Tag Archives: 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).


THIS POST IS PART OF THE FREE FOR ALL BLOGATHON HOSTED BY THERESA OF CINEMAVEN'S ESSAYS FROM THE COUCH.


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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).


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THIS POST IS PART OF THE GENE TIERNEY 95TH BIRTHDAY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY SIMOA OF THE ELLIE BADGE.


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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).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 3: BARONESS.

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).


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