Obituary: David Brian
Monday 26 July 1993
DAVID BRIAN was one of Joan Crawford's more useful leading men. When Bette Davis turned down Mildred Pierce and Crawford grabbed the role Davis's slow decline at Warner Bros had begun and Crawford was, if unofficially, the studio's most important female star. Crawford's limitations were immense, however, and she could only play these tough women who suffered and suffered. Accordingly she needed not so much co-stars as leading men, as strong as she but not so strong that she could not dominate them.
They were obliged to lounge around her in fedoras and double-breasted suits, smoking and giving her the occasional biff. Many of them were talented actors and David Brian was one of the most individual and weighty. He made his movie debut well down the cast-list of Flamingo Road (1949), but in a plum role, as the political wheeler-dealer whom she, a cabaret dancer at that point, marries. And since Sydney Greenstreet is trying to ruin him, a gun manages to go off in his house while Joan is visiting.
Warners were so pleased with him that they upped him to co-star billing five films later, in The Damned Don't Cry (1950). Crawford was an ambitious girl from the wrong side of the tracks and Brian a dangerous crime boss who can nevertheless be manipulated to serve her ends. In their third and last pairing, This Woman Is Dangerous (1952) she is a ritzy gangster's moll - his - and a criminal mastermind with Brian as the most ruthless member of her gang.
Brian also appeared with Davis in Beyond The Forest (1949), as the Chicago millionaire who promises her, a discontented small-town wife, marriage but finds he cannot go through with it. Around the same time he was loaned to MGM for by far his best film, Intruder In The Dust (1949), scripted from William Faulkner's novel by Ben Maddow and directed by Clarence Brown. He played a lawyer in a small Alabama town, one of the only three white people to believe that Juano Hernandez is not a murderer; the others are a boy, Claude Jarman Jnr, and a spinster, Elizabeth Patterson. The film is moving when they are eventually joined by the victim's father, Porter Hall, and it was the most intelligent and cogent statement on race relations yet made by an American company.
By the time Brian made his third film with Crawford it was clear that the public was not going to make him a star. Except in Intruder In The Dust, he was typecast as an inscrutable, classy tough guy with blond looks unlikely to win him distaff fans. He was a showman whom Esther Williams marries in Million Dollar Mermaid (1952) while pining for Victor Mature, after which he was mainly villainous in various undistinguished Westerns.
Brian had started his career as a chorus boy, with further experience as singer and dancer in vaudeville and night-clubs. As Hollywood lost interest he did not care to return to the stage, nor did he embrace television as many falling or fallen Hollywood stars did. But he did star in an early television series, Mr District Attorney. His last movie credit was The Seven Minutes (1971), a rather curious enterprise which concludes with a prosecution for obscenity. The former soft- porn director Russ Meyer made it for 20th Century-Fox, from the novel by Irving Wallace, with several names in cameo roles: David Brian played a cardinal.
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