Sunday, April 8, 2012

Undercurrect#2

Second part of Minnelli's reminiscing of how he worked with Katherine Hepburn, Robert Mitchum and Robert Talylor in his only film noir, Undercurrent (1946). Part one can be reached here.

Yet, as Kate and I were becoming good friends, I discovered that my cordial relations with Bob Taylor were in danger of deteriorating. He'd taken my chronic vagueness as disinterest, I suppose, and though he never voiced any complaints, I was aware of his dissatisfaction. Bob's wariness, that I was throwing scenes to Kate, ended when he discovered how effective he was being in the picture.

His performance helped us prolong the denouement. Though Bob had gotten over his pretty boy reputation, you still couldn't disguise his charm. The audience simply wouldn't take him for a murderer...until that climactic scene with his brother. The mask was stripped, and his psychopathic character was finally revealed. I started mulling over the scene, to see if I could supply it with a new approach.

In the meantime, Bob Mitchum recalls that he and Bob Taylor were passing the time away in small talk.
  "How tall are you?" Taylor asked.
  "Oh, I don't know, probably six feet," Mitchum answered.
  ''That can't be," Taylor said, looking up to the taller Mitchum. "I'm six-one. You have to be six-three or -four." ("In those days," Mitchum recalls, "every actor was supposed to be six-one…including Alan Ladd. And in this scene, we're supposed to be eyeball to eyeball. So, okay, he was six-one, but I know I’m about six feet and he had to look up at least an inch at me.”)

The film ends with Kate, recovering from experience, being pushed in a wheel chair to the piano, where Mitchum is playing the melodic theme from Brahms Fourth Symphony, which had been used as recurring background music throughout the picture.

“I don’t want to see that you’re in love Michael,” I instructed Kate, “just the apparent hope that one day you may be.”
“Isn’t that cutting it a bit thin, Vincente?” she asked.
“Absolutely not.” We prepared to do it my way.
The lighting men were working around Kate, getting everything just so. Mitchum noticed their equipment was blocking the line vision between the two. “Can you see me, Miss Hepburn?” he asked. She turned to him with a sweet smile. “Not for dust.”
Bob Mitchum may be a tough guy, but Kate’s comment nearly decimated him. But once he got adjusted to the idea she apparently didn’t like him, he was determined to go through the scene with dimpled chin held high.

The lighting men continued setting up. Kate, who knows everything about movie-making, knew she would be perfectly lit. She also noticed that Bob would be lucky to cast a shadow in the scene.
  “I didn’t know anything about key lights, or things like that,” Bob says. “And here was Hepburn. Not only could she act rings around me, but she knew as much about technical things as the experts.”
  Kate took pity, apparently, on Bob. “Mr. Mitchum,” Bob remembers Kate saying, “don’t let them screw you like that.” And then she generously instructed the technicians to give Bob a better break. The result was that Bob now found Kate even more maddening . . . and fascinating. To this day he still doesn't know what Kate thinks of him. Their paths never crossed after completion of the picture.
Bob never spoke of the slight friction with Kate until years later. And I wrapped up in other phase of production, was too preoccupied to notice. Yet there was one consolation for Bob...one last word...though neither he nor Kate had it.

Shortly after the scene was shot, Kate was wandering around the lot. She passed by Bob's dressing room and through the open door she noticed a young man, stripped to the waist, sketching. Her curiosity piqued, she went over. It was Boyd Cabeen, Bob's stand-in, drawing a quite creditable fashion sketch. Tyrone that's what Bob called him was designing dresses for Jane Russell. . . his wife Carmen was her stand-in.

"You know, young man," Kate said, "you have obvious talent. You really should do something with it instead of working for some cheap flash actor like Mr. Mitchum."

Tyrone, fiercely loyal, politely turned to Kate. "Thanks for the advice, Miss Hepburn. Now may I make a request?" Kate nodded.
   "Should I survive you, would you bequeath me that lovely collection of bones?" And with that he shut the door, leaving Kate outside, mouth open, suddenly standing next to Bob. Kate, Bob recalls, giggled and walked off. She'd been very neatly put down for her presumption, and with the nicest of compliments. That she could appreciate. That was style!

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