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
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
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