Undercurrent, 1946, Is Playing on TCM on January 21 (USA)

Undercurrent, 1946, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on January 21 at 6:00 p.m. est.

Director Vincente Minneli said of Undercurrent : He [Robert Taylor] out-acted her [Katharine Hepburn] and stole the picture as the demanding and sadistic husband.  It was Kate who was miscast. (Charles Tranberg, Robert Taylor: a Biography, BearManor Media, 2011, pages 176-177.)

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All of the criticisms of this movie might well be flushed down the loo. This is one powerhouse of an interesting movie.  Call it Film-Noir. Call it Mystery/Suspense. Call it Psychological Thriller. Call it what you may…I call it: absorbing drama.  It moves very deliberately…and the facts are revealed one by one, in true mystery fashion, until the fantastic, thrilling ending.

Those who say that Hepburn and Mitchum were miscast are just so wrong. Hepburn wasn’t playing Hepburn here…she wasn’t Tracy Lord here. She wasn’t a know-it-all New England uppity snob here. Not a worldly character at all. She played a different character than I’ve ever seen her do. Hepburn doesn’t rely on her stable of clichés to capture our imagination here. She does it with imagination and as few of the Hepburn cornerstone mannerisms as possible. Good result!

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Robert Taylor is fascinating to watch. He has so many secrets in this role. And they reside behind his facade for us to watch and enjoy. He slowly swirls into controlled mania and desperate determination. Very fine, indeed. He should have been nominated for this one.

And then there’s Mitchum! What can one say about Mitchum without gushing foolishly. Gee whiz…the first time you see him…he shows us a side of him we have hardly ever seen! He seems at peace, mild in character, mellow in mood…pensive…other worldly. Likable even! Never gruff or abrasive like we’ve seen him so many times before.

What is unique about this story is that we really do not know what is going to happen next. We spend most of the movie residing in Hepburn’s character’s mind. Her wondering, her confusion, her search for the truth — at all costs.

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I was expecting not to like this movie. I was expecting it to be another formulaic Hepburn vehicle about high society. But this is where this movie takes a left turn into an underrated mystery.  I enjoyed the use of the theme to the Third Movement of Johannes Brahms’ Third Symphony throughout the movie. It lent a delicious air of mystery, love and luscious pastoral passion to the whole affair.

And to say that Vincente Minnelli was WRONG for this movie? Gee whiz! He was perfect! Why compare him to Hitchcock? Minnelli has manufactured a mystery world all his own. Sure there are devices. All movies have devices. But they are handled so deftly…we don’t rely on them to make us aware of the story — they don’t get in our way. They heighten our interest and this very absorbing plot.

Well done. I wish it had been a longer movie…it was THAT kind of movie. I recommend this one…Review by Enrique Sanchez, Miami, FL for the IMDB.

Some behind the scenes photos:

Karl Freund, Cinematographer and Robert Taylor

Katharine Hepburn, Robert Taylor, Director Vincente Minelli

Mr. Taylor, Robert Mitchum, Mr. Minelli

Ms. Hepburn, Mr. Taylor
Mr. Taylor

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Conspirator, 1949, Is Playing on TCM on January 21 (USA)

Conspirator, 1949, is rarely shown on TV.  It will show on Turner Classic Movies on Friday, January 21 at 8:15 a.m. est.  This is the first film Elizabeth Taylor and Robert Taylor made together.

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Most of the anti-Communist films of the 1940s – 1950s are crap. No doubt about that. Thrown together they had preposterous plots emanating from the Kremlin to sap our national resources or strength. For example one film has Lee Marvin heading a major atomic spy ring outside a missile range from a hamburger/hash stand! The best films of the period dealing with communist threats were the science fiction films like The Thing or Them wherein the monster was a symbol for the threat to Americans (from an “alien” source). Occasionally a semi-documentary might attract attention, but not much.

Oddly enough this early movie was somewhat above average. First it correctly looked at our wartime friend and partner England as a possible source of leakage. This turned out to be somewhat true (but the Rosenberg Case would soon show homegrown spy rings existed as well). Secondly it showed something usually ignored or rendered minor in most of these films. Here it is developed into the issue: who are you going to show greater loyalty to, the Communist Party or your naive spouse?

What I really like about Conspirator is that Robert Taylor plays the central figure. He had tackled a few ambiguous characters before World War II, most notably William Bonney in  Billy the Kid (but that screenplay, like Darryl Zanuck’s film of Jessie James, whitewashed a great deal of the bad out of the central character). But after the war MGM treated Taylor (now a seasoned leading star of theirs) to a wider variety of parts, including more villainous characters. Think of him in the somewhat earlier Undercurrent with Kate Hepburn and Robert Mitchum. Both of these films could not have been made with Taylor in the 1930s.

