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
Movie Magazine International