André de Toth | Slattery's Hurricane | Man in the Saddle | Carson City | Springfield Rifle | Crime Wave | Riding Shotgun | The Two-Headed Spy | Day of the Outlaw

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André de Toth

André de Toth directed films, first in Hungary, then mainly in Hollywood.

Subjects in André de Toth's films include:

Community:

Settings: Characters: Imagery: Deceit: Mystery: Technology: Architecture: Geometry: Sound: Camera Movement: Color: Costumes and Color: Costumes:

Slattery's Hurricane

A Semi-documentary - but not a crime film

Slattery's Hurricane (1949) shows some of the features of the semi-documentary crime film. Biggest difference: it is not a crime movie, but rather a melodrama with only a small subplot dealing with crime elements. It resembles the semi-docs in being about a quasi-militarized government institution that uses a lot of high technology equipment, in this case, Navy pilots who monitor hurricanes for the US Weather Bureau. Like other semi-docs, it has some location filming, and opens with an official sounding narrator explaining the institution. While there is no crime, the characters do face danger in the course of the story, like the heroes of the crime semi-docs.

The film stars Richard Widmark, and Widmark later made a similar "semi-doc without crime", Joseph M. Newman's Red Skies of Montana (1952), which deals with government firefighters. Just about all the semi-doc characteristics found in Slattery's Hurricane listed above, can also be found in Red Skies of Montana. Widmark is quite convincing at playing intelligent, technically skilled characters in these films, and in Elia Kazan's semi-doc, Panic in the Streets (1950).

Widmark's room is full of books, suggesting his character's intelligent nature. This is a long tradition in comic books - comic book heroes almost always live in book-lined apartments, symbolizing their reverence for knowledge - but it is less common in the movies.

Links to Crime Wave

The characters here are similar to those in Crime Wave. Both films have a slightly older macho man who is a real jerk, who mistreats a nice young leading man type who is married. There are differences. The older man (Widmark) here has a girl friend, a character with no analogue in Crime Wave. And Widmark makes a play for the young man's wife; while the cop (Sterling Hayden) in Crime Wave has no romantic relationships in the film, being seemingly all business.

Other characters in de Toth films get involved with institutions that house society's unfortunates: the mental institution here, the parole system in Crime Wave. Both the psychiatrist here and the parole officer in Crime Wave are sympathetic, articulate characters, who offer leadership to others in the films.

Accents

The two candy manufacturers here have strong foreign accents. These are typical of André de Toth's interest in unusual speech patterns. The admiral also has a slight Southern accent, as does the woman Widmark meets in the bar. As in Springfield Rifle, Toth keeps introducing new characters throughout the course of the picture.

Military Ceremonies: a contrast to Springfield Rifle

One of the highlights of the film is the big Navy award ceremony, in which Widmark is honored. It is treated with total reverence. This is just a few years after World War II. But Toth will soon stage a sequence which is almost its exact opposite - the equally formal military ceremony in which Gary Cooper is branded as a coward in Springfield Rifle. Both sequences do suggest that being part of a uniformed group of men is strongly desired by the films' heroes.

Springfield Rifle will conclude with a second ceremony, in which Cooper is honored. His wife will look on proudly, like the heroine watching Widmark in Slattery's Hurricane.

Glass Walls

The control room, with its large glass wall windows and complex machinery, anticipates the gas station in Crime Wave. The airplane is similarly filled with machinery. There are also large glass windows in the night club set. Scenes in the hero's apartment are also staged through his windows and door. Much is also made of the hangar doors.

Circles

The sets of Slattery's Hurricane are full of circles: All of the circles are perhaps metaphors for the hurricane, the huge circular storm that is the central subject of the movie.

Such filmmakers as Fritz Lang and Raoul Walsh frequently include circles in their compositions. In Lang, such circles tend to be objects. These objects can be quite large, but they are still discrete objects, such as a huge circular table or desk. In Slattery's Hurricane, the circles tend to be environmental. They define huge circular spaces or containers in which the characters operate. The circles tend to be high above the characters' heads defining their whole environment, and spatially controlling their existence.

