The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Audrey Totter, best known for her roles in the noirs of the 1940s, has died, aged 95. “Although she had a relatively short film career, Totter created memorable movie moments while under contract with MGM from 1944 to the early ’50s. A former radio actress, she had a small part in The Postman Always Rings Twice, the 1946 movie based on James M. Cain’s pulp novel. She landed her breakthrough role in Lady in the Lake, the 1947 film version of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe detective story that Robert Montgomery directed and starred in. She also appeared opposite Claude Rains in the 1947 thriller The Unsuspected, acted with Robert Taylor in High Wall (1947), starred in Robert Wise’s 1949 gritty boxing drama The Set-Up, and snarled her way through Tension (1949). ‘The bad girls were so much fun to play,’ Totter told the New York Times in 1999.”
Lady in the Lake was an “oddball experiment,” noted Glenn Erickson in 2007, “but it’s difficult to claim that it really works: The majority of the show is all filmed from the point of view of its detective hero, as he interviews clients, investigates rooms and even crashes in a car. Although the trickery now seems corny, forced and awkward, it certainly makes Lady in the Lake unique among films noir.”
From the Wikipedia entry on Totter: “By the early 1950s, the tough-talking ‘dames’ she was best known for portraying were no longer fashionable, and as MGM began to work towards creating more family-themed films, Totter was released from her contract. She reportedly was dissatisfied with her MGM career and agreed to appear in Any Number Can Play only after Clark Gable intervened. She worked for Columbia Pictures and 20th Century Fox, for example, FBI Girl (1951), but the quality of her films dropped, and by the end of the 1950s, her career was in decline.”
But after marriage and giving birth to a daughter, she’d return to acting, primarily for television, appearing on such shows as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Perry Mason, and Murder, She Wrote.
Update, 12/16: “Mainly,” writes Ronald Bergan for the Guardian, “Totter played hardboiled dames, until showing a new tenderness in one of her best films, the downbeat boxing drama The Set-Up (1949), directed with gritty realism by Robert Wise. Totter portrayed the wife of an ageing boxer Stoker Thompson (Robert Ryan), who cannot stand the punishment he keeps taking and anxiously wanders the streets instead of watching his last fight. In the majority of her other films, Totter could have said, like Mae West: ‘When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better.'”