Dana Andrews

The Best Years of Our Lives (1946, William Wyler)

If it weren’t for the first half of the film, The Best Years of Our Lives would be a series of vingettes. The film runs almost three hours. Almost exactly the first half is set over two days. The remainder is set over a couple months. Director Wyler and screenwriter Robert E. Sherwood don’t really do much summary in the second half. Subplots run through a series of the vingettes, never all of them–the film’s unequally but definitely split between its three male leads. Wyler and Sherwood reveal develops through attitude and dialogue. Time passes through Dana Andrews’s gradual resignation. Through Harold Russell’s depression. Alternately, I suppose, it also passes through Fredric March and Myrna Loy’s re-familiarization.

The film opens with Andrews, Russell, and March returning from World War II. Dashing Andrews was an Air Force captain, sailor Russell has lost his hands, older guy March was just an Army sergeant. The first ten minutes sets up the characters, their hometown (the fictional, vaguely midwestern Boone City), and the people waiting for them.

The first ten minutes establishes how much of the film is going to be on the actors’ faces. Watching real-life amputee Russell contend with the polite and not polite–among fellow servicemen–dominates. Whatever nervousness Andrews and March are experiencing, they’re always aware of what’s going on with Russell. And they aren’t comfortable. The bond between the three builds with that comfort, which Russell (and Sherwood and Wyler) determinedly demand. Much of the first half of the film is spent examining the three men; both for character development and just plain characters looking at each other. The men are strangers when the film begins, polite ones, but strangers.

Once they arrive home, it gets more complicated. Sure, the trio aren’t looking at each other, but they’re discovering the ground situation. Wyler and Sherwood lay it out for the audience and the characters. All the characters. Best Years focuses on the three men’s return home, but their supporting cast gets a lot of establishing and developing. March’s homecoming to wife Loy and children Teresa Wright and Michael Hall sets up two big subplots and sort of Loy’s character arc. Russell’s return suggests something similiar–he’s got a literal girl next door fiancée (Cathy O’Donnell) waiting for him–but it doesn’t end up being as big. Russell gets less screentime in the second half. The film always returns to him at just the right moment, when he’s been away too long.

He’s got the “simpliest” subplot–his depression and how it affects his relationship with O’Donnell. Andrews has got PTSD a rocky wartime marriage (to Virginia Mayo), and a flirtation with someone he shouldn’t be flirting with. March has got a drinking problem, a work problem (back banking for chickenhawk Ray Collins), as well as feeling uncomfortable at home.

Most of these details get introduced in the first half. Mayo shows up just at the end with some foreshadowing for turmoil, but nothing onscreen. Same goes for March’s work problems. Andrews and March get these subplots second half; Russell doesn’t.

It’s unfortunate but the film’s so good, it gets a pass on that one.

The first half also brings the characters back together. March drags Loy and Wright out on the town, running into Andrews and then Russell. They’re all at Hoagy Carmichael’s bar. Carmichael is great as Russell’s wise, piano-playing uncle. He defuses situations, which Andrews, March, and Russell frequently need.

Even if it’s just making Loy and Wright less annoyed. They–and the audience–don’t really understand the extent of March’s drinking at the start. Because Best Years is slow to reveal its subplots, slow to foreshadow. One of the reasons it can get away with giving Russell so much less (though his eighth billing isn’t okay) is because what it does give him is so good. Because Russell’s so good. Best Years of Our Lives is, spared down, about a bunch of people who really want to cry and never let themselves. Russell’s the only one who gets to go through that on screen.

Meanwhile, Andrews has to combat his stoicism. His arc is this complicated ego one, with the PTSD an undercurrent; along with the romantic troubles.

So Andrews and Russell have the toxic masculinity arcs. March doesn’t. His resignation and rediscovery arc is much quieter, far less dramatic, and awesome.

Because the film’s so long and goes into vignette, the actor giving the best performance isn’t always consistent. Overall, it’s probably March. But Russell. But Andrews. Supporting it’s easily Loy… though Wright and O’Donnell are both outstanding. Loy’s just got the least screentime for her own arc. She’s always supporting someone else’s. So watching her character develop, rarely in close-up, is special.

Because Sherwood and Wyler are great at maintaining and building on details through the subplots. Andrews and Russell, independently and then together, deal with some real homecoming nastiness (as well as general disinterest), but it’s in the March subplot where it dramatically culminates.

Such a good script. Sherwood’s pacing is phenomenal. Even when, for example, Russell’s subplot is almost overdue, the film hasn’t been dragging. Best Years of Our Lives never drags.

