The League of Alternate Superstars: Dana Andrews

Carver Dana Andrews was one of 13 children born on a Mississippi farm in 1909.  (Actor Steve Forrest was his brother.)  In 1931 he tried his hand at singing in Los Angeles.  His film career began when given a contract with Samuel Goldwyn Productions but he became more of a fixture at 20th Century-Fox.  He was versatile, playing detectives, westerners, soldiers and sailors.  He came in for some small praise in David Shipman’s The Great Movie Stars:  The International Years:  “…he never got in anybody’s way, his sober-citizen appearance made its own mild contribution to the texture of the films in which he appeared.  He projected a certain authority, grave-faced and grave-voiced, a certain masculine concern and an air of restrained heroism—all qualities used well in his two best films, The Ox-Bow Incident and A Walk in the Sun.”  (At least Andrews made the book.  Shipman was often unusually harsh in his examination of many actors’ careers.  In his short analysis of Andrews in The Best Years of Our Lives, he said he was “good” under director William Wyler but that his co-star, Virginia Mayo, soon to be a frequent Danny Kaye partner, as Andrews’ trampish spouse, gave “her one good screen portrayal….”—despite dozens of star outings!)  In The Hollywood Story, Joel Finler ranked Andrews an “important star” in his 20th Century-Fox star pantheon chart.   

The Ox-Bow Incident

Andrews rose through the ranks and early on, as Shipman observed, received his best early notices as a lynching victim in 20th Century-Fox’s The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) with Henry Fonda in the lead.  Back at Goldwyn that same year, he was directed by Lewis Milestone, heralded helmsman of All Quiet on the Western Front (1930) and frequent future combat films, including The North Star, a propaganda film extolling Ukrainian resistance to the German invasion of the Soviet Union.  Andrews was in that, too, as well as Milestone’s The Purple Heart (1944).   

Then came Laura (1944), one of the most universally praised noir films.

Laura

Eddie Muller, host of TCM’s series Noir Alley, considers Andrews the finest exemplar of the ubiquitous fedora worn by cops and hoods alike.    

Andrews never stopped acting, in film and on stage.  He was a fixture as military officers in the 1960s.  See The Satan Bug (1965), In Harm’s Way (1965), Battle of the Bulge (1965), and The Devil’s Brigade (1967).  Andrews was dogged by alcoholism for many years but finally licked it and spoke on behalf of the National Council of Alcoholism in 1976.  Andrews died in 1992 at age 83. 

Dana Andrews’ Most Significant Movies

The Ox-Bow Incident (20th Century-Fox, 1943)  A vigilante posse rounds up three men (Andrews, Anthony Quinn, Harry Morgan) they think are cattle rustlers.  The well-taken arguments against a lynching by Gil (Henry Fonda, who himself witnessed mob violence and the ensuing lynching of an African-American in Omaha in 1919) are disregarded.

The Purple Heart (20th Century-Fox, 1944)  Downed U.S. airmen are put on trial by the Japanese.  It’s a “kangaroo court” and they are tortured and scheduled for execution.  Andrews is the officer in charge of the prisoners.

Laura (20th Century Fox, 1944)  In probably one of the top six of the crime subgenre known as “film noir,” Andrews begins his era as a fedora-wearing detective, here investigating the presumed murder of the beautiful Laura (Gene Tierney), whose portrait haunts him.  The Los Angeles Times reviewer was much impressed by individual scenes:  “There is one that is outstandingly enacted by Andrews, while he is alone in the apartment of the murdered woman.  A portrait hanging on the wall reveals the magic that she exerts and is a symbol of this spell.  It is action carried out without a single word being spoken, yet it is remarkably compelling.  The audience at the Fox Wilshire last night quite evidently fell under the hypnotic influence of the scene, for under ordinary circumstances it would have appeared too protracted.  But its force was fully conveyed.”  The Film Noir Encyclopedia extolled Andrews’ performance:  “Overshadowed by Clifton Webb’s marvelously idiosyncratic performance as Lydecker, Andrews’ quieter portrayal deserves more attention. With his haunted eyes, taut yet sensitive mouth, and softly insinuating voice, Andrews is a highly evocative screen presence, conveying more with a look than many actors do with a soliloquy.  As the pragmatic, unromantic cop who, when asked by Lydecker if he’s ever been in love, replies, ‘A doll in Washington Heights got a fox fur out of me once,’ he is only able to love the perfumed ghost of a woman he believes is dead, and who becomes a dream expressed in a work of art.”  

State Fair (Fox, 1945)  Andrews could sing a little, but the studio forgot and he was dubbed.  Wearing a straw fedora, he squires Jeanne Crain around the Iowa State Fair in this famous piece of Americana featuring two Rodgers and Hammerstein songs that became standards:  “It’s a Grand Night for Singing” and “It Might As Well Be Spring.” 

