Vintage Pulp Nov 11 2021
UNDERCURRENT AFFAIRS
Got a secretive husband? Poke around and see what you find. What's the worst that can happen?


Two days ago we discussed Katherine Hepburn's cinematic output and noted that Undercurrent was one of the few movies that qualified as pulp-style. We watched it last night and it falls into the always fun husbands-with-dark-secrets sub-genre. Hepburn marries into a rich San Francisco family and quickly finds that her hubby Robert Taylor is prone to sudden rages whenever he's reminded about aspects of his past. You know the drill: “Who was playing that song! Who's here? Was it you? Where did you learn that song!” Taylor is particularly sensitive with regard to his estranged possibly dead brother, and so are Taylor's employees, his domestic staff, and even his friends. Seems everyone is in on the secret except Hepburn. In typical suspense movie fashion, she decides to solve that problem by digging deeper.

Undercurrent is categorized on many websites as a film noir, because that's where people's minds go if there are any night scenes or shadows in a black and white flick, but you may be disappointed if you have such expectations. It's categorized as suspense drama by the American Film Institute, which we consider correct. You could even categorize it as a romantic suspense drama, one with shades of Alfred Hitchcock's 1940 film Rebecca. But on the other hand, since film noir is more a mood than a genre, there's always room for debate concerning whether a film should or shouldn't be included. For us, Undercurrent shouldn't. Two sequences bear some visual elements of film noir, and there's a brief nightmare interlude, but without the overarching cynicism and desolate central characters, we don't think it's a good fit.

Hepburn, who was probably never cynical or desolate in her entire career, occupies nearly every frame of Undercurrent and gives an emotional, almost melodramatic performance as a wife whose loyalty and belief in her husband are tested. To succeed fully in her role, she'd have needed better chemistry with Taylor, and the script and plot would have needed to be scintillating. None of those things happen, which means Hepburn isn't given the tools required to anchor the film. Even so, she gives it a hell of a go, and her efforts make it watchable. For her fans this one is a no-brainer—queue it up. For more general film buffs, you can probably take a pass. Undercurrent premiered today in 1946.
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Femmes Fatales Nov 9 2021
SMOKE AND FIRE
Hepburn brings a special kind of style to Hollywood.


We don't smoke, but Katherine Hepburn sure makes smoking look good in this RKO promo photo shot by Ernest Bachrach in 1935. Though she had a long and storied career, this early shot is pretty much her iconic image. Prints of it are even sold on Wal-Mart's website. Hepburn is incomparable. Her must-watch films include Bringing Up Baby, Adam's Rib, The Philadelphia Story, The African Queen, Long Day's Journey into Night, The Lion in Winter, the groundbreaking Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (which inspired an excellent reggae song by Black Uhuru), and On Golden Pond.
 
You can sum up Hepburn's output by saying she was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar twelve times and won a quartet, the most ever. The Oscar has failed to stay as relevant as it could have over recent decades, and the Academy has made some embarrassing Best Picture choices (Forrest Gump over Pulp Fiction—really?), but it's always been a reliable measure of acting quality, so Hepburn's four wins are meaningful. The one thing she didn't do was make a lot of pulp style movies. One that looks as if it qualifies is the 1946 drama Undercurrent. We'll circle back to that and the divine Miss H. in a bit. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 02
1919—Wilson Suffers Stroke
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson suffers a massive stroke, leaving him partially paralyzed. He is confined to bed for weeks, but eventually resumes his duties, though his participation is little more than perfunctory. Wilson remains disabled throughout the remainder of his term in office, and the rest of his life.
1968—Massacre in Mexico
Ten days before the opening of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City, a peaceful student demonstration ends in the Tlatelolco Massacre. 200 to 300 students are gunned down, and to this day there is no consensus about how or why the shooting began.
October 01
1910—Los Angeles Times Bombed
A massive dynamite bomb destroys the Los Angeles Times building in downtown Los Angeles, California, killing 21 people. Police arrest James B. McNamara and his brother John J. McNamara. Though the brothers are represented by the era's most famous lawyer, Clarence Darrow, of Scopes Monkey Trial fame, they eventually plead guilty. James is convicted and sentenced to fifteen years in prison. His brother John is convicted of a separate bombing of the Llewellyn Iron Works and also sent to prison.
1975—Ali Defeats Frazier in Manila
In the Philippines, an epic heavyweight boxing match known as the Thrilla in Manila takes place between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. It is the third, final and most brutal match between the two, and Ali wins by TKO in the fourteenth round.
September 30
1955—James Dean Dies in Auto Accident
American actor James Dean, who appeared in the films Giant, East of Eden, and the iconic Rebel without a Cause, dies in an auto accident at age 24 when his Porsche 550 Spyder is hit head-on by a larger Ford coupe. The driver of the Ford had been trying to make a left turn across the rural highway U.S. Route 466 and never saw Dean's small sports car approaching.
1962—Chavez Founds UFW
Mexican-American farm worker César Chávez founds the United Farm Workers in California. His strikes, marches and boycotts eventually result in improved working conditions for manual farm laborers and today his birthday is celebrated as a holiday in eight U.S. states.
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