Spinster Ann Hamilton (Katharine Hepburn) lives with her scientist father, Dink (Edmund Gwenn) in the country. She busies herself helping with her father’s experiments and keeping house for him. She’s a practical woman who harbors no fantasies about romance and marriage and is content to live her quiet, country life. Then she meets Alan Garroway (Robert Taylor). The millionaire industrialist visits the Hamiltons to buy Dink’s explosive formula and start production. Charming, handsome, and confident, Alan sweeps Ann off her feet and after a whirlwind romance, the two marry. The End. Cut! Print! Teehee, just kidding.
Wrong film, bub.
Alan takes Ann out of her comfortable domestic life and thrusts her into his jet-setting, sophisticated one. The newlyweds arrive at their Washington, D.C. digs where Alan has arranged a party to welcome Ann. It’s a black tie affair and Ann has only her traveling dress to wear. She’s frumpy and nervous and clearly out of place in a room full of professional party-goers. Determined to avoid another embarrassing scene and to make Alan proud of her, Ann buys a new wardrobe and tries to be the good Washington hostess. Under Alan’s tasteful supervision, Ann learns how to charm the witty urbanites in Alan’s circle. The couple appear to be well on the way to a long, happy marriage when Ann hears, for the first time, that Alan has a brother. Ann asks about the mystery brother only to find that he ran off with no forwarding address and a large part of the company’s funds. When Ann tries to question him further, Alan lashes out at her. Realizing her husband is in pain, Ann relents and decides to try her best to comfort Alan and make him forget his heartbreak.
Next, the couple go to the Garroway family home in tony, equestrian Middleburg, Virginia. As Ann begins to acclimate herself to her new surroundings, she senses unease. People talk around the issue which centers around Alan’s wayward brother, Michael. No one will answer Ann’s questions and Alan’s hair trigger temper makes Ann increasingly concerned about the stability of her husband. She catches him in a series of lies, but Alan explains it away. This assuages Ann’s fears and on a trip to San Francisco Alan is called away. Ann takes the opportunity to explore his brother Michael’s old ranch north of the city to learn more about him. As she tours the house and grounds, which look as if they were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, she gets a picture of Michael which differs significantly from the one Alan described to her. Alan reacts violently to Ann’s visit to the ranch. After a guitar-tossing outburst, Alan finally calms down and brings her, coldly back to Washington.
Yeah, not this film either.
Alan and Ann overhear a conversation which convinces Ann that to Alan she’s less of a wife and more of a project. She realizes her transformation from frumpy to fabulous was no accident. “You knew I wouldn’t look smart. You could have waited for me to meet your friends. The truth is if no one saw the before, you wouldn’t get credit for the after.” In that one statement, Ann says what she’s been fearing almost from the beginning. Now Ann doubts her husband and her marriage. As long as she keeps that doubt to herself, she’ll have time to figure things out, but like the big innocent goof that she is, Ann tells Alan everything. Immediately things go from curious to downright scary as Ann discovers the true nature of her husband.
Directed by Vincent Minnelli with great, moody cinematography by Karl Freund, UNDERCURRENT boasts an impressive cast of lead and character actors including Marjorie Main, Jayne Meadows, and Robert Mitchum in a small, but pivotal role. Based on a magazine story “You Were There” by Thelma Strabel, UNDERCURRENT did well at the box office. It was Robert Taylor’s first screen role after returning from WWII and filmgoers came out in droves to see him and the rest of the stellar cast. I’ve always liked this film. Katharine Hepburn plays an unusually pliable woman in UNDERCURRENT and watching her transform from strong, but naïve to intimidated to self-assured to terrified keeps you guessing. Robert Taylor does sociopathic well, and Robert Mitchum… Well, Robert Mitchum can do anything he wants on screen (and probably off) and it works a treat. I recommend UNDERCURRENT for trying something a little different with its stars. It’s a fun noir/drama/love story/thriller. It can also be used to propel a small, sea-going vessel. Well, maybe not.
I wrote this for #TheGreatKHBlogathon for Margaret Perry of margaretperry.org
Thank you for hosting!!!