Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Tonight's Movie: Undertow (1949)

I've been meaning to watch UNDERTOW (1949) for quite a while now. It's a Universal Pictures film noir with an appealing cast. I finally pulled it off the shelf thanks to my friend John Knight including it on his list of 2017's Favorite Discoveries at the Rupert Pupkin Speaks blog.

For me it's hard to beat a movie starring Scott Brady and John Russell, who costarred the same year in a favorite little Western, THE GAL WHO TOOK THE WEST (1949), along with Peggy Dow and Dorothy Hart as the leading ladies. Both actresses have short filmographies and I hope to eventually work my way through both lists!

For those who may be unaware, Brady is the younger brother of noir icon Lawrence Tierney (DILLINGER, BORN TO KILL). Brady himself was a reliable noir lead with titles like the classic HE WALKED BY NIGHT (1948) as well as I WAS A SHOPLIFTER (1950) among his credits.

Brady plays Tony Reagan, a recently discharged vet who plans to go into business with a deceased buddy's father at a lodge outside Reno. First, though, he needs to fly from Reno to Chicago and reunite with his long-unseen fiancee Sally (Hart).

There's only one problem: Sally's Uncle Jim, a bigtime mobster, turned down Tony marrying Sally years ago. Sally suggests that they elope but Tony plans to be up front and ask Jim's permission again; however, before he can do that, he's framed for Jim's murder. His only help comes from Ann (Dow), a nice Chicago-area teacher he'd briefly met in Reno, and his old pal on the Chicago police force, Detective Reckling (Bruce Bennett).

The movie is a brisk 71 minutes and it's pretty easy to guess whodunit, although I admit I was confused by one character initially seeming to be on Tony's side even when on camera alone. Shouldn't we have been clued in to the fakery in those moments? Of course, then it wouldn't have been such an interesting reveal later on in the movie...

The four leads are all good, with particular kudos to the fresh-faced, earnest Dow in her film debut. She only made eight additional films, including THE SLEEPING CITY (1950), HARVEY (1950), and YOU NEVER CAN TELL (1951); she retired after 1951 for marriage and motherhood, raising five sons in Oklahoma.

Hart similarly was out of films by the mid-'50s, after which she moved to New York and worked with the United Nations; she had one son.

I always enjoy Bennett, who was in the terrific MYSTERY STREET (1950) right after this one. Even more fun: A detective who walks in and discusses evidence with Bennett is one Roc Hudson, in his second film. It looks like this was the only film in which his name was spelled that way, if IMDb is accurate.

Character actors who pop up in the film include Thomas Browne Henry, Almira Sessions, Marjorie Bennett, and Francis Pierlot. The telegraph clerk was Anne P. Kramer, who was married at one point to director Stanley Kramer.

UNDERTOW was directed by William Castle. It was filmed in black and white by Irving Glassberg and, per IMDb, the uncredited Clifford Stine.

UNDERTOW is available on DVD from the TCM Vault Collection as a single title or in the Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers Vol. 2 collection.

Update: UNDERTOW has been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber in April 2023, as part of the Dark Side of Cinema XII Collection.  My review of the Blu-ray may be read here.


Blogger Seth said...

I’ve always thought Peggy Dow was adorable in HARVEY and have wanted to see her other work, too. Looks like another title to add to my queue. The Dark Crimes set pairs it with HOLLYWOOD STORY, also directed by Castle, which could be interesting as well.

6:49 PM  
Blogger Jerry Entract said...

I think I need to pull this one off my shelf too, Laura, for a long overdue re-watch!

This is the kind of fairly short, compact and well-made film that is at the heart of my movie viewing. Universal had some really good young players under contract at this point and whenever I see their names crop up, as in several of the Universal films highlighted by John Knight over at Rupert Pupkin Speaks, I am interested to see them. Personally, I have never really understood why John Russell (not in "UNDERTOW" of course) did not become a bigger star. He had a lot going for him and was terrific in his long-running TV show "LAWMAN" but I wish he had achieved more in movies.

11:48 PM  
Blogger john k said...

I totally agree with Jerry about how good these Universal films are,
most of their Westerns of the 50's are available globally but their
Noirs are very hard to track down.There are several late 50's Noirs
starring the likes of George Nader which are also hard to find,some
of them like MAN AFRAID sound very good.
I too think Brady and Russell should of been bigger stars,and interestingly
Diana Dors in her autobiography stated that Brady was more interested
in chasing the ladies which hampered his career...I guess that could apply
to many 50's male stars.
Thanks Laura for the link to my Pupkin piece and it's odd that (Roc) Hudson
gets billed but not Tom Browne Henry and Smoki Whitfield who have
far more to do in the film.
Great review Laura and thanks for championing these obscure Noirs as always.

6:09 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

Just the unpretentious thing for a rainy day. I've always had a soft spot for Scott Brady. He looks like the kind of guy you could clink a glass with and have a laugh. Now, his brother on the other hand - I'd cross the street if I saw him coming.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

I hope you'll enjoy it, Seth! I hope to watch THE HOLLYWOOD STORY in the near future. Love the cast!

I agree, Jerry and John, this is the kind of movie I love, something you can sit down and enjoy in a reasonable time frame, with a fun cast. Universal movies of the late '40s and early '50s are like candy for me. I'm glad to do my small bit to help keep them in the public eye and encourage others to watch them!

I also completely agree re John Russell, he is wonderful (especially in LAWMAN).

I agree, Caftan Woman, I like Scott Brady also -- and I'd go running if I saw his brother. There's a story about Tierney showing up at a Noir City Hollywood screening late in his life which is legendary, he was disruptive during an interview with Robert Wise. I believe that in the end he was "encouraged" out of the building by security. !!

Best wishes,

11:00 AM  
Blogger Frank Gibbons said...

Excellent review, Laura. Thanks also for the bio on Scott Brady. I had no idea he was Laurence Tierney's brother. It’s baffling to me that “Undertow” seems to be largely ignored by the critics, even those who are fans of Noir. It has a strong script and the location work in Reno and Chicago is superb. I think John Russell turns in the best performance of his career. Dorothy Hart is pitch-perfect as the protagonist’s beautiful but suspect girlfriend. When she pulls up to Buckingham Fountain in her long luxury convertible, I said to my wife, “There’s no way this woman is going to live at a hunting lodge.” The tension runs high and I breathed a sigh of relief when Brady’s character is not only exonerated but finds true love with the woman (Peggy Dow) who obviously adores him. Hey, sometimes you can live happily ever after in the movies! A terrific movie!

5:03 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you, Frank! Glad I could make you aware of that fun biographical background on Brady. Your enthusiasm makes me want to return to this film soon for another look! That's a great description you gave of Dorothy Hart. She and Dow weren't in nearly enough movies, both had unique personas and are actresses I really enjoy.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Best wishes,

11:14 PM  

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