Wyler’s direction is precise, deliberate, patient. He’ll have silences–either filled with mundanely urban background or Hugo Friedhofer’s excellent score. He’ll have noisy–almost anywhere outside Carmichael’s bar and March’s apartment is packed with people. He’s nimble too. He’s got this over the shoulder shot he repeats a few times in the third act, with the divine Gregg Toland photography (there’s no other word). He doesn’t use the shot earlier. He does some similar things, at least with how he places the actors, but it’s this distinct stylistic thing he’s moving towards throughout.

The Toland photography is perfect.

It’d be the most jaw-dropping technical feature–and I suppose, really, it is because it’s the photography–but Daniel Mandell’s editing is a masterpiece of smooth, fluid, and emotively considerate cutting. The editing is exquisite, simultaneously bold and subtle.

The Best Years of Our Lives is a remarkable motion picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by William Wyler; screenplay by Robert E. Sherwood, based on a novel by MacKinlay Kantor; director of photography, Gregg Toland; edited by Daniel Mandell; music by Hugo Friedhofer; produced by Samuel Goldwyn; released by RKO Radio Pictures.

Starring Fredric March (Al Stephenson), Dana Andrews (Fred Derry), Harold Russell (Homer Parrish), Myrna Loy (Milly Stephenson), Teresa Wright (Peggy Stephenson), Virginia Mayo (Marie Derry), Cathy O’Donnell (Wilma Cameron), Hoagy Carmichael (Butch Engle), Marlene Aames (Luella Parrish), Gladys George (Hortense), Roman Bohnen (Pat Derry), Minna Gombell (Mrs. Parrish), Walter Baldwin (Mr. Parrish), Michael Hall (Rob Stephenson), and Ray Collins (Mr. Milton).


Laura (1944, Otto Preminger)

Laura is a film with multiple twists and a brilliant screenplay by Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt but none of it would work without Preminger’s direction of his cast. Preminger’s direction, in terms of composition, is fantastic. Thanks in no small part to cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, every moment of Laura looks wonderful. Preminger has a fabulous way of positioning his actors, particularly Dana Andrews in the first half of the film, to enhance the performance. It’s not quite a trick, though it is separate from the other way Preminger directs the cast.

The film is able to get through its twists and turns, which–with a major exception–are entirely about the characters, not just because of how the actors succeed in those scenes but because of how they, and Preminger, have established their characters throughout. It’s also where the script comes in–for example, Laura works because Andrews and Clifton Webb bond. With the beautifully cut flashback sequence introducing the viewer (and Andrews) to Gene Tierney’s eponymous character, through Webb’s perspective–Louis R. Loeffler is the editor; don’t want to forget him–Preminger is able to sublimely arrange the characters for later revelations. Webb and Andrews play wonderfully off one another. Webb’s erudite snob and Andrews’s mildly laconic police detective are great together. The script goes for gimmicky dialogue; Preminger and the actors sell it thanks to a self-awareness.

Because, even though it’s a mystery, Laura needs a certain amount of melodramatic flair to succeed. David Raksin’s lush, emotional score, along with rainswept New York streets–not to mention the wonderful sets–Laura is far from realistic. Preminger never lets it go too far though. The film runs less than ninety minutes, with it changing tone fifty minutes in; that second half, very different from the first, still occupies the same spaces. The film’s exquisitely constructed.

The film’s major twist is incredibly melodramatic in its plot implications. All that careful construction is what makes it work so well.

And, like I said, that careful construction has to do with the actors as well. Like when Tierney and Andrews get together, their chemistry is perfect. Scene after scene, even as their relationship develops, the chemistry is precise. It’s a little more obvious–as Andrews moons over her–but it’s the same careful way Preminger established Andrews and Webb’s relationship.

All the acting in the film is excellent. Webb’s the best, just because. Andrews and Tierney are both great. Andrews gets to have more fun at the beginning of the film, but it’s only fair because co-star Vincent Price doesn’t get to have much fun until near the end of the film. Price’s good, Judith Anderson’s good. No one else got billed, but Dorothy Adams deserved it as Tierney’s maid.

Laura’s a phenomenal film.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Otto Preminger; screenplay by Jay Drawler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Elizabeth Reinhardt, based on the novel by Vera Caspary; director of photography, Joseph LaShelle; edited by Louis R. Loeffler; music by David Raksin; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dana Andrews (Det. Lt. Mark McPherson), Clifton Webb (Waldo Lydecker), Gene Tierney (Laura Hunt), Vincent Price (Shelby Carpenter), Judith Anderson (Ann Treadwell) and Dorothy Adams (Bessie).


