Audrey Totter, best known for playing dangerous femme fatales in a number of 1940s film noirs, died this past Thursday just eight days shy of her 96th birthday. She had recently had a stroke and was suffering from congestive heart failure.
Totter first rose to prominence as an actress in Robert Montgomery’s 1847 The Lady In The Lake, an adaptation of one of Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe mystery novels. While not strictly noir, the film is best remembered for its storytelling device of the camera being the hardboiled detective’s point of view for virtually all of the movie. Her performance as steely blond magazine executive who hires Marlow to find the missing wife of her boss lead to a number of noir roles including the gold-digging niece of killer Claude Rains in The Unsuspected (1947), a psychiatrist helping Robert Taylor prove he didn’t murder his wife in High Wall (1947). In 1949 she played the caring wife of Robert Ryan’s washed-up boxer in director Robert Wise’s The Set-Up as well as an adulterous wife who drives her pharmacist-husband to murder in Tension.
Born in Joliet, Illinois, Totter started her acting career in radio in New York and Chicago before landing a $300 a week contract with MGM in 1944. Prior to the noir phase of her career, she appeared in a number of small, often unbilled roles at the studio before impressing her bosses with her performance as woman who briefly lures John Garfield away from Lana Turner in 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.
As the popularity of noir waned, Totters found herself doing more television work, appearing on a variety of anthology series as well as Cimarron City, Route 66, Rawhide, Dr. Kildare, Hawaii Five-0, Medical Center and Murder She Wrote. Her last film was in the 1979 Disney western-comedy The Apple Dumpling Gang Rides Again.