Today we reminisce about
Jeanne Crain & Dana Andrews
* Published specifically for The Jeanne Crain Blogathon hosted by Christine at Overture Books and Film *
State Fair (1945), Duel in the Jungle (1954), Madison Avenue (1961), Hot Rods to Hell (1967)
Legend has it that Jeanne Crain was discovered by Orson Welles who spotted her when she was visiting Twentieth Century Fox Studios during a school trip. She got her unofficial start early on at Fox, celebrating her 18th birthday during the production of The Gang’s All Here in which she had a non-credited debut role. Only a few months after that would she attain her first real supporting role in Home in Indiana, immediately followed by her first leading role in only her second credited film, In the Meantime. That was a rather swift ride up the studio rankings which is even more impressive considering the other female talent working there at the same time. It would only be a matter of time before she met a particular actor signed to a split contract between Samuel Goldwyn Productions and Fox.
Dana Andrews was already an established star by the time that he was cast in his first film role opposite Jeanne. Just a year before their first pairing, he appeared in Laura, the most beloved film of his career next to The Best Years of Our Lives. His most endearing screen partner up until that point had been Gene Tierney, a popular Fox player with whom he would make Laura and four other films: Tobacco Road, Belle Star, The Iron Curtain and Where the Sidewalk Ends. Dana’s partnership with Gene occurred at the height of his career whereas the one with Jeanne took place largely during the decline and later years.
A Rodgers & Hammerstein musical titled State Fair is a gem in Jeanne and Dana’s filmographies and is the unquestionably their greatest film together. Their 1945 version is a remake of the 1933 non-musical version for Fox starring Janet Gaynor and Will Rogers. Jeanne and Dana’s version required both of them to sing although they would end up being dubbed by professional singers. The studio had not been aware that Dana had trained as an opera singer which also prompted his move to California and he did not tell them about it. When asked about why he never spoke up about his singing skills, “Andrews always maintained that he never told (studio executives) he could sing because he figured the guy they hired to dub for him needed the work.”** As a result of this film, Jeanne was put into more singing roles because she was convincing and pleasing enough to audiences who thought it was actually her own voice being used.
“Ioway” is the setting for State Fair and the story follows the Frake family from Brunswick as the get ready for the biggest event of the year in Davenport. Ma Frake makes homemade pickles and mincemeat while Pa Frake hopes that his pig Blue Boy wins the top prize while their two children, Wayne (Dick Haymes) and Margy (Jeanne) are preoccupied with love. Margy meets Pat (Dana), a reporter for Des Moines Register, and the two quickly take to one another. Queue the happy endings.
Fox was extremely pleased with the film, owing its success to “the wonderful [Rodgers and Hammerstein] score and the great charm of the piece as a whole. … We had comedy, but it was charming comedy. We stayed away from the obvious. As a result, you believed the story of State Fair…”1 Indeed, there was something special about this film that was quite a simple story yet one that tugged at your heart. Jeanne and Dana made a very sweet, natural couple and both looked very fresh in the film. She made me think of Cathy O’Donnell in her looks and mannerisms and it was hard to believe that he would go on to star in the gritty noir Fallen Angel only a few months after filming ended on State Fair. I did note that Dana’s Pat called Margy “bobbylocks”, a pet name reminiscent of how he referred to people as “honeybunch” in Daisy Kenyon. A delightful supporting cast rounds out the positive aspects of this film.
