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Dana Andrews

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Obituary of Dana Andrews

The Daily Telegraph, December 19, 1992 page 15

DANA ANDREWS, the American film star, who has died aged 83, appeared in some of the finest pictures of the 1940s - The Ox-Bow Incident, Laura, The Best Years of Our Lives and Boomerang. A warm-voiced Southerner, quiet, deliberate and calm, Andrews was blessed with a strong talent, but there was always an element of diffidence in his performance: he did not break into Hollywood until he was in his thirties, and after a remarkable run in the 1940s his career went steadily downhill. The characters he played tended to be good, clean, handsome guys who turned into losers.

It was in such a role that he first came to notice, in the beautifully made but stark parable The Ox-Bow Incident (1943). A rancher is apparently killed by rustlers, and a posse of avengers is hastily mustered to track down the culprits. Eventually they come upon three suspicious cowboys, whom they lynch, only to learn that the rancher is still alive, and that they have murdered three blameless souls.

Andrews's next big role was in the excellent murder mystery Laura (1944), in which he was well cast as the cynical private eye who finds himself researching the life of a supposedly murdered beauty (Gene Tierney) and falling in love with her image. In The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), William Wyler's Oscar-winning drama of soldiers facing up to civilian life, Andrews was back in his decent-victim guise - as a disillusioned air force captain returning from the war to find that his wife is a hooker and that he has been fired from his job. In a key scene he visits a junkyard for B-17 planes. Climbing up into the nose of one, he relives a few fleeting memories of the war - and so provides the lietmotif of the film. The best people have given their all for the war and returned, if "lucky enough" to have survived, to a world ruled by the unworthy and corrupt. In A Walk in the Sun (1946), one of the great anti-war films of its day, Andrews played a tough sergeant who takes over the command of a platoon.

In Boomerang (1947), another landmark, Andrews was a crusading New England district attorney who prevents an innocent man from being convicted of the murder of a local clergyman, but is unable to track down the guilty party. An incisive thriller, Boomerang was shot in an innovative documentary style, which was much copied. Andrews was in his element, a model of understated integrity against a backdrop of corruption and chicanery.

The third of nine children of a Baptist minister, he was born Carver Daniel Andrews on New Year's Day 1909 at Collins, Mississippi. The family moved from town to town in the South, before settling at Huntsville, Texas. He was educated at the Sam Houston State Teachers College. After a stint as an accounts clerk with Gulf Oil at Austin, he hitch-hiked to Los Angeles, intending to try his luck as a singer. He ended up instead at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he studied acting - paying his way by working in a filling station - and in 1938 was signed up by Samuel Goldwyn.

It was a year before he gained his first role - as a support to Gary Cooper in Wyler's The Westerner (1940). Then, after a couple of promising small parts, 20th-Century Fox bought half of his contract from Goldwyn. For Fox he played in such films as Tobacco Road (1941), Swamp Water (1941) and Ball of Fire (1942), before being cast as the second lead to Tyrone Power in Crash Dive (1943). The next year he made The Purple Heart, a relentlessly solemn flag-waver about American PoWs in Japan. Then, for Goldwyn again, he had the thankless task of playing the love interest in support of Danny Kaye in Up in Arms (1944). A string of average films followed - State Fair (1945), Canyon Passage (1946), Daisy Kenyon (1947) - before My Foolish Heart (1949), in which he played the lover who is drafted and then killed, leaving Susan Hayward holding the baby.

Andrews played few unsympathetic roles during his career, although he performed them well enough. In the tawdry melodrama Fallen Angel (1945) he was beastly to Alice Faye, marrying her for her money while really desiring her sister. In Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) he played up his sinister side as a detective who kills a man during interrogation and tries to cover it up. Later, in Fritz Lang's Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956), he was the epitome of the evil schemer. That was one of Andrews's last major roles.

By the mid-1950s he began to lose his looks and found himself having to scrabble around for parts; his plight was not helped by an acknowledged drinking problem. He resolved to try his luck in the theatre, having co-starred with his wife in a summer tour of The Glass Menagerie in 1952. In 1958 he took over from Henry Fonda in Two For the Seesaw on Broadway, although this did not prove the "showcase" he had hoped for.

With the odd exception - Elephant Walk (1954) with Elizabeth Taylor, and The Last Tycoon (1976) - most of Andrews's latter film roles were an insult to his competence. He played a mad scientist in A Crack in the World and a sado-masochistic millionaire who drives his wife's lover to madness and murder in Brainstorm (1965). His other films included The Cobra (1967), Innocent Bystanders (1972) and Airport 1975 (1974). Back on the stage in 1967 he toured in The Odd Couple and then, from 1969 to 1972, he appeared in a daytime soap opera, Bright Promise.

He married first, in 1932, Janet Murray (who died in 1935); they had a son. He married secondly, in 1940, Mary Todd, the actress; they had a son and two daughters.

© 1992 The Daily Telegraph

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