He was tall, lean, and sported a voice tinged with a nasty whine. He invariably dressed to be noticed.
The characters he played enjoyed slapping leading ladies onscreen — a trait that earned him the sobriquet “the sadistic dandy.” No wonder he was one of the biggest males stars of Forties and Fifties film noir.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, here today to celebrate the irony that the more leading ladies Dan Duryea roughed up, the more fan mail he received from female fans all over the world.
In a piece headlined, Duryea Says Heel Roles Keep Him Well Heeled, legendary columnist Hedda Hopper wrote that the actor actually consulted a psychiatrist, not on his own behalf but to try and figure out why his nasty screen portrayals elicited such a huge fan response.
It was completely politically incorrect, observed film noir historian Eddie Muller in his informative commentary for the DVD release of 1949’s Too Late For Tears. In that one, Duryea slaps Lizabeth Scott around.
At the height of his popularity, Duryea was actually promoted and sold by the studios explicitly for his onscreen caddishness. (The one sheet advertising Too Late For Tears shows Scott being struck under the headline, That’s Just To Remind You…You’re In A Tough Racket Now!)
It’s a terrific film, with double cross after double cross, and one of Joe’s favorites. He’s not sure, but he thinks it was the first drama he’d ever seen in a movie theater. Up until then he’d only been allowed to go to musicals and family pictures.
Actually, according to Muller, Duryea’s first big role came in 1945 in director Fritz Lang’s The Woman in the Window, in which dangerous Dan as a dead man’s bodyguard hauls off against Joan Bennett. The scene had such an impact on audiences that variations of it were repeated in Duryea’s succeeding pictures. (In Paramount’s 1949 thriller, Dan pitches Dorothy Lamour off a tall building.)
The actor perfectly played the “McGoof,” said Muller, a term coined by writer Damon Runyon referring to a man who took advantage of women, then brushed them off when he had used them and taken all their money. Duryea did this better than anyone else in movie history.
The reality was that offscreen, Duryea was a cultivated (he studied English lit. at Cornell and grew up in White Plains, N.Y.), stage-trained actor whose private life was the soul of domesticity. His one and only wife, Helen Bryan, was his high school sweetheart. Their 35-year-marriage ended at her death in 1967. (Duryea was 61 when he succumbed the following year to cancer.)
In a New York Times article, Tom Pryor (later the editor of Daily Variety) wrote: If Edward G. Robinson can get away with mousing in art galleries, and still maintain his “Little Caesar” franchise, then it probably will do no harm to reveal that Dan Duryea…spends his spare time cultivating Sweet Peas and Delphinium.
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at Duryea in action in three of his best film noirs.
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