Madison Avenue (1962, H. Bruce Humberstone)

Madison Avenue somehow manages to be anorexic but packed. It only runs ninety minutes and takes place over a few years. There’s no makeup–which is probably good since Dana Andrews, Eleanor Parker and Jeanne Crain are all playing at least ten years younger than their ages.

Director Humberstone doesn’t do much in the way of establishing shots–I think there’s one real one. Most of the exteriors are obviously on the backlot (even the real one is probably somewhere on the studio lot). He does have some decent transitions from interior to interior, but he never visually acknowledges all of the time progressions.

And there’s no real conflict. Andrews is an ad man who loses his job and tells his ex-boss (an extremely amused Howard St. John) he’s going to come get his accounts. To do so, Andrews has to team with Parker. The problem with Avenue is its actors are good, its script has some good scenes, but there’s no depth to it. Norman Corwin can write decent back and forth banter, just not a real conversation.

Parker’s got an unfortunate arc, but her performance is fine. She’s really good at the beginning. Andrews is appealing and doesn’t look fifty-four. He looks about forty-five, but he’s probably supposed to be playing thirty-one. Crain looks more contemptuous of her material than the other leads; she does okay.

Nice supporting turn from Kathleen Freeman as Andrews’s secretary.

Avenue’s a studio picture fifteen years too late.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by H. Bruce Humberstone; screenplay by Norman Corwin, based on a novel by Jeremy Kirk; director of photography, Charles G. Clarke; edited by Betty Steinberg; music by Harry Sukman; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dana Andrews (Clint Lorimer), Eleanor Parker (Anne Tremaine), Jeanne Crain (Peggy Shannon), Eddie Albert (Harvey Holt Ames), Howard St. John (J.D. Jocelyn), Henry Daniell (Stipe), Kathleen Freeman (Miss Thelma Haley), David White (Brock) and Betti Andrews (Katie Olsen).


Boomerang! (1947, Elia Kazan)

Boomerang! is a mess. The first half of the film is a misfired docudrama, the second half (or so) is a fantastic courtroom drama. Richard Murphy’s script is such a plotting disaster not even beautifully written scenes and wonderful performances can make up for its problems.

And director Kazan doesn’t help. He embraces the docudrama aspect, having amateurs act alongside regular actors… sometimes even treating them interchangeably. The amateurs are awful, often due to how Kazen directs them.

Worse, Murphy’s only able to make the courtroom stuff work because he’s been intentionally hiding things from the viewer. It’s a terrible, terrible move; if he’d played the story out sequentially instead of keeping so much for reveals, Boomerang! wouldn’t be some lame docudrama, but a complex story about greed, morality and decency.

The first half has a great performance from Lee J. Cobb. Even in the film’s weakest moments, Cobb can do great work. It’s sometimes heartbreaking. The second half has top-billed Dana Andrews, who also has some heartbreaking scenes. He and wife Jane Wyatt’s quiet moments together are wondrous. Boomerang! disappoints because it fails all its actors. Kazan and Murphy could have made something special but aimed low instead.

Also excellent is Sam Levene as a reporter. He bridges the two halves of the picture, along with a political subplot–the country club reform party has taken over from the machine–and is the film’s glue. Or should be.

Great photography from Norbert Brodine too.

Boomerang! just doesn’t work.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Elia Kazan; screenplay by Richard Murphy, based on an article by Fulton Oursler; director of photography, Nobert Brodine; edited by Harmon Jones; music by David Buttolph; produced by Louis De Rochemont; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Dana Andrews (Henry L. Harvey), Jane Wyatt (Madge Harvey), Lee J. Cobb (Chief Robinson), Cara Williams (Irene Nelson), Arthur Kennedy (John Waldron), Sam Levene (Dave Woods), Taylor Holmes (T.M. Wade), Robert Keith (Mac McCreery), Ed Begley (Paul Harris) and Philip Coolidge (Jim Crossman).


The Ox-Bow Incident (1943, William A. Wellman)

The seventy-five minutes of The Ox-Bow Incident are some of the finest in cinema. The film is eventually a solemn examination of the human condition, quiet in its observations, with spare lines of dialogue of profound importance. But before this period in the film, which roughly lasts from twenty minutes in until the end, Ox-Bow is a peculiar Western, far ahead of its time.

