Retro Actor Spotlight: Dana Andrews

Giving Classical Hollywood Cinema’s players another chance to shine in the limelight

Now Featuring: Dana Andrews

 

It is by happenstance that I first spotted Dana on-screen. Being a huge Joan Crawford fan, I sought to build a sizeable collection of her films and in doing so I came across a film called Daisy Kenyon. Dana co-starred in the film with Crawford and with the already well-established Henry Fonda. Though Dana himself was hardly an unknown at this point in his career, coupling him with two of Hollywood’s biggest names was somewhat of a gamble. Despite the film’s ultimate fate at the box office, the finished product speaks for itself. Dana stands out in this film not only in terms of his good looks but because he, as an actor, brings something fresh, honest and original to the screen. Almost immediately upon finishing the film, I felt the urge to know more about this mysterious man whose character had won my heart.

Dana, known to his family as Carver, enjoyed most of his mainstream success in the 1940s though he still landed roles in big name studio productions well into the 1950s. Born in Mississippi and later calling Texas his home, he came from a traditional and religious family that was composed of thirteen children. After leaving university, Dana headed west and gained some experience acting in small theatre productions, eventually landing in Los Angeles in the hopes of making it to the Silver Screen. Though he had a rocky start, he ended up signing of long-term contract with Samuel Goldwyn. From that, an ample, very respectable career blossomed.

If you aren’t familiar with Dana’s work, here is handful of some of his defining films:

  • Laura (1944)

This film marks Dana’s first collaboration with both Gene Tierney and Otto Preminger. He gives a very strong performance as a detective who investigates the murder of a woman known as Laura Hunt. Through a series of flashbacks, Laura’s story is told and he becomes engrossed, even falling in love, with her. The suspense holds up well and the high quality cast gives the film a boost. Chosen for preservation by the Library of Congress in 1999, it’s a must-see.

 

  • The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)

This film is on the AFI 100 list so I won’t say too much about it here. I will note that this is often referred to as Dana’s most well-known film and that his role of Fred Derry was his Oscar-worthy. I cannot disagree with these points and I believe that Dana most definitely should have been recognised for his work in the film.

 

  • Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950)

Dana’s trademark detective character takes a grittier turn in this Otto Preminger film noir. He plays a copper with a bad attitude and who has a penchant for roughing up suspects. Though being demoted gives him temporary restrain in his ways, this is short-lived and the worst happens when he is involved in the death – and eventual cover-up – of a murder suspect.

This film is not as endearing as his previous efforts with Preminger and his pairings with Tierney but it has heart and you, as a viewer, vie to see his character redeemed in the end.

 

  • Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956)

At first glance, this appears to be yet another run-of-the-mill film noir detective role for Dana but as the story unfolds, you are surprised by the twists and turns of his character, right up to the very end. Directed by Fritz Lang, critics largely considered this film a far cry from Lang’s finer past works. In my opinion, however, the film is an admirable and ultimately successful effort. I will admit that a weak point of the casting is Joan Fontaine, who delivers a rather stale and wooden performance all the while sporting an ill-fitting platinum blonde dye job.

 

I have chosen to review Dana’s 1945 film Fallen Angel for a Classic Film review series debuting on Thursday. Hope to see you there! 🙂

 

Here’s looking at you, Dana

Main Studio: None. Since he signed with an independent producer, he was “loaned” to other studios. Dana is perhaps best associated with 20th Century Fox mostly due in part to his participation in several of Otto Preminger’s Film Noirs.

Movie Trademarks: Making a trench coat and detective’s hat fashionable; Smoking a great deal; Usually preferring beer and coffee (sometimes at the same time) to hard liquor; Making a handsome couple with frequent co-star Gene Tierney

Famous Relatives: His younger brother (16 years his junior), Steve Forrest, was an actor who was best known for his role in the short-lived TV series “S.W.A.T.”

Recommended Reading: Hollywood Engima: Dana Andrews (Hollywood Legends Series)

I would first try finding this at your local library because buying it new is going to set you back at least $30. In any case, it is an incredible read furthered by the fact that Dana’s children were directly involved in the book’s development and publication.