Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Where the Sidewalk Ends - Notes

Here is a sneak peek at my notes for this week's film noir, starting at 8pm Thursday, February 18 at the Dryden Theatre. It focuses on the lives and careers of director Otto Preminger, and the two stars Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney. Interesting stuff, if I do say so myself.

Otto Preminger, Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews were three of Hollywood’s stars seemingly destined to enter into each other’s orbits. They all got their start in Hollywood around the same time and Preminger gave each of the actors work after they experienced personal problems in the 1950s. Over a 10-year period, combinations of two or more of these artists strove to make 8 films, including 2 classic films noirs that all three worked on together.

Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney each appeared in their first film in 1940, Andrews in Lucky Cisco Kid, and Tierney as the female lead in The Return of Frank James, opposite Henry Fonda. Tierney came from a brief Broadway career before Darryl Zanuck “discovered” her, while Andrews had been working as an ad man for a movie theater in Texas when he realized he could act, and hitch-hiked his way West. Tierney and Andrews first appeared on screen together in John Ford’s controversial Tobacco Road in 1941. Tierney was the 23-year-old spinster of a dirt farming family and Andrews was the son of the former landowner who in the end forestalls the family’s trip to the poor farm. They worked again later in the year in Irving Cummings’ Belle Starr. Tierney plays the real-life title character, and beat out the likes of Ida Lupino, Joan Crawford and Barbara Stanwyck for the role, while Andrews is the other man to Randolph Scott’s confederate bandit.

1944 brought Andrews and Tierney together with Otto Preminger on his sixth Hollywood film, Laura. Both actors made indelible impressions, Tierney as the ethereal Laura, and Andrews as the obsessed detective falling in love with a dead woman. Preminger’s visual style and brilliant camera set-ups gave a dark edge to the proceedings and Laura went on to be one of the original 10 films noirs, as identified by French critics.

Preminger went on to cast Andrews in two more dramas, the noir Fallen Angel in 1945 and the soapy melodrama Daisy Kenyon in 1947. In the first picture, Andrews is a shifty vagabond, torn between the woman he loves and the woman whose money he loves. In Daisy Kenyon, he is Joan Crawford’s adulterous lover, who might just lose his family to infidelity and his mistress to Henry Fonda.

Tierney and Andrews worked together again in 1948’s The Iron Curtain. “Wild Bill” Wellman directs the pair in the real-life story of Russian embassy employees that defect to Canada after the war. In 1949 Preminger cast Tierney as a psychiatrist’s wife duped and hypnotized by rival therapist Jose Ferrer, then framed for murder in Whirlpool.

The following year the three worked together again on Where the Sidewalk Ends. Also returning from the crew on Laura were directory of photography Joseph LaShelle and art director Lyle Wheeler. The characters played by Andrews and Tierney seem to be extensions of those created in Laura. Andrews is a cop whose obsessions have led him to violence, and Tierney is the beautiful but ineffectual woman who finds herself in an abusive relationship.

It is interesting that these parallels are drawn at the beginning of the decade. Both actors continued to find work throughout the first half of the decade, but Andrews quickly found himself succumbing to his alcohol addiction, and often worked drunk. Tierney had been having psychological problems, commonly attributed to her depression after giving birth to a special needs child, that put her in and out of sanitariums, and forced her completely off the screen after 1955.

It was Preminger that brought Tierney back to the screen after a 7-year absence in 1962 with a minor role in Advise & Consent, but it was one of her last film roles. Preminger worked one last time with Andrews in 1965’s In Harm’s Way, bringing him in for a supporting role. Andrews and Preminger continued making films through the 1970s.

Preminger died in 1986 and Tierney in 1991, both from diseases caused by smoking. (Tierney had been encouraged to start by Darryl Zanuck to lower the timbre of her Mid-Atlantic voice.) Andrews followed in 1992, from congestive heart failure attributed to his long years of drinking.


crollyson@gmail.com said...

Dana Andrews quit drinking in 1970. He had Alzheimers and did not die of congestive heart failure. I'm writing his biography for University Press of Mississippi.

Jared said...

Thanks! I was able to adjust this before we printed them out for the crowd last night. Would love to hear about your book when it comes out!