As Henry Fonda and Harry Morgan (in his Henry days) ride into the small, empty and nameless town, The Ox-Bow Incident establishes what’s going to be one of its major technical achievements. The use of sound–made even more spectacular later, during the scenes filmed on sets–is amazing, from Alfred Bruzlin and Roger Heman Sr. The dialogue in the opening scene–Lamar Trotti’s script, probably the best thing about Ox-Bow (it’s hard to decide what’s better, Trotti’s writing or Wellman’s direction)–the way Fonda and Morgan deliver it, the way the scene plays out, the way Wellman shoots it. It’s indescribable. I’ve seen Ox-Bow before, but I forgot it was so singular.

When the story does advance, it does quickly–the relaxed opening scene, establishing Fonda as the protagonist, is the only one of its kind in the film. After that scene, the film moves to its conclusion without taking any breaks or offering the viewer any relief. Wellman’s composition incorporates background for action and foreground for non-action, with both incredibly important. But it also keeps the viewer constantly busy, the film an active experience.

Trotti’s adapting a novel, so I’m guessing the one unconnected scene is from it. The scene, featuring more backstory for Fonda, doesn’t seem foreign to the film–even though it’s a big, busy scene and the last one before the film enters its final stage–because of that opening scene. Trotti and Wellman establish right off they’re going to do things a certain way and Fonda running into old flame Mary Beth Hughes for four minutes fits into that style.

Then Dana Andrews and Anthony Quinn appear. The film’s about a lynching (the titular incident), with Andrews and Quinn as two of the lynched. It’s hard to describe how the film works from their appearance to the end because it is so singular. For example, Wellman later gives Fonda his biggest scene without showing his face. The storytelling works; delineating it might prove useful for a scholarly article, but certainly not for an informal response.

Both Andrews and Quinn are fantastic, as is Fonda, as is Morgan. The supporting cast–Harry Davenport and Frank Conroy in particular–are also great. Jane Darwell’s performance, after so many sympathetic roles, as a gung ho lyncher is terrifying. Paul Hurst, Dick Rich, William Eythe as well.

For such a short film, Ox-Bow is brimming with content. The way people talk to each other informs on their existing relationships, with Trotti never spending the time to expound. He doesn’t have to… it’s a wonderful script.

I’m trying to think of other amazing moments from Wellman, but after a point, every shot in the film is an amazing moment. Arthur C. Miller’s photography, instead of being constrained by the set shooting, is lush. The depth of each frame captivates.

The film ends on a strange note. Hopeful but resigned. I can’t believe I’d forgotten the film is so remarkable.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by William A. Wellman; screenplay by Lamar Trotti, based on the novel by Walter Van Tilburg Clark; director of photography, Arthur C. Miller; edited by Allen McNeil; music by Cyril J. Mockridge; produced by Trotti; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Henry Fonda (Gil Carter), Dana Andrews (Donald Martin), Mary Beth Hughes (Rose Mapen), Anthony Quinn (Juan Martínez), William Eythe (Gerald Tetley), Harry Morgan (Art Croft), Jane Darwell (Jenny Grier), Matt Briggs (Judge Daniel Tyler), Harry Davenport (Arthur Davies), Frank Conroy (Maj. Tetley), Marc Lawrence (Jeff Farnley), Paul Hurst (Monty Smith), Victor Kilian (Darby), Chris-Pin Martin (Poncho), Willard Robertson (Sheriff), Ted North (Joyce) and Dick Rich (Deputy Butch Mapes).


Canyon Passage (1946, Jacques Tourneur)

Canyon Passage starts out strange. Dana Andrews shows up in 1850s Portland (Oregon) and, after some character establishing, fends off someone breaking into his room. It got me thinking later if the unseen event leading up to the intruder is actually the film’s dramatic vehicle, the event setting off the action. Because Canyon Passage is an odd narrative. The film’s presented, in its first act, as an unfolding exploration of the characters’ situations. Andrews and Susan Hayward introduce the viewer to the film’s setting, to the lives and hardships of the supporting cast.

But Canyon Passage keeps an even tone throughout, never hinting at its action-oriented conclusion. Most of it is straight drama as Andrews romances Patricia Roc to the dismay of both Victor Cutler and Hayward. Hayward’s engaged to Andrews’s best friend, played by Brian Donlevy, however. Those last two sentences suggest Canyon Passage is something of a soap opera, but it isn’t at all. The attraction between Hayward and Andrews is gradually and gently developed; the film’s focus is far more on the friendship between Andrews and Donlevy.

