Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Andy Devine

Andy Devine et al. in 'A Star is Born'
The final scene of A Star is Born (1937). From left: May Robson, Andy Devine, Janet Gaynor, Adolphe Menjou. Devine is just about to lead Robson down the red carpet.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of James Stewart. It would be easy enough to write a post about Stewart, since he was the star of so many truly great movies, and TCM are running 12 of his movies today to honor the occasion. As much as I enjoy Stewart's work, or that of any leading actor, I usually find myself just as interested in the supporting roles. And that brings me to the subject of today's post, Andy Devine. Devine has a smallish part as the cowardly marshal in Stewart's 1962 movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, airing tonight at 10:00 PM ET on TCM.

Devine never became a leading star, probably for a host of reasons, although foremost among them would probably be the raspy voice. However, that voice also makes him instantly recognizable, which isn't a bad thing. Devine was able to parlay that recognizability into roles in dozens, if not hundreds, of movies. Many of them are westerns, such as tonight's Liberty Valance, or his part as one of the coach drivers in the 1939 version of Stagecoach. But Devine also appeared in comedies, having a brief role as a sheriff in It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World, and action movies, such as John Wayne's Island in the Sky, where he plays one of the pilots leading the search for Wayne's downed plane in northern Quebec. Devine gets a notable scene in Island in the Sky where he does a cannonball into a swimming pool with his two screen children. Devine had always been burly, having apparently played football in college, and having played a lineman in several college football pictures of the 1930s -- one of the few Hollywood actors who could convincingly play a football player. However, by the time of Island in the Sky, he had become obese (but one of the jolly fat people; by all accounts he was nearly universally loved in Hollywood) instead of just burly, and the "beefcake" shot of Devine in skimpy swimming trunks is just frightening.

Of course, Devine's obesity might lead some to say there's just more of him to love. You can love the younger Devine in the 1937 version of A Star is Born, in which he plays Danny McGuire, a wannabe director who is one of Vicki Lester's housemated, gets her the job that leads to her meeting her alcoholic future husband, and then walks Lester's grandmother down the red carpet at the premiere of Vicki's latest movie, at the end of the film. Devine's role isn't that big, but he makes it an extremely likeable character, and makes himself an actor you'll remember.

All of the titles I've mentioned in this post are available on DVD.

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