The costumes in the night club sequence tend to echo the circular motif of the sets. Linda Darnell wears a series of thin circular necklaces. The collar and shoulders of Russell's Navy uniform are circular. And the shawl collar and rounded shoulders of Widmark's tux are beautifully curved.

Rectilinear Imagery

The big Navy award scene, and the second restaurant in which Widmark briefly meets Darnell, are full of rectilinear imagery instead. Even the tables in this second restaurant are square, not circular.

At the award sequence, de Toth includes two pans, in which the heroine walks behind the bleachers. The strong vertical and diagonal lines of the bleacher posts pass in front of the screen, while she walks behind them.

Palm trees are everywhere in this film, as well as other tropical trees. Their trunks make strong vertical, diagonal, or slightly curving arcs throughout the picture. Spiky palm leaves also add to the composition, when Widmark and Darnell are talking at the nightclub. Trees are also important in de Toth's compositions in Man in the Saddle.

Complex Buildings

The shot where Widmark first encounters Russell includes a complex urban landscape, shot on a Miami street. It centers on a very elaborate building seen in the background upper right. These anticipate the highly complex buildings seen in exteriors in Crime Wave.

Pans

The big panning shot over the field near the start of the award sequence is one of de Toth's most character-and-spectacle packed pans. This sequence offers a dramatic visual contrast to the rest of the film. It is entirely rectilinear, with the Navy men standing in regular, straight line formations. There are no circles. And there are no overhead objects or forms controlling the characters spaces. Everyone is standing out on a huge field, with open sky above them.

There is also an interesting pan towards the start of the film, as Widmark moves over the mansion grounds towards the hangar.

Costumes

The film emphasizes men in snow-white clothes. These attract the eye, and also suggest male bonding. They also suggest the semi-tropical locale. At the Navy weather center at the control tower, we see sailors in white T shirts or sailor suits. At the nightclub, Widmark is in a snazzy white tuxedo, while Russell wears his Navy dress white uniform. Later, Russell will carefully fold and hang up the uniform, while wearing black pajamas and dressing gown. This is an example of de Toth's use of all-black costumes for his good guys. The folding has some of the ritualistic "care of the uniform" quality that will later show up in Claire Denis' Beau Travail (1999). The men get back into all-white Navy uniforms for the big award ceremony.

The costume design is by Kay Nelson. She had previously worked on another film with Widmark, William Keighley's The Street with No Name (1948).


Man in the Saddle

Characters

Man in the Saddle (1951) is a Western, one of six André de Toth made with star Randolph Scott. It has some beautiful imagery, but its script has weaknesses. Its big problem: it is full of nasty villains doing terrible things to people. Their relentless villainy is hard to watch or enjoy. The endless fight scenes are hard to take, too, although some ingenuity occurs in the bar fight scene in the middle of the picture. Another problem: you know all about the characters around thirty seconds after their introduction to the picture.

Having a hero persecuted by a vicious gang of villains is an André de Toth theme. The fact that the hero here is strictly working class, being a small rancher attacked by a wealthy rancher, also ties in with the working class protagonists in André de Toth's contemporary crime films. These are all guys just trying to get by, and they have very little money.

The two women in the film are of strikingly different types. The bad woman is marrying a rich man for his money, the good woman is a working rancher who functions as one of the guys in a man's world, earning her own living. It is hard not to see feminist commentary here, suggesting that the bad woman is an example of the traditional feminine role of a woman dependent on men, while the good woman works.

Costumes

The closest any of these villains comes to entertainment is the rejected suitor played by John Russell, who had previously had been the glamorous young Navy good guy in Slattery's Hurricane (1949). Russell looks good in his cowboy garb, which is in a series of vividly colored reds and rusty browns throughout the picture. His clothes resemble those of a traditional Western hero more than anything worn by Randolph Scott throughout the film.

Scott's best costume is the black shirt and pants he wears three quarters through the film. The shirt and trousers are in slightly different shades of black, making a striking color harmony on screen. These recall Gene Nelson's black shirt in Crime Wave, and the black uniforms worn by the police. In both movies, it is counter film conventions to have the heroes dress in black. They look good, however, and there are suggestions that the heroes are using the dark side of their natures as a source of energy.

