Allan Dwan Edit Profile
Dwan’s filmography ought to be sufficient tribute—except that it is limited to films ol four reels or more. In the years 1911-14, he made at least another two hundred one- or two-reelers. These were churned out at the American Film Company after he had begun as a lighting man at Essanay in 1909. In 1913, he moved to Universal, in 1914 to Famous Players, and in 1915 to Griffith’s Triangle Company.
Within the next few years he worked for Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford and, after Robin Hood, he went to Famous Players-Lasky where he made several of Gloria Swansons best films. But in 1926 he joined Fox and remained there with occasional distractions—like his trip to England, 1933-34—until 1941. While there, he usually directed second features, but returned to prominence with two of the better Shirley Temple films and the spectacular Suez.
He moved to RKO and worked for Edward Small before joining Republic in 1945. His movies there were haunted by the interference of Herbert Yates, the icy presence of Vera Ralston, and the penury of the studio. But he produced films of constant invention, charm, and action. Sands of Iwo Jima has the surge of unaccustomed resources. In 1954, he went back to RKO and the producer Benedict Bogeaus. The films they made together are oddlv assured products of working circumstances worthy of Catch-22. Only in 1961 did Dwan retire from a long and honorable battle against every handicap the industry could invent.
Inevitably, Dwan is best known for his more recent pictures, the fragmentary splendor of his travails with Yates and Bogeaus: the very funny situation in Rendezvous with Annie; Natalie Wood signaling her talent in Driftwood; Sands of Iwo Jima; the B-29 in The Wild Blue Yonder; Jane Russell in Montana Belle; the lunatic transposition of sexual roles in The Woman They Almost Lynched; the happy acceptance of the Western genre in Silver Lode and Tennessee’s Partner; the florid erotic rivalry of Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl in Slightly Scarlet; the violence of The River's Edge; the hysterical eavesdropping of The Restless Breed.
In almost ever case, these are distinct if small- scale treasures brought home against great odds. Dwan himself preferred silent pictures and remembers Robin Hood. Manhandled, and Big Brother fondly.
Dwan was a natural, unpretentious storyteller, capable of real invention on the grand and the intimate scale; but with such competence and determined survival, how did he come to make so many forlorn films when men of far less talent were given better projects? Dwan told Peter Bogdanovich that he signed too many stupid contracts, but that he had no regrets. That sunniness speaks for his real nature and his origins in the days when one made two films a week.
He is the Jack Crabb of the movie world, capable of endorsing both the boyish plea-sure of all Fairbanks’s vaulting and the delicious Ritz Brothers parody of musketeering made in 1939. Dwan’s liking for visual narrative proved stronger than all the foolish corners he was forced to occupy. His flexibility was proof of imaginative cheerfulness.