Dana Andrews Noir Triple Bill

Dana Andrews. Not a girl.
"Dana Andrews?" I hear you say, "never heard of her." Well, Dana Andrews is actually a man and was one of those actors in the 40s and 50s who made a shedload of movies and a bit of a name for himself, but never really became a true star. Most people nowadays wouldn't know him if he walked in the room. Which he wouldn't because he's dead, incidentally. But he made some good films and after catching a few of them on TV over the last while, I profile a triple bill of his film noir crime dramas here. In fact, it's two triple bills for the price of one as these are all directed by Otto Preminger, who made a series of well-received films as director-for-hire for 20th Century Fox during the 40s, before going on to great things with stuff like Anatomy of a Murder. So, if murder, broads and tough guys tickle your fancy, you could do worse than try these on for size.

Laura (1944) tells the story, in flashback and voiceover, of Laura (Gene Tierney), a beautiful New York socialite who has been murdered. As Detective McPherson (our man Andrews) interrogates a disparate group of Laura's peers, each of whom is obsessed with Laura in some way and who are the main suspects in her death, he himself becomes unhealthily obsessed with the (memory of) Laura. It's a great premise, with the edgy, necrophiliac fixation predating the more revered Vertigo by two decades and it has a similar dream-like ambiguity, thanks to Preminger’s assured and fluid camera. It has a big reputation in the film noir genre too, so it's somewhat surprising to find there's very little lurking about in shadows here. Instead, most of the action takes place in brightly-lit, upmarket locations with smartly dressed, lah-de-dah characters. Nonetheless, their respective motives remain as murky as ever and the cast flesh out some thinly sketched characters well, which helps the murder-mystery aspect as they are all plausible culprits. Our man Andrews is fine in a stolid role, but everyone is upstaged by Clifton Webb, who turns in an exceptional, Oscar-nominated performance as the cynical, bitter Waldo Lydecker, who narrates part of the story. So far, so good. But what a pity that the film stumbles on one very important aspect; Gene Tierney's performance as Laura. Pretty she may be, but she lacks the charisma and allure needed in what is ostensibly the 'femme fatale' role, making us wonder what all the other characters are fussing about. It’s a massive failing at the centre of the film, which really lessens its impact.

Useless Trivia Alert! Laura was referenced in David Lynch's seminal TV series Twin Peaks, about the death of another character called Laura. In the series, the only witness to Laura's death was a mynah bird called Waldo, whose vet was called Dr Lydecker. So now you know.

In Fallen Angel (1945) our man Andrews plays a drifter who pitches up in a small Californian town and is instantly smitten with sultry waitress Linda Darnell. So much so that he decides to romance reserved spinster Alice Faye to swindle her out of her money so he can elope with Linda. Much like Darnell's bosom, the plan goes tits up. The first half of this is notable only for the magnificent pouting of Darnell and the enormous trousers worn by Andrews, belted Simon Cowell style under his armpits. The plot is less notable, being rather clunky in its set-up and it all stretches belief a bit in the speed at which events proceed - people sure did fall in love and marry at the drop of a hat in the old days. What is needed is a good old murder, and thankfully that occurs around the midway point, whereupon it becomes an interesting murder-mystery, with plenty of suspects and a satisfying resolution which I didn’t guess. For that reason, although it's the weakest of the three films featured here, it's still worth catching

Useless Trivia Alert! This was the last major film Alice Faye made in Hollywood, as she got fed up when producer Darryl F Zanuck insisted on cutting her scenes and beefing up those of his mistress Darnell. Things turned out okay for Faye, though, as she went on to have a long and happy marriage and radio career with Phil Harris (the voice of Baloo the Bear in The Jungle Book). Darnell, on the other hand, struggled with the demands of showbiz, bounced from man to man, battled alcoholism and weight problems, and died tragically in a house fire at just 41 years old. There's a moral in there somewhere, folks.

Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) is the real ace in the pack here, reuniting the main talent from Laura to great effect. From the opening credits, in which the title is scrawled in graffiti on the pavement and we focus on rain gushing down a gutter, we know we're in grittier, darker territory than the two films above. In this, our man Andrews plays Dixon, a cop with a vicious temper, who accidentally kills a man in course of an investigation. He covers up his crime, only to find himself put in charge of finding the murderer. In his attempts to frame someone else, he only succeeds in drawing the net closer around himself. Unlike the two films above, there's no murder mystery here as we know all along whodunnit. So the drama comes from seeing if Dixon will crack under the strain and we are virtually complicit in his crime as we are invited to root for him, despite what he has done. Our man Andrews turns in a terrific performance here and his character is an early prototype of those anti-hero cops of the 70s, such as Popeye Doyle and Dirty Harry. There is great support from Karl Malden as Andrew's superior, who keeps sticking his nose into things, Preminger's direction is textbook film noir (note how many dark shots there are of Dixon standing alone, emphasising his shadowy, loner nature) and even Gene Tierney is acceptable as the pretty, but rather insipid love interest. A tight, taut detective thriller and much more satisfying than the more lauded Laura.

Useless Trivia Alert! Where the Sidewalk Ends was written by Ben Hecht, known as the Shakespeare of Hollywood and regarded as one of the all-time great screenwriters. Not only did he write his own screenplays, but he was the go-to man if you needed to tart up your own work into something a bit special. He wrote Scarface (1932) in just 11 days, although he had some quick talking of his own to do when a couple of Al Capone's henchmen turned up to discuss the portrayal of their boss in the story. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Hecht convinced them the story wasn't about Capone at all (it blatantly was) and they left him in one piece. Smooth talker.

"Dana is a girl's name? No wonder I never made it big"

There you have it. Dana might have a girl's name, but he was a man among men back in the day. Actually, that doesn't sound good at all - sorry, Dana. He also looked a bit like footballer Xabi Alonso. Yes, he bloody did. Anyway, these films turn up regularly enough on Film4 and TCM channels, so keep your eyes peeled for them.


  1. Never heard of Dana Andrews? You can remedy that by reading my biography, which has just been published: HOLLYWOOD ENIGMA: DANA ANDREWS. I enjoyed your descriptions of the films. I have a lot to say about them in my book.

  2. Thanks for that recommendation, I'll check it out. Nice to see him get some acclaim!

  3. directorscut11/8/12

    Other great Dana Andrew movies include THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES (one of the ten or so best films ever made), THE OX-BOW INCIDENT (the best western lynch mob movie ever made), NIGHT OF THE DEMON (like THE WICKER MAN but not shit) and BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT (one of the best twist endings ever)

  4. directorscut11/8/12

    Also, other actors that looked like Xabi Alonso - Joel McCrea and Jean Gabin.

  5. Heh, heh, actos that look like Xabi - is this enough to count as a meme? All this chat of Xabi makes me sad he's not at Liverpool anymore. Anyhow, brief reviews of The Ox-Bow Incident and night of the Demon are buried in this blog somewhere - I liked them both, particularly the former. Wasn't just as keen on Best Years, though, found it all a bit over-earnest, even allowing for the times it was made. Reasonable Doubt remains on my to-see list, if the Olympics ever end, I'll get back to seeing a few films.