In other parts of the picture, Scott's leather jacket, and Russell's leather gloves and wide gunbelt, also tie in with André de Toth's interest in leather clothes for men in Crime Wave. Scott's jacket is brown, in keeping with the desaturated colors he wears through much of the film, while Russell's gloves are subtly colored, in harmony with his vividly colored clothes.

Accents and Verbal Effects

The film has a few verbal effects, that continue André de Toth's interest in speech patterns:

Pans

Man in the Saddle has some good pans in it. Many of the scenes of people riding or driving through he countryside are shot as elaborate pans. These tend to follow a character through a very wide arc, in the André de Toth tradition. Sometimes, Toth has characters making a ninety degree turn onto a new road or path; the camera keeps on panning, with the new path more or less following the circumference of a large circle, with the camera at its center. Most of these pans show riders going at top speed, and are designed to create excitement. A series of such pans opens the picture, one after another, showing the villain's party driving to his wedding. Another series of riding pans will occur later in the picture, forming an echo of the first.

One pan is different: when one of the women bids a romantic good night to the hero, Toth pans along with her horse riding out of the hero's ranch. This pan shows the heroine through the hanging branches of a huge tree. It is beautifully composed, to give a masking effect of leaves and branches through which we see the heroine.

There was also a nice pan earlier in the picture, in which the hero says farewell to the other heroine Nan, during the cattle drive. After the brief pan ends its motion, the heroine rides off into the middle distance, while the hero exits through the left side of the frame. Their various exits, done in alternating turn, make a nice sense of rhythm in the shot.

A fight scene is staged along the banks of a stream going down a mountainside, between Scott and Russell. This recalls the river in Springfield Rifle. Both rivers make complex landscapes, full of rocks. Fritz Lang also likes scenes along rocky streams, especially in Westerns. Several of the landscapes have spectacular rock formations in them, as well - 1950's Westerns loved rock filed landscapes. During the fight down the banks of the stream, the characters are regularly moving down the mountain, and Toth pans along with them, too. Such "pans down an angle" are unusual in film history.

The early shots of the stream, going down the mountain in a series of stages, resembles the apartment building in Crime Wave, and its series of outside staircases.

Earlier in this sequence, before the characters have gone up the mountain, there is a complex pan. The camera pans to the left, following Russell, then back to the right, where it picks up the heroine Nan, receding in deep focus, walking up the mountain in the middle of the frame. Just as in the cattle drive, Nan is "exiting" by moving deeper and deeper into the distance in the middle of the frame.

One of the most beautiful sequences in the picture is at the horse corral, near the end. The corral makes a vivid horizontal across the base of the screen. Behind it, a series of tall straight trees make a row of parallel vertical lines. Toth creates some beautiful compositions out of these effects. The last shot of the sequence is especially memorable. It starts out with a perspective shot along the road, showing the cabin on one side, and the corral on the other. This shot is beautiful in itself, as well as echoing earlier such perspective shots in the sequence. Then a pan begins, turning the camera gradually till it faces the corral and the line of trees behind it, which gradually emerge and fill up the screen. This shot of the corral is the most beautiful composition in the entire sequence. The shot then fades away into a dissolve into the next scene. It is a hauntingly beautiful shot. The whole sequence is full of good compositions using the corral, and its wooden fence. At one point, we see a horseman riding into the shot in the far background along the road, while the characters talk into the foreground. The shot is held while the horseman, who turns out to be Russell, comes close to the men. His entrance in the "middle of the frame, deep focus", is the reverse of the two shots in which Nan exits by moving off deep into the frame. This shot has some of the great complexity of the town cityscapes seen in the film, with the corral, road, trees all making a visually complex landscape.

Pans are also used in the film's interiors. They are less spectacular and wide angled than the exterior pans, but they are still part of Toth's visual vocabulary.

Circles

The villain's ranch home interior has a circular doorway. Through it, one can see a staircase, whose underside is also a huge circular arc. It is an environment inside of giant circles. In this, it resembles the airplane interior in Slattery's Hurricane.

There are also oval panels at the bar door. And many of the town's windows and doors have circular arches at their top.

