hoping this documentary had more classic film related figures but alas it did not. The only person mentioned was Elizabeth Taylor who's obit was a big deal for the team. There are some clips of movie stars like Lauren Bacall and Marilyn Monroe but none are focused on. I think it's still worth the time of classic film fans to watch this documentary especially if you're like me and read obituaries on a regular basis.

Obit. Life on a Deadline (2016) is an illuminating and informative documentary on the writers who give the recently deceased one final send-off. This is a must-see!





Obit. (2016) will be available from Kino Lorber on DVD and Blu-Ray on August 1st. You can pre-order the movie by using the buy links below.


Thank you to Kino Lorber for sending me the Blu-Ray to review!

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Betrayed (1944)


Betrayed (1944) poster
In 1949, Robert Mitchum was a household name. By that time he had made a splash in the genre that was later dubbed film noir with movies such as The Locket (1946), Undercurrent (1946), Crossfire (1947) and the noir we all know and love Out of the Past (1947). That last film made him famous and his arrest in 1948 for the possession of marijuana made him notorious. The King brothers, Frank and Maurice King, must have been following the trajectory of Mitchum's career very closely. Five years earlier, Mitchum made two films for the King brothers and poverty row studio Monogram Pictures. The first one was Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1944) (you can read my review here), a WWII housing shortage comedy starring Simone Simon. Mitchum had a very minor role in that film. He got a juicier part in When Strangers Marry (1944) which also produced by the King brothers and distributed by Monogram. In that film Mitchum didn't have the lead role but he was third billed with his name truncated to Bob Mitchum so it would fit the poster. Fast forward five years and Mitchum was now making movies for Howard Hughes at RKO. And he was doing well. If you know anything about the King brothers you'd know that when they saw a money-making opportunity they pounced. With Mitchum's fame and notoriety firmly established in Hollywood, Maurice and Frank King re-released their two Mitchum movies. They bumped up his name to top billing, altered the posters to more prominently display the star and changed Johnny Doesn't Live Here Anymore to And So They Were Married and When Strangers Marry to the more ominous Betrayed.



When Strangers Marry (1944) poster. Compare with the Betrayed poster and how Mitchum's name is positioned.


Betrayed (1944), aka When Strangers Marry, is a film noir directed by William Castle and based on a story by George Moskov. The movie starts with the murder of wealthy drunk Charlie (Milton Kibee). He was last seen with traveling salesman Paul Baxter (Dean Jagger) who helped Charlie to his home. The police discover Charlie had been strangled with a pair of silk stockings. Baxter recently wed Mildred (Kim Hunter). The two have barely known each other, meeting only three times before they married and haven't seen each other since the wedding. Mildred can't find her husband and enlists the help of her former beau Fred Graham (Robert Mitchum) and the police. Everyone begins to suspect Paul Baxter has been up to something. He doesn't want to be seen in public and has been acting very shady. Police begin to investigate with some help from Fred. Does Mildred really know the man she married? The story takes twists and turns in the way a good mystery should.

Kim Hunter and Dean Jagger in Betrayed (1944)


This was a new-to-me noir and I quite enjoyed it. The movie can be melodramatic at times especially when things heat up towards the end. But overall its an enjoyable 67 minute poverty row noir. Dean Jagger effectively plays the paranoid salesman on the run. Kim Hunter is charming as Mildred and I like that her character grows from befuddled to more independently minded. Milton Kibbee adds a bit of dark humor at the beginning of the film. Neil Hamilton, a familiar face in the 1930s and 1940s, plays Lieutenant Blake. Rhonda Fleming has a bit part in the last scene of the movie which effectively closes the loop on the entire plot.

Mitchum and a dog. Enough said?


Then there is Robert Mitchum. I might be biased considering the fact that he's my favorite actor but Mitchum is an absolute charmer in this movie. There were a few glorious moments for swooning. He's shirtless in the Turkish bath scene. Mitchum is at the peak of his handsomeness and the camera lingers long enough on his beautiful face for viewers to take in some of his gorgeous features. And he's often seen with an adorable Boston Terrier. My husband said "Robert Mitchum chillin' with a dog, that's all you need in your life." Too true. Too true. There's one important scene at the height of the film's drama that Mitchum may have overacted. He was still relatively knew to acting and this was before subtlety became his strong suit.

Betrayed (1944) is a good noir with a fine cast, decent tension and a fun plot twist. TCM will be showing it as When Strangers Marry (1944) on Robert Mitchum day August 6th during Summer Under the Stars. That day also happens to be the 100th anniversary of Mitchum's birth.

http://www.jdoqocy.com/click-6581483-10280984?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wbshop.com%2Fproduct%2Fbetrayed%2B%25281944%2529%2B1000180179.do%3Fref%3DCJP&cjsku=1000180179


Betrayed (1944) is available from the Warner Archive Instant Streaming. This movie is also available on DVD-MOD from Warner Archive's shop. You can buy the DVD-R by using this link. Shopping through my buy links and banners helps support this site. Thank you!

Warner Archive Wednesday - On (random) Wednesdays, I review one title from the Warner Archive Collection. Thank you to the Warner Archive Instant for the opportunity to review this film!


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