Jan 17, 2015

Agnes Moorehead, The Magnificent Ambersons

Won: New York Film Critics Circle - Best Actress

Never mind the unfortunate tale of The Magnificent Ambersons’ butchering by evil studio execs. Never mind that Agnes Moorehead’s performance in The Magnificent Ambersons, having been butchered the way it was, its remnants probably sunk to the bottom of the ocean, never to be seen in its entirety by anyone, is very clearly supporting here rather than lead. But this woman, in all her sharp-featured, angular glory, puts out a truly enthralling piece of work, as abrasive and peculiar as it is irresistible. Yes, it’s a performance that most definitely goes a little over-the-top, so much so that it feels as though Moorehead is set to ricochet out of control sometimes. But in my opinion, that craziness—that way in which she alters her voice in all sorts of wacky cadences, that famous last act breakdown that’s so violently loud and vividly gripping—is exactly what the movie needs. Because I didn't feel that anyone else in the film is particularly resonant or easy to root for—the antihero of the film most especially—thus Moorehead's aunt Fanny in a way redeems the cast with her manic and rather tragic absurdity. Watching her, I was often unsure of how to feel. I didn't know if she was overdoing it, and I didn't know whether I liked her approach. But one thing I did know was that I found her utterly compelling. She electrifies the scene when she's around, and I was always on a heightened alert when she appeared. I wished for more of her, wanted to know more about her, was disappointed that there wasn't enough of her, and I feel that that in essence speaks a lot to the quality of one's work. Obviously abridged and jagged in terms of being a cohesive performance, but magnificent nonetheless.


  1. Exactly what I think about the performance and the film itself. What a crime what they did with this piece of work.

  2. Too long since I've seen it, and possibly not even in its truncated entirety, but I'm sold. When TCM gets around to it again, I'll be there. I don't need any hard sell: Endora, Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte, and her great contributions to Twilight Zone already inform me, Aggie never lets you down.

  3. What I didn't like about this performance is what I typically dislike in almost all of Moorehead's work: she's strident, over the top and appears to have preplanned everything she's going to do in a scene regardless of the other actors. I thought this performance was almost a caricature rather than a real character. The other problem that plagues her career is that she seems almost incapable of expressing warmth. What I should say is 'being warm' in her portrayals. When she 'expresses' it, it's always externalized but she's really just a cold fish to me. "Ambersons" has always been overrated in my opinion, most likely because it was Welles' first film after CK, but I see no reason to share the wealth with Moorehead's histrionics. I prefer her in "Bewitched" or "The Twilight Zone".