Staging Through Doors

The interior sets, such as those of the hotel and its bar, the hero's house and porch, and the villain's hacienda Rancho Skull, are built with doors. Frequently we see through the doors, into other rooms. Sometimes the door is at the back of the set, leading into another room with fairly deep focus photography. Other times, the door is at the front of the shot, and we see the rest of the set through it. There will be similar staging effects in Crime Wave, at the hero's apartment, where we see into different rooms off the main living room. The big fight in the bar is unusually staged, with light coming only from a door at the far back of the set.

Unlike Otto Preminger's Fallen Angel (1945), where Preminger's moving camera is constantly traveling through doors from room to room, Toth is generally content to stage shots looking through doors. Windows are also used by Toth as masking effects.

The other interesting scene of visual style is the finale, which takes place in a wind and sand storm. This is in the Western town of the story, not in the countryside. The film constantly shows interiors, through which the violent wind storm outside is visible through windows or doors. We also see scenes on the street, and on porches. The mise-en-scène here is admirable. It gives a delicate and original visual effect to everything that is depicted. A storm was previously at the center of Slattery's Hurricane.

Buildings in Exteriors

One of the most beautiful shots in the picture shows a street scene in the town, seen through a second story window of a building. The street scene is complex, with a long perspective down many buildings, and people and horses moving slowly through the street. Such cityscapes recall those of Glendale in Crime Wave.

The film also gets some good compositions in a sequence outside the villain's ranch. We see the villain and his wife, each talking against a different section of the building, seen in perspective. The low wall framing the estate, and the road beyond it, are also used by Toth for effective compositions. They anticipate the use of the corral fence and road as building blocks of compositions later in the movie.


Carson City

Toth Subjects

Carson City (1952) is the second of Toth's Westerns starring Randolph Scott.

Like Springfield Rifle, Carson City deals with a technological innovation in the Old West: here building a railroad through a mountain. Just as Springfield Rifle featured a new kind of gun, in Carson City a new kind of air drill helps the construction crew tunnel through the mountain.

Navigation plays a role some Toth films. In Carson City, the hero uses a then innovative technique, of drilling a tunnel from both sides with plans to meet in the middle. Scott and the miners uses a map and drafting equipment in aid of designing this. We also see surveying equipment used by the railway builders.

Toth's espionage dramas Springfield Rifle and The Two-Headed Spy show the progress of a war, with frequent looks at military leadership councils. In Carson City, we follow the progress of building a railway, with many scenes showing business leadership councils: railway officials, bankers, local businessmen's groups. Many of these are in fancy, robber baron style suits, rather like the fancy dress uniforms in Toth's espionage films.

Settings

Man in the Saddle ends with a giant windstorm. Carson City includes both a dynamiting sequence and a landslide, both of which stir up huge clouds of dust.

Carson City has the mountain side setting popular in Toth. But there are no spectacular scenes in which the characters slide down mountains.

Springfield Rifle has characters communicating over long distances in the mountains using a heliograph (flashing mirror). In Carson City, the work crews use a red flag, and shouting look-outs.

As in other Toth, Carson City emphasizes the multi-story facades of various buildings in Carson City. This includes the two-story building containing the newspaper. It has a balcony, on the second floor.

Our first view of the newspaper office is through a window from the street. One can see outward from the newspaper office into the street. Inside, one can see from the main printing area, into the owner's office. Toth likes such depth stagings, with visibility from one region into another.

The owner's office has that Toth favorite, glass walls.

The newspaper printing area is a large room with a staircase along one wall. The saloon in Day of the Outlaw has a similar staircase.

Both the owner's office, and the San Francisco office at the beginning, are full of books. This suggests educated characters who value knowledge.

Moving Camera

Scott and his brother have a long lateral tracking shot, as they walk through the town. This shows many sidewalks and lower-level building facades. This is set at twilight, and many buildings are lit from inside, with their windows glowing onto the street.

The scene where the heroine discovers her father's dead body, features two tracks. One is upstairs, while she searches for him. A second follows her on the lower floor.

The Eternal Triangle, Toth Style

Carson City includes a romantic triangle, constructed on a familiar pattern from other Toth films: The heroine is another of Toth's working women. We first see her setting type on the newspaper, literally getting her hands dirty.

Dying Messages

Carson City includes a dying message. This is a popular plot in prose mystery stories, in which a dying murder victim leaves a cryptic message behind. The detectives have to interpret this message, and figure out who the killer is.

