Saturday, 7 April 2012


Hepburn and Taylor - Shadow of Mitchum

Undercurrent was one of the few Minnelli's films, outside his familiar territory of musical, melodrama and comedy. Surprisingly, it was a film noir. Probably one of the oddest films in Minnelli's career, it still bears some of key themes of Minnelli's world, especially those related to the darker side of him. Last night's screening of Under the Clock [US: Clock] at NFT, showed how ready was Minnelli for noir genre in the 1940s. In Under the Clock, there is a scene when newly married couple enter a run-down bar, where a mad woman and a loquacious drunk, in a low-key photography, talk about un-Americans, madness, corruption and "dogs" which is a disturbing scene, almost like a mistake, in a sweet melodrama. I thought that scene can be approached as an equivalent of Halloween sequence of Meet Me in St. Louis, made one year earlier, where a sudden destruction of the dream world shocks the Minnelli's characters. Here, from his autobiography, I Remember It Well, Minnelli, charmingly, tells the story of how he worked with three major stars in Undercurrent. This is part one of his memoirs about Undercurrent. Film will be shown tomorrow (8 April, 18:30) at NFT, and the second screening is 18 April, 20:40.

Bob Mitchum feels it was fiscal collusion between the studio and David Selznick, to whom he was under contract that brought him the part. For he admits he was never comfortable in the role of the sensitive Michael.

But Bob didn't need the later-developed Mitchum swagger to convey his innate strength. He's always underestimated his ability.

I can't deny that Selznick was being paid $25,000 a week to loan out Bob for my picture, and getting the same amount for a second Metro picture, Desire Me, which Bob was shooting in the afternoon. On top of this, Bob was working at night on The Locket at RKO. "I worked the three pictures for twenty-six straight days," Bob remembers. "We'd shoot all night at RKO, then I'd report for Undercurrent from seven in the morning until noon, when I'd be flown to Monterey to work all afternoon on the picture with Greer Garson." No wonder he became famous for his sleepy eyes.

He reported for our first meeting, and we discussed concepts and approach. He would work very well, I thought. "Bring something tweedy," I instructed. (He would have to supply his own wardrobe for the picture.)

But at the time, Bob recalls, he had only two suits, and both of them were still being made. "I show up on the set with my clothes stuck together with pins. Minnelli notices that I don't look too elegant. “Are those your own clothes?' he asks. I'm sure he didn't understand that an important player could be tapped out and have no money for clothes." (Bob's contract with Selznick, regardless of the number of pictures he was making all at the same time, paid him a weekly salary of $350 ... tops.)

I'd met Kate many times at the studio, but didn't get to know her well until we made the picture.

"I'm sure we'll get along," she said. It sounded like both an order and a threat. Never had I met anyone with such self-assurance. She made me nervous. And here was I, theoretically the captain of the ship, being made to tiptoe through my assignment.

Though I later learned that Kate wasn't struck with the idea of using Mitchum, at the time she wasn't proving to be the ogre I thought she'd be. Perhaps her role had something to do with that. She could probably beat most guys Indian wrestling three out of five, but in the film she was a fragile girl unsure of herself, a fish out of water. She may have been unsure before the cameras, but the goings on between takes were another matter.


Kate's humor doesn't turn inward. She has a capacity for striking out, and she's one of the rare people who can do it with charm. For if she's irreverent to the person she's playing those verbal games with, she's even more disrespectful of herself.

Early in the proceedings we locked horns over one scene, which Kate felt was too hearts and flowers even for her subdued movie character. She wanted it rewritten. It eventually made sense to me, so I agreed. When we shot it, however, Kate did it the old way.

"Katie, what is this?" I asked. "It's so much better the new way."

"Well," she growled defensively. "I've gotten used to the old way. You know, you can get used to anything. I got used to you) didn’t I?"

Eventually, I got used to her. That sort of baiting can get wearing if it isn’t  your type of humor, but Kate relished it. She'd arrive on the set with her shirttail hanging out, match insults with the crew, go into her dressing room to prepare for filming and come out with even more good-natured barbs.

The turning point in our relationship, however, was the result of a momentary impulse on my part ... and I learned a valuable insight into Kate's character.


We were shooting her hysterical scene in the picture, where she confronts the husband, telling of her suspicions. He wanted her to look dowdy and unsure of herself, she accuses, so that his friends could see her later transformation and credit him for the change. What other betrayals were in store for her? Kate ended the scene in honest tears.

I couldn't control myself. Running up to her, I threw my arms around Kate and kissed her. "That was absolutely beautiful," I said .

Well! From that moment on, she became ultrafeminine. The questions and requests from this clinging female came tumbling forth. "Do you think I should do this? ... How do you like that? ... How would you approach this?" It was her flaw, but it lasted for only a day. Kate, being Kate, returned to her brittle bits of business the next day. But it taught me what I should know. All he wanted was to be told how marvelous she was…and still is.

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