A Walk in the Sun

A Walk in the Sun (Fox, 1945)  One of the best and most realistic U.S. combat movies made during the war is not openly propagandistic.  (Others in this small fraternity include Sahara; The Story of G. I. Joe; Destination Tokyo; They Were Expendable; Objective, Burma!)  Once more it’s Lewis Milestone in the director’s chair.  Leaving the Salerno beachhead in Italy, a U.S. platoon is entailed with rousting Germans from an isolated farmhouse.  Casualties inflicted by air and ground cause command to devolve onto Andrews’ Sergeant Tyne.  War Movies called it “memorable” and gave special praise to Andrews and Richard Conte. 

The Best Years of Our Lives (Samuel Goldwyn, 1946)  The multi-Academy Award winning masterpiece from director William Wyler about returning veterans features Andrews as a Fred Derry, former bombardier, seeking something more than a soda jerk job and finding that his wife has been no paragon of virtue during his absence.  Andrews is center stage in one of the great scenes in cinema history:  walking dumbfounded through a bomber graveyard, a multitude of planes rolled straight from the factory to these broad fields outside Boone City.  Destination:  scrap heap.    

Canyon Passage (Universal/Walter Wanger Productions, 1947)  Relatively unsung and rather unique Technicolor western was filmed on location in the Pacific Northwest where settlers try to co-exist peacefully with the indigenous tribe.  The fly in the ointment is the brutish Honey Bragg (Ward Bond), who kills a female tribe member, inciting a war.  (The late radio DJ and movie maven Ken Garland said that if you are asked to name a character actor in a particular old movie and must guess, guess Ward Bond.)  Andrews plays a freight transporter and Bragg’s nemesis.  Susan Hayward’s flaming red hair vies with the scenery for accolades.  “Dana Andrews’ work may be the best of his career, as the steady-nerved, pipe-smoking Logan Stuart,” wrote Brian Garfield in Western Films:  A Complete Guide.

Boomerang (Fox, 1947)  Director Elia Kazan’s third film—before classics like Gentleman’s Agreement, A Streetcar Named Desire, On the Waterfront and Viva Zapata—was termed a “docu-noir” by film historians Alain Silver and James Ursini, whose commentary on the DVD is exceptional.  Based on the real-life murder of a clergyman in a Connecticut town, vagrant John Waldron (Arthur Kennedy) is given short shrift by the legal establishment and townsfolk until State’s Attorney Henry Harvey (Andrews) realizes that the so-called evidence is shaky at best and dismisses charges.    

My Foolish Heart

My Foolish Heart (Samuel Goldwyn/RKO, 1949)  The accidental demise of her new beau, Walt Dreiser (Andrews) leaves Eloise Winters (Susan Hayward) with an unexpected child, no husband and the potential for ostracism.  Based on J. D. Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut,” this film version was hated by the author, but it’s an affecting tearjerker with one of composer Victor Young’s greatest tunes.  Andrews makes the most of his screen time.   

Where the Sidewalk Ends (Fox, 1950)  A well-regarded (“dialogue is consistently pungent,” said The New York Times Guide to Movies on TV), Otto Preminger-directed noir features Andrews as detective Mark Dixon, so angry his father was a hood that he metes out his own justice on the criminals with whom he comes into contact.  Ironically, he accidentally kills a miscreant and decides to lay the blame on mob boss Tommy Scalise (Gary Merrill).  It’s a recipe for personal disaster. 

Night of the Demon (aka Curse of the Demon; Columbia, 1957)  Scoring 100% on Rotten Tomatoes, this terror tale is based on M.R. James’ classic 1911 short story, “Casting the Runes.”  Arriving in England to participate in a parapsychology conference, the skeptical Dr. John Holden (Andrews) finds himself confronting the seemingly benign Dr. Julian Karswell (Niall MacGinnis), unaware that the man is a satanist capable of summoning a noxious demon whose horrific mission of murder cannot be thwarted once the spell is cast.  Incredibly unsettling horror from Jacques Tourneur, a master of all genres (I Walked with a Zombie, Cat People, Out of the Past, The Flame and the Arrow) who’d directed Andrews in Canyon Passage.  You will see the demon, which irked some critics, but the most perspicacious realized that not showing it would provide no fun at all. 

By Kim

References

Christy, Marian.  “Andrews Conquers Drinking Problem.”  South Florida Sun-Sentinel (June 21,1985).

Finler, Joel.  The Hollywood Story.  1988.

Garfield, Brian.  Western Films:  A Complete Guide.  1982.

Garland, Brock.  War Movies.  1987.

Morella, Joe.  The Films of World War II.  1973.

Schallert, Edwin.  Los Angeles Times (November 17, 1944).

Shipman, David.  The Great Movie Stars:  The Golden Years.  1970. 

Silver, Alain, and Ward, Elizabeth.  The Film Noir Encyclopedia.  3rd ed.  1993.  Julie Kirgo on Laura.

Thompson, Howard, ed.  The New York Times Guide to Movies on TV.  1970. Vieira, Mark A.  Into the Dark:  The Hidden World of Film Noir, 1941-1950.  2016.

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