Dying messages are rarer in films than in prose mystery fiction. They also appear in some Western films directed by Joseph H. Lewis:

Mystery Plot

In addition to a dying message, the mystery has other plot features. The bad guys have a false front as miners, the way the crooks in Slattery's Hurricane impersonated candy manufacturers.

The crooks do things to the wagon's pin to make the wagon's destruction look like an accident.

The champagne bottles furnish a visually vivid clue.

Suspicion is prominent:

Red and Green: Action Scenes

Scenes in Carson City tend to be organized around overall color schemes. Color schemes are common in traditional Hollywood films (1935-1970), although not universal.

Many of the action scenes in Carson City are organized around "red and green" color schemes. The majority of bright colors in these scenes will be shades of red or green. Neutral colors such as white, grey, brown or sometimes black will often be mixed in.

The main scenes in red-and-green:

The opening stagecoach robbery is full of characters in red-and-brown clothes, as discussed below. The coach is red, horses are red. The path is often red: one wonders if the ground has been painted. There is much green vegetation; a green bag; a greenish shirt.

At the mine, immediately following, we see a villain in a green shirt and green-blue vest. The wallpaper is green. There is a reddish bucket. A villain has a green coat, red tie, a brown-and-white vest.

The railroad office in San Francisco has dark green walls, red curtains, a red wood desk. But its books are multi-colored: some are red or green, but other are yellow. And some of the men are wearing dark blue suits.

The dynamite scene open with the hero in green pants and a very dark shirt that looks greenish; his assistant Hardrock waving a red flag at the mine, and wearing his red-and-black shirt. Soon the heroine rides up, in a bright green skirt. There is a red horse.

The town scene immediately after, shows buildings with red brick and green paint. Plus the characters in the same costumes.

At the big scene of trapped miners, Scott is back in his green outfit. Mr. Sharon shows up in a light red suit. Hardrock is still in his red shirt: he seems to have just one costume, but it helps identify him, and is great for the film's color design! A spectacular machine is eventually shown, with a spinning red wheel. A few touches of blue occur: the heroine is in a blue-green dress; a trapped miner is in blue.

Red and Blue: The Meeting and Detection Scenes

Scenes that involve thinking in Carson City tend to be in "red and blue" color schemes. These include the big meeting in the room to discuss the town's future. And scenes where the good guy characters do detective work.

The main scenes in red-and-blue:

The meeting room has red furniture. The bank is wearing a gray suit, but with a red vest and blue-green tie. The tie color-harmonizes with blue-green curtains, and similarly colored pictures. The banker often stands with these in the background. The whole effect is far more blue than green. Meanwhile, the newsman is in a blue suit. So is a man in a blue suit and red tie. The villain has a red vest under his tan coat.

People keep wearing these blue suits at the newsman's home. There are also red chairs, a table cloth, lamps, books.

When investigating the wagon crash, Scott is in a dark blue outfit. Hardrock is still in his red shirt, and there are red horses. The scene in not purely in red-and-blue: there is green vegetation.

Soon, we the see the newsman investigating. He's in his blue suit; his daughter is in a new blue dress with red belt. The newsman's tie is very dark, but whether it is dark red or black I find hard to tell.

When the newsman continues his sleuthing at the saloon, the bartender and patrons are in a mix of red and blue clothes.

At the mine, the sleuthing newsman uses a red horse. He meets a villain in red-and-blue. While these characters are in red-and-blue, the mine itself is still a red-and-green set.

Costumes and Color: Red and Brown Clothes

Red-and-brown clothes occur in a number of Toth films. The opening stagecoach robbery has a number of such costumes: Soon, back at the mine, we see the villain's red tie and brown vest, he wears with his green jacket. This combination of green-red-brown clothes sometimes occurs in Toth.

The red, and occasional green, in these clothes, contributes to the red-and-green color schemes of these early scenes.

Costumes and Color: Gray, Blue and Brown Suits

Toth definitely did not invent ideas Americans have about gray, blue or brown suits. But Carson City is using popular fashion conventions to help characterize the film's men.

The banker tends to be in gray suits. This is a prestige form of dress for American men, associated with successful, upper crust authority figures.

