Agnes Moorehead has a small part in THE SEVENTH CROSS (1944). In fact she is in only one scene, but, as we have come to expect from this fine actress, she gives a memorable performance.
I rate this film very highly ,with Spencer Tracy as George Heisler, one of seven escapees from a concentration camp in the Germany of 1936.He returns to his home town of Mainz trying to find anyone to help him. His belief and trust in people is slowly eroding. His girlfriend has rejected him and the police will be watching his parents’ home so he cant go there.
He has a severe cut to his hand and is wearing a leather jacket he stole. He’s exhausted and sick with hunger. Who can he trust.
Another of the escapees has told him about a shop he can go to- a theatrical costumier called Marelli.
Agnes is Madame Marelli and her small,dimly lit shop is full of costumes and dress making accessories.
Heisler tells her he is a friend of Bellani (an acrobat).
“Don’t you feel well?” she says. He doesn’t answer but says that she would have some clothes for Bellani and maybe they would fit him.
She expresses surprise ,”He was here only this morning,said he’d be back in an hour or two.”
(In fact,Bellani is dead).
She continues, “What made him change his mind. You artists are funny people. Were you on the same bill as Bellani?”
She is almost talking to herself for George does not answer. But she brings him a suit of clothes including a coat. As he puts them on, she goes back to her table and starts sewing, but she is still talking.
“(Bellani) a great performer – I love a real artist.”
“You have to look right or you won’t succeed in this business.”
As he comes over to her,she notices his cut hand and says, “You’d better see about that hand.”
Again, he doesn’t explain and just says, “I have no money.”
She replies,”Bellani paid in advance this morning.”
She adds,”There’s a doctor down the street,No.25.”
As he leaves, she says ( rather weakly) “Heil Hitler”
When he gets outside the shop, he discovers she has put some money in his pocket.
Madame Marelli is one of a small band of people who begin to restore George’s will to live.
The whole scene is played with a quiet strength by Agnes as the shop-owner who must know about the escaped prisoners.The prison guards and police are all over the small town. She is playing a game of pretense. One look at this man will have told her she shouldn’t ask too many questions. So she makes small talk even as her world of theatricals is being invaded by the world outside where these seven anti-Nazis are being rounded up and hanged.
But there is no question of her not helping the desperate, hounded Heisler. She doesn’t ask his name because it is better not to know.
The camera draws us to her throughout the scene. The performance is flawless.
Spencer Tracy too is excellent,conveying so much through his physical demeanour and facial expression.