by Brad Nelson
When Dana Andrews is in a movie, that’s always a danger signal for me. His acting usually struck me as plastic and stilted. His monotone voice typically matched his monotone performances. And he sure found his way into a lot of cheesy films. Well, that prejudice has now been shattered.
For what could be described as an extended soap opera (this film is about 3 hours long), this is a darn fine soap opera. And Dana Andrews is terrific in it — so much so that you might be surprised to learn that it was Frederic March and Harold Russell who won the Oscars, not the better-deserving Andrews.
But in the case of Harold Russell winning best supporting actor, one must remember that this film came out in 1946, just after the war. And the entire theme of the movie is regarding the struggles that servicemen were having returning to civilian life. Given that the part of Homer Parrish was played by real-life war veteran, Harold Russell — who lost both hands in the war — there was a unique power that he brought to that role.
So although the Academy (particularly in recent decades) is known to do some very goofy and superficial things as they vote not for the quality of the movie or the acting but for one stupid libtard “cause” or another, this is one instance where giving the Oscar to Homer was something that all hearts and minds could agree upon. Homer was a stand-in for tens of thousands of men and women who had been scarred by that terrific fight, both physically and mentally.
But I was surprised as heck to see Dana Andrews in such a superb role. He was the heart and sole of the picture, not Homer. But as good as Andrews was, I think the most memorable performance was the unintentionally comically stilted performance of Michael Hall as Rob Stephenson, who is the son of the father, played by Frederic March. It’s really awful. Dial this one up and have a Mystery Science Theatre party with your friends just for this one performance.
On the other hand, Virginia Mayo plays a wonderfully spoiled slut as the wife of Dana Andrews’ character. Lots of verve and vigor there. And as a wife, she’s a noticeable upgrade performance-wise from Myrna Loy who plays the wife of Frederic March and is nothing special (you can understand why I refer to this movie as a sort of extended soap opera…some of the acting is about at that level). But the daughter, played by Teresa Wright, is another stand-out.
Few people these days want to invest three hours in an old black-and-white movie. But if you did, this wouldn’t be a bad one at all. It’s got nostalgia up the ying-yang and plenty of historic overtones. You become very involved in the characters. And there are some great moments in it, particularly when Al Stephenson (played by March) gives a dinner speech while he’s pretty much 3 sheets to the wind.
And as I said, I don’t know what magic elixir Dana Andrews took before making this movie, but he is interesting to watch in every scene and is the real backbone of this film, and not (at least to our time and to my eyes) the real-life handicapped war veteran, Harold Russell. There’s a bit too much sentimentality attached to his story and not enough grittiness. But overall you do get a real sense for what it must have been like for all veterans who returned with obvious visual scars. And because of that, Russell’s performance succeeds.
This is an engaging story with interesting characters. You won’t be disappointed if you watch it. I give it 3-1/2 Norden bombsights out of 5.