Hero Scott gets his own gray suit at the start, indicating that he too is a successful man (at his engineering career). The gray does not look as pure, as elegant or as upper class as the banker's suits, however.

The newspaper owner and his assistant (the hero's brother) are seen in early meetings in blue suits. Blue suits make a man look highly respectable, socially established and even authoritative - but not as wealthy or successful as gray suits. And this is exactly the social position of the newspaper men: highly respected and respectable, but not rich or town bosses.

When the brother turns against the hero, and makes false charges of murder, he is in a brown suit. Brown clothes are not recommended by fashion experts for American men, and are rarely worn today in real life. Here, brown is associated with a man doing a bad wrong thing (making a charge of murder without good evidence). Brown is also associated with bad guys and wrong actions in Vincente Minnelli.

Eventually, the main villain (Raymond Massey) will be in two different brown suits:


Springfield Rifle

Links to Crime Wave

Springfield Rifle (1952) has similar subject matter and characters to André de Toth's later Crime Wave (1954), even though Springfield Rifle is a Civil War era Western, and Crime Wave is a modern day film noir. Both star decent men who have been disgraced in the eyes of the law. Both men are caught between gangs of outlaws and the authorities. Both men have decent but traumatized wives. They are the only people in the picture with any sort of family or relationship to women: both the authorities and the gang of crooks seem to be part of all-male, all business worlds. The hero and his wife meet in the only domestic spaces in both films; everybody else is seen only in public places or official headquarters. The authorities are a bunch of nasties who persecute the hero in both films, while the crooks are a bunch of no-good low lifes who are unpleasantly vicious. The crooks are into illicit money making schemes in both films. The authorities are elaborately uniformed in both films, and have a militarized environment.

Rifle movies

Despite the similarity in titles, there is little resemblance between Springfield Rifle and Anthony Mann's Winchester 73 (1950). In Mann's film, there is a single rifle, and it plays a continuing role in the plot of the entire film from start to finish. In Springfield Rifle, the title rifles only show up at the finale. There are large groups of them, used in the final battle, and no individual rifle is of any importance. The Springfield rifles are only marginally related to the rest of the plot. They might even be considered something of an afterthought, another element thrown into an already complex plot.

A Semi-documentary - in Western form

Elements of this film recall the undercover subgenre of semi-documentary films. It is especially close to Gordon Douglas' I Was a Communist for the FBI (1951), which was also shot at Warner Brothers the year before. As in the earlier film, the hero is unable to tell his family about his undercover role, thus causing anguish for his teenage son, and problems at his school. Also, in both films the hero tries to leave his undercover role, but is refused by his superiors. In both films, the hero is set up to appear not just as a crook, as was typical of most semi-docs, but as an actual traitor to the United States, and as an ally of its enemies, here the Confederacy.

However, Springfield Rifle lacks the anti-Communist political aspects of I Was a Communist for the FBI. The hero's motivation for his actions is to bring the US Civil War to a speedy end, thus saving lives. This sentiment is repeated twice in the picture, and is clearly endorsed by the filmmakers. It is an unusually pacifistic message. There is also a scene where the hero taunts a military officer about the way he led his men to death. Otherwise, the film stays out of the politics of the Civil War. It is in fact careful not to offend the sensibilities of either Northerners or Southerners. Aside from its brief pacifistic sentiments, the film has no political elements whatsoever.

In fact, Edwin B. Du Par was cinematographer on both films, Springfield Rifle and I Was a Communist for the FBI. Du Par had shot numerous Warner Brothers shorts during the 1930's, such as Roy Mack's The Red Shadow (1932). During the 1950's, he became a special effects photographer at Warners. Only from 1950 onwards did Du Par concentrate on the principal cinematography of feature films.

Toth's previous film, Carson City, had two cast members who had previously appeared in I Was a Communist for the FBI: good guy Richard Webb, and villainous James Millican.

Storytelling

Springfield Rifle unfolds beautifully, like a piece of music. It has great storytelling flow. Many of the scenes introduce a new character, often in relationship to an existing character. In the scene, the viewer wants to find out everything about the new character, and his relationship to the other people and the plot. This desire is usually fulfilled very satisfactorily. Then the whole cycle starts over in the next scene, and another new character. Even when we already know both characters in a scene, we usually get some new relationship between them. Eventually a huge mosaic is built up.

