Dana Andrews did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Captain Fred Derry in The Best Years of Our Lives.
One may think Dana Andrews to merely be a somewhat limited leading man if they, for whatever reason, only ever watched his performances in films like Boomerang and Laura. This idea is instantly shattered if they were to watch his very emotional work in The Ox-Bow Incident. His performance The Best Years of Our Lives Andrews meets a bit of an understanding between this two sides in his portrayal of Fred Derry. Andrews portrays Fred most of the time as a mostly unassuming man who even stays unassuming when dealing with many of his problems involving his return home. These includes his inability to find himself decent employment as well as dealing with very shallow wife (Virginia Mayo) who obviously seemed to have married Fred mainly for his soldier's pay. Andrews plays Fred much of the time as dealing with this problems with a brave face to say the least as he presents Fred as trying to merely pick up the pieces after coming back from the war.
Andrews's method here is quite effective though as he does not portray Fred as being an unemotional or boring man, but rather a reserved one who doesn't ever rely on someone else for his problems. Andrews does well in the role by taking this approach as he makes him likable enough in his own way, but also suggests a certain way that Fred has chosen to deal with his problems which is mainly to not acknowledge them. This leaves Andrews to take on a particularly subtle approach for the character which actually works incredibly well. Andrews brings such tremendous emotional intensity in just his eyes yet in an interesting way he's not exactly forceful about which shows how in a way Fred lets his problems pile up because of his refusal to stand up and say something. Andrews though is fantastic in the way he internalizes the problems of Fred so well as even though he does not act out his frustrations, Andrews always makes you feel those frustrations within Fred's reserved frame.
There is technically only really one major moment that Fred reacts outwardly which is his dream, fitting since Fred obviously would not be able to control himself in such a circumstance. Andrews handles the scene well as basically a hysteria as he realizes the sting of the memory which is a traumatic battle. It's a strong moment but his most remarkable part of his performance is again a silent moment where Fred goes back into an old bomber and consciously relives his trauma. Andrews makes Fred a ticking time bomb of sorts as there is always that tension Andrews suggests in Fred, yet when he does break open here Andrews still takes a restrained approach. Andrews does so much in merely his expression and the growing distress as he shows bluntly Fred being overwhelmed by all of the pain he had suffered during combat once again. Andrews reveals all of his pent up anguish, although still in a silent but oh so powerful moment.
Andrews performance here is a great example of someone thriving in a tricky role. Fred's nature even extends to his relationship with Al's daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) since Fred has to keep his affections in check since he is married. Andrews and Wright manage to develop kinda an unspoken chemistry rather honestly and very much earn the final moments since they suggest how the two feel simply through their glances. This is really the testament to the whole power of Dana Andrews performance where he does so much with so little. It is not even that the role is underwritten, it isn't at all actually, it is though that to be true to Fred's character he had to give a somewhat distant performance. Andrews thrives though within these limitations giving a poignant and moving portrait of a man suffering from post traumatic stress yet fights within himself not to let it affect him. It is terrific work and he should have been recognized right along with Harold Russell's and Fredric March's Oscar winning turns.