Noirvember Day 16: Who is Douglas Fowley?

— Recognize the guy ont he left?

Does the name Douglas Fowley ring a bell? If it does, it might be because of his portrayal of the apoplectic director in Singin’ in the Rain (1952). As for me, I know him from his appearances in five films from the noir era: Fall Guy (1947), Desperate (1947), Behind Locked Doors (1948), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and Edge of Doom (1950).

I’m always rather cheered to see Douglas Fowley in a film. I don’t quite know why – there’s just something about him that appeals to me, something that seems very real and approachable, but often with a sinister hint of mystery, too.

A native of Greenwich Village, New York, Fowley was born to highly creative parents; his mother was a singer, and his father was a painter, sculptor, and linguist who studied at Trinity College in Dublin. Fowley first became interested in acting at the age of nine, as a student at the St. Francis Xavier Military Academy. After performing with a variety of stock companies, he made his big screen debut in the 1933 Spencer Tracy-Claire Trevor starrer, The Mad Game (a first-rate pre-Code that I saw at a film festival earlier this year and would dearly love to have on DVD).

— He wasn’t scared of Walt.

Once he got started, Fowley was hard to stop – he would go on to appear in an average of nine pictures a year between 1934 and 1954, including such gems as Dodge City (1939), a box-office hit starring Errol Flynn and Olivia deHavilland, and Battleground (1949), an outstanding war feature directed by William Wellman.

Fowley entered the world of noir in 1947 with two features: Fall Guy and Desperate. In the first, based on a Cornell Woolrich short story, he played an inspector who heads up the investigation of a man found unconscious with a bloody knife beside him. And in Desperate, one of my favorite underrated noirs, he played Pete Lavitch, described by one character as “a pretty good private dick ‘til he lost his license.” Lavitch is hired by gang leader Walt Radak (Raymond Burr) to track down the man he views as responsible for his kid brother’s conviction for killing a cop.

— As Benny McBride, he was a bit of a sap.

The following year, Fowley was third-billed in Behind Locked Doors (1948). In this feature, he turned in a creepily effective performance as a sadistic guard in a sanitarium where a corrupt judge is hiding out from the authorities who are hunting him. And in 1950, he was featured in another underrated noir, Armored Car Robbery, as Benny McBride, who participates in the heist of the film’s title in a misguided effort to win back the affections of his gold-digging wife (Adele Jergens). In his final noir, Edge of Doom (1950), he played a tough-talking detective investigating the murder of a local priest; Fowley was singled out for mention by the critic for the Los Angeles Times, who included the actor in his praise of the film’s “skillful supporting cast.”

Fowley may be unfamiliar to you, but I encourage you to keep your eyes peeled for his many feature film (and small screen) performances. He was always interesting, frequently outstanding, and definitely worth a look. And remember that name!

Join me tomorrow for Day 17 of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 16, 2022.

7 Responses to “Noirvember Day 16: Who is Douglas Fowley?”

  1. Always liked Fowley. He plays a shady reporter in The Glass Alibi . Good too in Shake Hands with Murder ( costarring Iris Adrian). In contrast ,Douglas is a scientist who also doubles as the state executioner in Lady in The Death House.
    And of course Armored car Robbery.

    • I didn’t realize how many movies he was in — it’s a shame he’s not better known. I forgot about The Lady in the Death House! And I will have to look for Shake Hands with Murder — thanks for the tip, Vienna!

  2. This post is really quite something. I have seen Fowley in many of the movies you mention above and in most of the noirs. And yet I have never connected all the dots, least of all to his characterization of the manic movie director. Fascinating! Thanks for opening my eyes; I won’t miss him again.

  3. If femme fatales are the swizzle sticks that stir the Manhattans, then character actors like Douglas Fowley are the bitters that bring out the flavor of the booze!

    SINGING IN THE RAIN in one of my favorite pictures, in no small part because of Fowley’s performance, and I’m always excited to see him pop up in other films. I can’t wait to check out DESPERATE and EDGE OF DOOM.

    • This is the best! “If femme fatales are the swizzle sticks that stir the Manhattans, then character actors like Douglas Fowley are the bitters that bring out the flavor of the booze!”

      I hope you get a chance to see these. I could’ve sworn that Desperate was on YouTube, but I don’t see it. But Edge of Doom is there.

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