Suggested double feature for State Fair: Summer Stock
The two actors had a general pleasant on-screen chemistry and it looked as if they had a good time working together but they did lack a certain believable romantic spark. It was easy enough to accept their characters’ couplings despite this even though the energy they exuded was quite proper and chaste. Jeanne did have a lot of natural sex appeal; a quality was not something that Fox wished to explore, especially in her earlier roles. She was recruited as the “girl next door” type and was bankable to the studio as such. Sometimes this arrangement backfired like when Jeanne filmed Pinky with director Elia Kazan who was left disappointed by the actress being “the blandest person (he) ever worked with”.* Those are terribly harsh words for a young woman to hear but it did not deter Jeanne in her career or personal life, continuing to be successful in both. In 1953 upon her exit from Fox at the age of 28, Jeanne did make a few changes by cutting her hair short, dying it red and seeking out more mature roles. Ironically, her first post-Fox film showing off this new image would be with Dana, their second film together.Duel in the Jungle was Jeanne’s first international picture while Dana’s previous two films, Assignment – Paris! and Elephant Walk, had been filmed on location in Europe and Asia. Africa was a destination that was new to them both with most of the shoot taking place in South Africa and Northern Rhodesia, including scenes at Victoria Falls. From a first glance, it is obvious that this was not a bigger budget American studio production as the costuming is vastly different from the ordinary. Despite Fox not having the biggest names of fashion design in their wardrobe department, they still had plenty of talent there to help create trendy, refined numbers that would accentuate their players’ best features. Jeanne had a specific style in her films at Fox with custom fitted clothing and always gorgeous hair and make-up. Her look in Duel in the Jungle is less high-end than what she is used to being seen in though by no means is she unattractive. In fact, her shorter hairdo is very becoming to her petite frame, giving Deborah Kerr some major competition as a redhead. The clothing she wears is more than adequate and since she is supposed to be somewhat roughing it in the African jungle, it gets a pass for not being pristine!
This film was my least preferred feature from the Crain-Andrews partnership. They did manage to give respectable performances in the face of a limp story that failed to really hold your interest. The sights and sounds of Southern Africa are lovely but serve more as a backdrop to random action scenes than anything else. British actor David Farrar is a nice addition to the cast and it is delightful to see him as the bad guy. He did not succeed in creating any heat with Jeanne either or really being a threat to Dana, even in their highly choreographed fight sequences that made them appear as quarrelling schoolyard bullies. Dana did not think too much of the film during filming but “no matter how silly the vehicle he was still behaving professionally”2, hoping that the end result would not be too disastrous.
Suggested double feature for Duel in the Jungle: Safari
Six years later, Jeanne and Dana would return to Fox to make Madison Avenue together. Neither had worked at the studio in a quite a long time; Jeanne had not been back since ending her contract with them seven years prior and Dana had not done a film there since 1951’s The Frogmen nearly a decade before. Dana was a part-owner in the production of Madison Avenue and had some casting preferences that unfortunately did not see the light of day. Jeanne was not his first choice and it is uncertain how she came onto the project after “Joan Collins and legendary model Suzy Parker turned down the two female leads”3. Eleanor Parker was eventually cast alongside Jeanne in their place. The studio did not know what to do with the film, shelving it in the United States for nearly two years after its completion. It did receive an earlier premiere in the United Kingdom, thereby granting it an official 1961 release even though American audiences would not see it until 1962. Needless to say, the film was a disappointment to the studio and to the cast and crew, particularly Dana who had personally invested in it.
When I first started watching Madison Avenue, I found it terribly hard to follow the story and did not quite understand the dialogue going on between Andrews’ character Clint and the character of J.D. Jocelyn played by Howard St. John. Although they appeared to be dramatically reacting to a rift in their professional relationship, I was largely unmoved. Jeanne’s Peggy, a reporter, sort of pops-up out of nowhere and spends a significant amount of the film chasing after Clint, an advertising agent, who is only interested in her when she can be useful to him. Nonetheless, she still casually dates him even when it is clear that he is seeing other women. Clint goes to work for an advertising firm headed by Anne Tremaine played by Eleanor Parker, with whom he also becomes romantically involved. Eventually he has competition from Mr. Ames played by Eddie Albert and after a spiritual epiphany, runs back to the wised up Peggy who no longer desires him. While the story is weak, the script is sufficient as are the performances. In the end, it is aesthetically easy to watch but is sadly nothing to write home about.
