Dana Andrews, The Face Of Noir by James McKay - Book Review

By Monica Sullivan

When you fall in love with Dana Andrews, it’s forever. Never mind that he was born over a century ago, or that his swan song was over 25 years ago. Today’s audiences know him as Detective Mark McPeherson from 1945’s “Laura”, naturally, but two years later, he was the centerpiece of “The Best Years Of Our Lives”. As Fred Derry, a traumatized and disillusioned WWII veteran, he should have won an Oscar. Instead, the Academy gave Frederic March his second Oscar as Al Stevenson and Harold Russell received two Oscars (one competition, the other honorary) as Homer Parish. Andrews’ naturalistic, so-real-it-doesn’t-look-like-acting performance was overlooked as the picture was heaped with Oscars, nine in all.

Of the major performances, Dana Andrews’ is the most keenly felt and carefully sustained. Unlike Al and Homer, Fred is not returning to a loving home, or to a secure future. No one else captured the heartache of the returning veteran as he did: the excruciating nightmares, the disillusionment at his wretched employment situation, the erosion of the soul that accompanied the breakup of his marriage, and the rage that poured out when his service record was attacked by a stranger. Dana Andrews accomplished all this without a trace of self pity and effortlessly projected his constant efforts to heal. For me, “The Best Years Of Our Lives” refers to Fred’s successful struggle to come home after the horror of The Second World War. Al Stevenson represents the past, Homer Parish is a symbol with a capital “S”, but Dana Andrews as Fred Derry is the real deal, the wave of the future. Too real for an Oscar, obviously, but he deserved it.

As James McKay’s excellent new critical biography details, Dana Andrews was definitely the Face Of Noir, and he was much, much more. 85 photographs reveal how Andrews evolved from a teenager with a bow tie in the 1920’s to Red Ridingwood in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Last Tycoon” opposite Robert DeNiro’s Monroe Stahr in 1976. There are a couple of pictures with his kids in 1948 that make him look like the deeply loved father I always imagined he would be. James McKay’s detailing of every single one of Dana Andrews’ movies will be an essential guide both for Andrews’ admirers and film scholars. In many ways, the McFarland series of critical biographies supercede the lavish Citadel series (long on synopses, short on evaluation.) “Dana Andrews, The Face Of Noir” is one of the best. For information go to mcfarlanedpub.com

© 2010 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 10/27/10
Movie Magazine International


  1. You're right about Dana Andrews's acting but wrong about McKay's book, which is full of errors and lacks any real insight into Andrews's acting. McKay's book is not a biography and is not well researched. He relies on dubious secondary sources. I am writing the first biography of Dana Andrews, to be published by the University Press of Mississippi. I have full access to Andrews's letters, his diary, and to all of his remaining family. There are valuable items in McKay's book, but over all it is the performance of a rather clumsy amateur--as I pointed out in my review published in CHOICE, a publication of the American Library Association.

  2. I look forward to reading your book. However, I feel that McKay's coverage of Dana Andrews’ career was thoughtful and informative. More people might be interested in your forthcoming volume if you stress the virtues of your work rather than knocking the work of other hard working writers. McKay’s book never claimed to be an in depth intimate look at Dana Andrews’ personal life.

  3. I love the first two paragraphs of your piece.
    "When you fall in love with Dana Andrews, it's forever". So true. Also your comments about his performance in "Best Years" are my thoughts exactly. For me he was the emotional center in that film, and that he was overlooked for even an nomination for an Oscar, unbelievable.

    I must take exception with your comments on James MacKay's book. He did say that it was a tribute book, and I took that to mean that he was a big fan of Dana Andrews. Since there is so little out here on Dana Andrews, I enjoyed the book but I did notice quite a few errors.
    Even in the plot lines of the movies there were errors, and since he had most of the movies he could have double checked quite easily. At the price of $45.00, I think it is important for readers to be forewarned.

    I am looking forward to Carl Rollyson's book because of the family's cooperation, and the various source information that he has access to regarding Dana Andrews.

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  5. Shari, you are absolutely right. Most film books (Not just Jim McKay'a) contain factual errors. One of the standard noir books not only gets plot lines wrong (by Silver and Ward) but then analyses movies based on these wrong plots. But I still have the book, fallible as it is. It is good to have as many film noir books out there as possible because noir are so much fun to watch and so fascinating to think about afterwards. Thanks for writing and long live Dana Andrews.


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