I also sort of enjoy the idea that Taylor, a friendly [No-this has been disproved, see my posts here under HUAC], but sincere witness for the H.U.A.C subcommittee against Communist infiltration into the movie industry actually did this film. It is his only chance to show what he thought of a Communist agent, and his interpretation (and the screenplay’s) show he saw them as naive fools.

Also it is the first time in his career that Taylor starred with the only female star of his rank with the same last name: Elizabeth Taylor. Just leaving such films as National Velvet, Little Women and Life with Father, she finally came of age here as a young bride. In some ways I have always felt that Ms Taylor’s glorious beauty was at a pristine height in films of the early 1950s like this one or Father of the Bride. Here she is in love with her dashing wartime hero husband, whom she gradually realizes is not as heroic (for England) as she thought (though he would disagree – witness his scene telling her about how he has joined one of the great causes of all time!).

The film follows their courtship, their marriage, and the discovery of his treason by her. The issue of course is whether or not he will be turned in by her, or will he love her enough to withstand pressure by his Kremlin bosses to (errr)…eradicate his error totally.

The film (as mentioned in another recent review) is above average. Taylor does play this English “Col. Redl” (of an earlier war, in a different country – but serving another Russia) as a man torn apart, but refusing to acknowledge his error of judgment. In fact his final decision puts to stop to any type of acknowledgment. The one flaw in this film is similar to the later, wretched Rogue’s March with Peter Lawford and Leo G. Carroll. The omnipotence of the British Secret Service in ferreting out traitors is shown at the tale-end. I may add that in 1949 that Secret Service (MR5) contained such “patriots” as Burgess, McClean, and Philby. Yeah they really would have been watching Taylor closely! Review by Theo Winthrop for the IMDb, 2009.

Some behind the scenes photos:

Robert Taylor and Elizabeth Taylor


Mr. Taylor at Premiere?

Filming in the subway.

Robert Flemyng?, Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Taylor, Harold Warrrender?, Honor Blackman
Coffee time.

Mr. Taylor, Director Victor Saville, Ms. Taylor
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The Power and the Prize, 1956, Is Playing on TCM on January 20 (USA)

“The Power and the Prize” (1956) is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Thursday, January 20 at 6:15 p.m.

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The Power and the Prize is very much a movie of its time. Released in 1956, it reflects both the international situation of the mid fifties and the changing power structure at M-G-M.

Amalgamated World Metals is, on the surface, the perfect liberal paradigm for America. It is a huge international corporation run by unscrupulous men whose only interests are power and wealth. The Chairman, George Salt (of the earth? Burl Ives) is determined on destroying a small English metals company by forcing it into a disadvantageous deal. He sends Cliff Barton, the Vice-Chairman (Robert Taylor) to London negotiate the deal by pulling a fast one on the Brits.

Taylor, however, is to be the exception to the American-power-lust stereotype. When we meet him he seems pleasant but weak, going along with his boss’s plans, even planning to marry the boss’s niece. In London he meets a young woman (Elisabeth Mueller) who is administering a refugee agency for displaced artists. Since the agency is financed by Mrs. Salt, Barton is asked to verify its integrity while he is in London.

Mueller is emotional, almost hysterical, most of the time. She is artsy, hates Americans, hates businessmen, hates everything Barton stands for. Of course they fall in love. And, of course, Barton finds his true self by being exposed to her noble European sensibility. Within a week he turns his life around.

“Power and the Prize” was released in September 1956, two years after the notorious Army-McCarthy hearings into communism in America. The film satirizes the “red scare” culture of the times, with various people inquiring into Mrs. Linka’s (Mueller’s) possible “commie” background.

M-G-M was undergoing significant changes at this time. In 1951 Dore Schary had maneuvered the legendary Louis B. Mayer out of the company. Mayer’s last production was Quo Vadis, representing the grand vision of quality entertainment that he had pursued for decades. Schary, while not rejecting entertainment, believed that movies should have a message. His films were tougher, grittier and didn’t always have a happy ending. Schary himself left the studio in 1956.

Robert Taylor worked for M-G-M longer than any other top ranked player. He had a relationship with Mayer that was close to that of a father and son. Mayer looked after his protégé while exploiting him at the same time. Robert Taylor and Cliff Barton have similar histories—both men who worked loyally for a large company and prospered by doing so. While Taylor and Schary weren’t close, the studio continued to support him while it dropped many others. Barton and Taylor are also decent, honorable men who can, with a little nudging in Barton’s case, be counted on to do the right thing.

The anti-communism theme is also relevant to the actor. In October of 1947, Taylor testified, albeit under duress, before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He did not call anyone a communist but made his opposition to communism in general very clear. The film even refers specifically to testifying before a congressional committee.

