The Canadian-born Dwan moved with his family at a young age in the United States, where he also grew up. After finishing school, he studied electrical engineering and worked for a time as an electrical engineer in Chicago at a company that produced mercury vapor lamps. One of the first customers was the film company Essany, for which he wrote several screenplays.
Finally, he joined the profession completely and worked from 1909 to screenwriter, first in Chicago, then in New York and in 1911 in Hollywood. Soon he also directed and alone 1911-1918 he was responsible for over 205 films, the duration was rarely more than 15 minutes. During this time, Dwan was sort of jack of all trades as a director, editor, screenwriter and occasional extra in personal union. Thus he acquired a thorough knowledge of both the technical aspects as well as through drama and working with actors. As a pioneer in the field in 1915, he was the inventor of the dolly shot in which the camera is mounted on wheels and the movements of the actor follows. He used the technique for the first time in the film David Harum, where he filmed a walk of actor William H. Crane. In the same year, was responsible for the solution of a technical problem that DW Griffith had during the filming of Intolerance: Dwan mounted the movable Tracking a crane and thus won even more ways to vary shots in a long shot. Dwan was responsible for some of the early successes of Mary Pickford at Famous Players as well as Lillian Gish and Dorothy Gish in Triangle. Since 1916 he turned preferably with his good friend Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and directed beyond at Paramount some successful strip for Gloria Swanson.
With the advent of sound film, the career of Dwan was rapid and after his return from England in 1934, he was found mainly in B- movies again. Only the commercial and artistic success of two films with Shirley Temple, Heidi and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, helped to bring him back to the list of sought-after directors. In later years, Dwan expressed always fascinated about the professionalism and the acting abilities of Temple, which brought some of its best work under his direction. For 20th Century Fox, he was allowed to take place the monumental strip Suez with Tyrone Power and Loretta Young in scene, only to shortly thereafter to sink back to the level of second-rate productions down. It was not until the mid- 1940s recovered his career and he began his successful collaboration with Republic Pictures, where he made some excellent films: You were our comrade, Montana Belle and particularly the Western Tennessee 's Partner.
For his services to the American cinema Allan Dwan received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for his life's work.