I’d forgotten Jacques Tourneur directed Canyon Passage until the opening titles, and given his noir-heavy 1940s filmography, it seemed like an odd fit. But the complicated friendship between Donlevy and Andrews–Andrews’s feelings of responsibility, Donlevy’s resentment at Andrews having to be the response one due to his success–is really at the film’s center. Sort of.

The problem with identifying Passage‘s central focus is how little it has of one. Just like I was trying to identify narrative features, I was also trying to figure out some kind of rule for the film’s scenes–as in, who has to be in the scene for it to be a scene. Andrews disappears for a little while once his romance with Roc is established, with Donlevy and his gambling addiction taking over (the consideration given to Donlevy’s character, who’s basically just weak-willed, is incredibly sensitive and also sets Passage apart). But there’s little rhyme and reason to who gets a scene and who doesn’t–it’s probably something as simple as the source novel focusing on more of the supporting cast and adapting their salient scenes, but the film suggests it isn’t. It suggests a certain lyricism to its unfolding events.

The acting is all spectacular. Andrews plays the conflicted leading man better than anyone and his muted attraction to Hayward, present but clouded from their first scene, is fantastic. Hayward’s great too, with her reciprocal attraction being more of a complicated narrative development. Donlevy’s best scenes are probably when he’s on his own (Donlevy’s always seems more a leading man, even when he’s not the protagonist)–but his scenes with Andrews are singular. The supporting cast–Andy Devine, Hoagy Carmichael and Lloyd Bridges, in particular–are excellent. As the villain, Ward Bond is terrifying. Bond plays him with a mix of evil and stupidity–the stupidity making the evil even more scary.

Tourneur’s direction is great–only during the big travel scene in the first act does the editing get choppy, otherwise Tourneur’s got lots of good coverage. The film shot on location in Oregon and it shows (though Crater Lake isn’t as close to Jacksonville as the film suggests). Edward Cronjager’s Technicolor cinematography is beautiful.

And it doesn’t hurt Carmichael contributes some songs either.

The film starts solid, but just gets better and better. It’s great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Jacques Tourneur; screenplay by Ernest Pascal, based on a novel by Ernest Haycox; director of photography, Edward Cronjager; edited by Milton Carruth; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Walter Wanger; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Dana Andrews (Logan Stuart), Brian Donlevy (George Camrose), Susan Hayward (Lucy Overmire), Patricia Roc (Caroline Marsh), Ward Bond (Honey Bragg), Hoagy Carmichael (Hi Linnet), Fay Holden (Mrs. Overmire), Stanley Ridges (Jonas Overmire), Lloyd Bridges (Johnny Steele), Andy Devine (Ben Dance), Victor Cutler (Vane Blazier), Rose Hobart (Marta Lestrade), Halliwell Hobbes (Clenchfield), James Cardwell (Gray Bartlett) and Onslow Stevens (Jack Lestrade).


Berlin Correspondent (1942, Eugene Forde)

Fox did the best 1940s propaganda films. Cranked them out, I imagine. I’ve only seen a couple others and then Hitchcock’s awful effort, Saboteur.

Berlin Correspondent might steal its name from Hitchcock’s excellent Foreign Correspondent but that’s about it. Foreign is sort of globetrotting. Berlin is… Berlin-trotting. Dana Andrews is great, as Dana Andrews usually is, and the female lead is decent: Virginia Gilmore. She did very little, but she’s kind of like the Fox-variant of Jane Wyman. Sig Ruman shows up in a funny part and there’s a great Nazi bad guy (Martin Kosleck, a native German who left when the Nazis came into power).

Berlin Correspondent runs almost seventy minutes and is never boring. The film asks the audience to accept a great deal of stupidity, but it’s fine. We invest in the performances and the promise of an amusing diversion. It’s a film that exemplifies the lost genre of a good way to waste some time….

(Though I did have schoolwork to do, so I didn’t actually have any time to waste).

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Eugene Forde; written by Jack Andrews and Steve Fisher; director of photography, Virgil Miller; edited by Fred Allen; music by David Buttolph; produced by Bryan Foy; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Virginia Gilmore (Karen Hauen), Dana Andrews (Bill Roberts), Mona Maris (Carla), Martin Kosleck (Captain von Rau), Sig Ruman (Dr. Dietrich), Kurt Katch (Weiner) and Erwin Kalser (Mr. Hauen).


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