Suggested double feature for Madison Avenue: The Kid from Brooklyn
Hot Rods from Hell would be the fourth and last feature for the Crain-Andrews duo. The picture was produced by MGM and, according to the AFI Catalog of Feature Films, was filmed under the perception that it would be a made-for-television film to be aired on the ABC network. “However, after viewing the completed film, MGM decided that it would be a profitable theatrical release, and asked ABC to return the picture to them, on condition that another feature-length project would be delivered in its place…” * It in fact was profitable to the studio even though it was widely critically dismissed as rubbish. This would be Jeanne’s third to last film while Dana would continue on making largely low-budget and overseas features until his last role in 1985. Nowadays, Hot Rods from Hell is a cult classic that has a solid following.
There is a great deal to say about this film and most of it is not very complimentary. The acting is rather bad, even for a television film, and it is quite embarrassing to see Jeanne and Dana reduced to taking on such a low tier project though they do so in as much of a dignified fashion as possible. Essentially, Peg & Tom Phillips (Jeanne & Dana) are forced to move away from Massachusetts with their two children after he gets into a severe car accident caused by a drunk driver, leaving him to be laid up in the hospital for months and rendering him incapacitated to continue his job as a travelling salesman. Tom’s brother helps them in buying a motel in the California desert that would give them a steady source of income. While en route to their new home, the family gets accosted by a band of drag racing teenage thugs who, out of boredom and an overall lack of consideration, terrorise them with their big engine, custom hot rods.
If anything, this film will provide you some unexpected laughs due to the bad lines and even worse delivery of them. There is one moment when Dana screams, “Those idiots!”, talking about the youngsters’ reckless behaviour in a moment reminiscent of Clint Eastwood yelling at youth to “Get Off My Lawn!” in Gran Torino. It appears as if Dana is wearing more make-up than Jeanne, resembling Jack Lemmon as Daphne in a colourised version of Some Like It Hot, whereas Jeanne spends a great amount of time screaming and looking shocked. These are definitely not their finest moments in cinema. Tom and Peg’s daughter takes a rapid turn towards deviancy that truly makes no sense, especially concerning her sexual attraction to attraction to the “baddest” boy of the bunch. One minute she is cursing him because she feels as if he was trying to kill her and her family; the next minute she gives in to his lame seduction techniques. I suppose part of the fun is in uncovering all of the ridiculous details of this film and just wonder how anything like this ever got filmed in the first place.
Suggested double feature for Hot Rods from Hell: Devil’s Angels
Both Jeanne and Dana shared some interesting likenesses in their career paths. They came to star-status prominence under the direction of Otto Preminger; Jeanne in In the Meantime, Darling and Dana in Laura. In addition, Jeanne starred in her first critically acclaimed film, Leave Her to Heaven, playing Gene Tierney’s adopted sister. Dana was paired with Jeanne and Gene early in their careers, respectively being only the fourth and third credits in their résumés. Even the two ladies’ names sound the same! Jeanne and Dana also often appeared with similar co-stars such as Fox regulars Linda Darnell, Anne Baxter, Clifton Webb and Vincent Price as well as Ethel Barrymore, Farley Granger and Jane Russell. (Dana knew Baxter during his early years with Goldwyn and Jeanne knew her a little later on at Fox.)
It has been an enjoyable experience getting to know more about Jeanne and discovering more of Dana’s films since I have long been an admirer of his talent. The two actors may not have had a great deal of luck in landing quality projects together though you would never have guessed that from seeing them on-screen. They were both hard-working, gracious thespians who were also privately good people. I wish I would have been able to have more information on any sort of off-screen friendship the two may have maintained but it seems that Jeanne was pretty guarded about her personal life. In any case, I hope that their solo and collaborative efforts will be continue to be explored by others.
** From the State Fair bonus feature commented by Richard Barrios and Tom Briggs.
Memo from Darryl F. Zanuck by Rudy Behlmer – 1: page 92
Hollywood Engima: Dana Adrews by Carl Rollyson – 2: page 236; 3: page 262