“The Power and the Prize,” is, then, a movie with layers. It is well acted by all of the principals. Sir Cedric Hardwicke is particularly effective as the beleaguered head of the British company that Amalgamated tries to con. Burl Ives blusters and bullies with gusto. Mueller throws herself into her part and has good chemistry with Taylor. Taylor, as always, brings a combination of restraint, glamor and goodness to his character. The other characters bounce off him like waves on a rock.

For some reason the film was filmed in black and white and in Cinemascope, which seems a waste. It would have been better in color or not in Cinemascope since it is essentially an interior oriented drama. Nonetheless it is visually sumptuous with a sort of East coast “Dallas” ambiance. Well worth a look. Review by me for the IMDB.

Behind-the-scenes photos:

Elisabeth Mueller, Burl Ives, Robert Taylor
Mr. Taylor, Ms. Mueller, Mr. Ives
Ms. Mueller, Mr. Taylor
Ms. Meller, Mr. Taylor, Director Henry Koster
Mr. Ives. Ms. Mueller, Mr. Taylor
Nicola Michaels, Mr. Taylor, 2 unknown
Ms. Mueller, Mr. Taylor

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Ivanhoe, 1952, Is Playing on TCM on January 8, 2022 (USA)

Ivanhoe, 1952 is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Saturday, January 8 at 2:30 p.m.est.

Ivanhoe was one of the most successful films of the year and brought in over $10 million at the box office, about $89,823,018.87 in 2015.

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Robert Taylor and Liz Taylor in Ivanhoe.

Wonderful movie! This film is an exciting adventure-romance which never once loses its pace or feel. Robert Taylor brings depth to a potentially dull lead character. Jean Fontaine is great as his love, the Lady Rowenna. Elizabeth Taylor, though, steals the show with her stunning portrayal of Rebecca of York! This film has aged very well and shows first-hand to a young generation just why Elizabeth Taylor was such a star.

Although this film is an extremely enjoyable adventure, it also has the guts to tackle some complicated issues and resolve them in a very non-Hollywood fashion. As Ivanhoe feels his love for the beautiful Rebecca grow will he defy convention and pursue the lovely Jewish girl or remain with the safe charms of the blond, Anglo-Saxon Rowena?  The answer is intelligently handled and surprising. This film is one of the greatest examples of the classic adventure.  Review by David Arbury for the IMDB

Here are a few behind the scenes photos:

With Elizabeth Taylor.
Coffee time.
Liz Taylor and Van Johnson.

Liz Taylor having her hair done.
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Broadway Melody of 1936, 1935, Is Playing on TCM on January 5, 2022 (USA)

Broadway Melody of 1936, made in 1935, is playing on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday, January 5 at 6:00 a.m.

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Robert Taylor, Eleanor Powell, Jack Benny, Una Merkel. June Knight, Buddy Ebsen, Vilma Ebsen.

Broadway Melody of 1936 is a confection of a movie, meant to sweeten the lives of Depression weary Americans. It stars the unlikely triumvirate of Jack Benny, Eleanor Powell and Robert Taylor. The plot is flimsy, involving the parallel efforts of a columnist (Benny) trying to save his career, a Broadway producer (Taylor) trying to find a star for his new show and a dancer (Powell) trying to get her big break on Broadway.

All this is secondary to the wonderful songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed: “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin’”; “Broadway Rhythm”; “You Are My Lucky Star”; “On a Sunday Afternoon”;” Sing Before Breakfast.” The production numbers for each song range from clever to spectacular. “I’ve Got a Feelin’ You’re Foolin” is sung by Taylor and New York actress June Knight. The special effects are a delight, especially as they are done so long before CGI.

Powell proves, as always, that she is unmatched as a dancer—her energy, grace and strength are a marvel. She dances solo, with Buddy and Vilma Ebsen, with Nick Long, Jr. and with huge choruses.

Nor can the acting be faulted. Jack Benny is excellent as the gossip-obsessed wise-cracking and scheming columnist. Robert Taylor is remarkably poised and mature for his years (24) and even has a nice singing voice. The second banana roles are filled admirably by Sid Silvers and Una Merkel. If Powell and Knight are less impressive when their feet are still, it doesn’t matter—their dancing more than redeems them.

“Broadway Melody of 1936” was a high budget, high gloss, pull out all the stops, MGM production. No expense was spared for the costumes, sets, choreography or photography. The direction by Roy del Ruth is crisp and effective. We could use more films like this in our own difficult times. Review by me for the IMDB.

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Robert Taylor and June Knight filmed a dance sequence for Broadway Melody of 1936 that did not appear in the final film.  These pictures are all that is left.

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Some behind the scenes photos:

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Robert Taylor and Eleanor Powell.
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Robert Taylor and June Knight
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Robert Taylor and Eleanor Powell



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