Interwoven with all of this is a mystery, which is set forth right at the start of the film: how are the rustlers getting their inside information on the Union soldiers' cattle treks? This mystery runs through the film, and is gradually filled in. Springfield Rifle is more of an actual mystery story than are many crime films. It starts out with a mystery, one that is gradually and logically resolved by the end of the picture.

Each encounter with new characters is staged by Toth in a visually pleasing manner. This beautiful flow of images seems to work hand in hand with the flow of the plot. It gives the film its musical effect, a cinematic experience that seems to unfold with the sort of inner logic and beauty of a piece of classical music.

Pans

The chief kind of camera movement here is the pan. They are regularly employed by Toth. The pans often follow the movements of characters. They can be slightly and beautifully out of sync with the characters too, creating a beautiful syncopated feel.

Springfield Rifle shows some of Toth's spectacular, nearly 360 degree pans. One very fine shot opens with cameras panning across some young horses, gamboling in a field. After the camera has turned through nearly 180 degrees, it picks up people for the first time, including the hero. It then keeps panning, following the progress of the men. It is a truly spectacular shot. Either half would be a well constructed, memorably composed pan. Putting them both together all in one shot gives a thrilling visual experience.

When the charges are read in the court martial, the camera pans perhaps 180 degrees around the room, from the prosecutor to the hero.

Toth also moves the camera forward to match the progress of his characters. These movements tend to underscore the motion of the actors.

Toth loves to show his characters in motion. A film about the Cavalry gives Toth plenty of opportunities to show columns of men in motion, either on horseback or on foot. Many of the shots have a kinetic quality, with the characters in full tilt motion across the screen. This motion is combined with the frequent pans and other small camera movements to underscore the kinetic effect. The whole can be considered as a work of Kinetic Art, a little device in near constant motion.

Accents

The young Fess Parker shows up, with his rich mountain accent. Parker would become a huge star three years later, in Davy Crockett.

Circles

Springfield Rifle contains a few circles:

Rectilinear Imagery

The room with the boxes, outside of where the conspirators meet, is filled with rectilinear patterns.

The court martial is in an austere, purely rectilinear room.

Landscape

Several scenes are staged on mountains and hillsides, recalling Man in the Saddle. Cooper and a bad guy roll down a hill during a fight.

The big horse raid in the picture's middle, is full of clouds of dust. These recall the windstorm that concludes Man in the Saddle.

Scenes in snowy landscapes anticipate Day of the Outlaw.

Architecture

Buildings in a Western town are often multi-story, with elaborate facades of balconies. These anticipate the apartment building with multi-story porches and staircases in Crime Wave.

Other buildings have outdoor staircases in Springfield Rifle. Toth shoots through the slats of one, showing people ascending.

Color

The early scenes emphasize the blue-and-yellow Cavalry uniforms. When Cooper rides, his uniform has a yellow cape, something uncommon in 1950's Westerns. This underscores the yellow in the Cavalry uniforms. The hero's horse, and that of his second in command, are brown with perhaps a reddish tinge.

The court martial is full of reddish wood tables, including the table where the hero sits. Matching reddish wood is around a window behind the hero. There is also a red-white-and-blue US flag. The walls have a strange dark pinkish tinge. Along with the blue-and-yellow Cavalry uniforms, this makes a red-yellow-and-blue color scheme. Including all three primary colors red-yellow-and-blue is a standard practice in color design, in many media, including film and painting.

When the hero is expelled, the scene takes place outdoors, among the fort buildings. These are weathered, washed-out looking wood, in a tan or mild beige color. They make a very neutral background for the colorful costumes.


Crime Wave

Links to the Semi-Documentary Film

Crime Wave (1954) is a film that is marginally related to the semi-docs. It has policemen characters, and location filming in Los Angeles. However, these policemen are not heroic. Sterling Hayden's cop is a bully, terrorizing the innocent ex-con played by Gene Nelson. And much of the police's "routine leg-work" seems to consist mainly of bullying suspects and informers.

