[box cover]

Undercurrent

Part Hitchcockian thriller, part proto-"Woman in Peril" flick, director Vincente Minnelli's Undercurrent (1946) is a modestly interesting study. It's well made but never especially satisfying, largely due to Minnelli's inability to delve beneath the surface and give the audience the really dark material that the story requires, stealing generously from Rebecca and Spellbound but lacking the complexity of either. As the aforementioned distressed damsel, Katherine Hepburn isn't so much miscast as she is unchallenged, her typically smart, self-confident persona at odds with the character she's been assigned. As sort-of spinster Ann Hamilton, she's a delightful mess in slacks and tousled hair, happily cohabiting with her scientist dad (Edmund Gwenn) and laughing off suggestions that she get married. But when her father has a meeting with suave, wealthy inventor Alan Garroway (Robert Taylor), Ann falls for him at first sight and, in the fashion of such stories since Brontë, she leaves her home and allows herself to be remade (in this case, in a parade of swanky '40s dresses by famed costumer Irene). Taylor does a respectable job of slowly revealing himself to be a controlling, jealous psycho, and Hepburn does her level best to poke around, Jane Eyre-like, into her husband's mysterious past. But beyond the basic premise — and an excellent turn in a small role by Robert Mitchum — there's no real substance here, and the payoff is rather anticlimactic. The finale requires Hepburn to shriek helplessly with hand to forehead, and she looks frankly awkward attempting to pull off the actions of a flimsy romantic heroine. The noir-ish camerawork is competent, but it's obvious that Minnelli lacked a real affinity for the style, resulting in an acceptable, if uninspired, picture. Warner's DVD, part of the six-disc "Katherine Hepburn Collection," looks great, with a crisp full-frame black-and-white transfer that's very clean and altogether terrific. The DD 1.0 audio (English, with optional English and French subtitles) is also very good, tidily servicing both the dialogue and the piano-heavy, melodramatic score by Herbert Stothart. Extras include the hilariously alarmist short feature "Traffic with the Devil" about auto safety starring real-life Los Angeles police officers (18 min.) and the Tex Avery cartoon "Lonesome Lenny" (8 min.), in which a crazy squirrel terrorizes a dopey dog. Available only in Warner's "Katharine Hepburn Collection," a six-disc digipak with semi-transparent sleeve.
—Dawn Taylor



Back to Quick Reviews Index: [A-F] [G-L] [M-R] [S-Z]

Back to Main Page