Although not a leading man, the lean and very mean Duryea inspired a rabid following among female fans in the Forties and Fifties expressly because he slapped around his leading ladies.
Hello, everybody. Joe Morella and Frank Segers, your classic movie guys, to re-emphasize again that offscreen, the former Cornell English major who stayed married for 35 years to his high school sweetheart — and enjoyed cultivating sweet peas and delphinium in the back garden — was the opposite of the ‘lady killer’ he was onscreen.
Nonetheless, at his height of his popularity, the studios promoted and sold him as the nastiest lothario ever who was never above abusing women. (How politically incorrect! What studio could possibly get away with that today?)
Professionally speaking, Duryea didn’t mind a bit. He never objected to being typecast as the villain. He never signed a long-term deal with any studio so he could skip from one to the other in order to seize the meanest roles available.
As film noir historian Eddie Muller noted in his informative commentary for the DVD release of 1949’s Too Late For Tears — in that one, Duryea slaps Lizabeth Scott around — if producer wanted a “Dan Duryea type,” the actor wanted to be sure they got the genuine article.
As a character actor and sometime lead in the Forties, the actor found himself earning more than $100,000 yearly, big, big takehome at the time
And, truth be told, he was sometimes outdone in the nasty department by his leading actresses. Take Scott, for instance. She has the distinction of not only making more noir films than any other actress, she is the only woman who was actually the STAR of Too Late for Tears.
Scott portrays a greedy housewife, who bumps off her husband to keep a valise full of cash someone tossed into her open convertible. She, it turns out, is in cahoots with a sleazy private eye (Duryea), who does indeed slap her around. Dan thinks that a few stiff smacks in the kisser will be enough to keep Liz in line, but she proved him wrong, writes Muller.
Did she ever. Dan Duryea’s portrayal of the corrupt and slimy detective pales in contrast to Lizabeth Scott’s avaricious (character), write Alain Silver and Elizabeth Ward in their Film Noir: An Encyclopedic Reference to the American Style. She is the unequivocal “villain” here concealing icy brutality underneath feminine wiles. Duryea is chump change in her world.
In Criss Cross, director Robert Siodmak’s beautifully photographed (by Franz Planer) 1949 thriller, Duryea is third-billed behind Burt Lancaster and Yvonne DeCarlo as a gambler with syndicate connections with designs on DeCarlo, still enthralled by former husband Lancaster. We first see dapper Dan in an early scene sporting a white tuxedo jacket and fingering a carnation — a real nasty but one with an elegant sense of fashion.
As the title suggests, there are double and triple crossing galore before a climatic double murder as Duryea is nabbed by the cops. Essentially Lancaster and DeCarlo’s film, Criss Cross showcases Dan to excellent advantage. (Triva: DeCarlo’s silent but energetic dancing partner in once scene, uncredited, is a very young Tony Curtis.)
1946’s Black Angel offers a bit of surprise in how it presents Duryea. He is actually a good guy here, a pianist-songwriter who falls for a singer (June Vincent) trying to spring her innocent husband from death row. The villain here is Peter Lorre, who carries off his nightclub owner role with humorous panache.
Still, in all, Duryea in pinstripe suits turns out to be the culprit of the crime on which the plot turns — involving a double-dealing songbird (Constance Dowling) who conveniently stashes a revolver in the top drawer of her bedroom dresser. Veteran character actor Wallace Ford lends a hand to nurse Duryea through several drunken binges.
Dangerous Dan comes off as a pretty nice guy who should have laid off the sauce. In promoting Black Angel, the studio proclaimed the movie was a rarity of sorts in that costar Vincent actually emerges unscathed from her many Duryea encounters.