The Agnes Moorehead Blogathon


With her role as the mother of Charles Foster Kane in Citizen Kane (1941), Agnes Moorehead started at the top of the movie world. She was a member of first time director Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater group known until then for their theater productions and radio plays including their infamous adaptation of The War of the Worlds. Her demeanor lent itself to portrayals of stern or serious women including Aunt Fanny Minafer in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), Welles’ second film.aggie-moorehead-boiler

She could also play comic roles. In Dark Passage (1947), costumed by Bernard Newman, she’s a snoopy friend of Lauren Bacall who spars with escaped convict Humphrey Bogart.


Lesser known is Untamed (1955) starring Tyrone Power and Susan Hayward which I watched for the first time.untamed-04a

As Julie of Classic Movie Favorites writes in her review: “After eighteen years with Twentieth Century Fox, Untamed was Tyrone Power’s last with the studio. Untamed is 110 minutes of action, adventure, and romance, accompanied by a brilliant musical score by Franz Waxman.”


The film begins in Ireland where Susan Hayward is Katie O’Neil, the daughter of a wealthy landowner. Paul Van Riebeck (Power) arrives from South Africa to buy horses. They start a brief affair but Paul returns home to lead the fight for a Dutch Free State.


In 1847, when blight and plague decimates the O’Neil estate. Katie’s dying father advises her to leave Ireland for a new land. By then, she had married Shawn Kildare (John Justin). The family nursemaid Aggie (Agnes Moorehead) joins them on their journey to South Africa.


What began as a European costume drama becomes an adventure epic. Veteran director Henry King was a frequent collaborator of Tyrone Power [The Black Swan (1942), Captain from Castile (1947), Prince of Foxes (1949)]. Oscar nominated Leo Tovar filmed in color and Cinemascope.

Once the group arrives in South Africa, the terrain resembles a Western landscape as their wagon train rolls out. The privileged Kildares are eager to prove their toughness to their new Dutch comrades.


Since Paul is off fighting in another region, Kurt (Richard Egan) is in charge of their wagon train. He’s in a relationship with Julia (Rita Moreno) a young hellcat but has eyes for Katie.


It was a strong early role for Moreno. Egan is also good in an unsympathetic part as the magnetic but cruel Kurt. Instead of hostile Indians as in a John Ford Western, the wagons come under attack by Zulus.


A Zulu kills Shawn with a sharp tipped assegai. The action sequences, set to Waxman’s pounding score, are exciting and brutal. Untamed is a precursor to the classic Zulu (1964) which recreated the British defeat by the Zulus at Islandwana.


After a harrowing gun battle and close range fighting, Paul’s unit comes to the rescue with reinforcements.


Once the Zulu threat subsides, Kurt and Paul fight with whips over the widowed Katie.

Sad to say that our featured star, Agnes Moorehead, is left with very little to do. Still, it proves what a trooper she was since this looks to have been a grueling location shoot.


Speaking of locations, both Moorehead and Hayward were part of the ill-fated cast of The Conqueror (1958). Produced by Howard Hughes and directed by Dick Powell, the film starred John Wayne.as Genghis Khan. Many of the cast members including Moorehead, Hayward, Wayne and director Powell succumbed to cancer years later after possible exposure to radiation. Their Utah set was downwind from the Yucca Flat, Nevada nuclear test site. Some scientists have called the high incidence of cancer a coincidence and said that other factors such as smoking could account for the deaths.

Thanks to In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for hosting. Click for the complete listing of participants.