There is no scientific detection by the police. By contrast, Nelson's character is the one involved in science, being an expert airplane mechanic. His airplane work recalls the heroes of Slattery's Hurricane.

Gene Nelson

This film is a change of pace role for Gene Nelson, who mainly worked as a dancer in brightly colorful musicals. This seems to be his only film noir. It has a similar atypical quality in his career as Vincent Sherman's crime thriller Backfire (1950) does in singer Gordon MacRae's. Nelson in fact sometimes worked as a supporting actor / dancer to MacRae's leading man / singer in such film musicals as The Daughter of Rosie O'Grady (1950) and Oklahoma! (1955).

Nelson would go on to a long career as a TV director, as well as that of a few 1960's musicals. His graceful work recalls his fluidity as a dancer.

Costumes

Crime Wave is full of characters in the black leather jacketed uniforms of the LAPD. Hollywood only seemed to discover the LAPD around 1953, with such works as Fritz Lang's The Blue Gardenia (1953) and Fred Wilcox' Code Two (1953). I have no idea why. Perhaps the LAPD introduced new uniforms around this time. They are certainly photogenic. In the earlier Trapped (Richard Fleischer, 1949) we see a brief close-up of a leather-clad motorcycle cop, but it is hard to tell if he has the same sort of uniform we associate with the LAPD.

In general, the clothes in Crime Wave tend to be all black or all white. One thinks of Hayden's white dress shirt, or Nelson's equally black shirt. Also Dub Taylor's white clothes. Glennon's photography makes the white clothes in particular look positively incendiary. They seem like white fire burning up the screen. Nelson's working class ex-con never wears a tie in the picture, while the police are in suits, as is more typical of film noir.

Detective Kelly is dressed in a sharp suit, and is in fact the best dressed man in the picture. His appearance is far more typical of the slick men of film noir, than are most of the other characters in the film. The other plain clothes policemen look pretty seedy. In fact, Crime Wave has some of the most de-glamorized police of any film noir.

Unsympathetic Police

Neither Lang's The Blue Gardenia nor Toth's Crime Wave is at all sympathetic to the police, depicting them as bullies and sneaks. Some other common Lang and Toth aspects of their depiction of the police: both films show police women working along side the police men. Both films show the police as completely oblivious to romance. This is especially striking in Crime Wave, where Sterling Hayden gets top billing, but no love interest. Hayden is depicted as a threat to Nelson's home and marriage.

The dialogue suggests that both the crooks and police exist in a common, crime oriented world, one of which is completely alien to the world of "squares": ordinary people who get married and have families, like Nelson and his wife. By contrast, the sympathetic parole officer is shown to be married.

The obnoxious character of Hayden's detective is underlined by his rude treatment of his subordinates. When he tells Detective Kelly to "Hop to it!" after giving him an order, one suspects that every audience member would like to slug him. Kelly is depicted throughout as an energetic leg man, always pursing investigations at high speed at a wide variety of locations. He seems a lot more decent and hard working than Hayden's boss. Gayle Kellogg, who played Kelly, had small roles in a number of early 1950s pictures.

Pans

Crime Wave is full of pans. Some of these go nearly 360 degrees. 180 degree pans are common. All of the pans seem to sweep through a lot of complex visuals. These wide arcs of panning are unusual in Hollywood films, and give Crime Wave a distinctive visual style. As in Richard Fleischer, there tend to be fixed compositions at various points on which the camera stops moving.

While most of the pans are horizontal, there are some unusual vertical pans as well. One shot of Nelson's apartment building shows the staircase in deep focus, then pans up to the second floor hallway.

Circular Staging: based on a series of Pans

In addition to actual pans, we have what might be called circular staging: Even when Toth is not filming an actual circular pan, the cumulative effect of his staging is to show the viewers a broad circular arc of his location.

Viewers are often dis-oriented in these stagings. For example, Hayden's desk at Homicide is only revealed at the end of the first 180 degree pan. The coordinates of the desk are likely to be "upside down" in the viewer's mind after their circular journey. It is hard to reason exactly where the desk is, after such a circuitous introduction of it. The effect is compounded by the cross cutting that follows, to Dub Taylor sitting in the visitor's chair in front of the desk. We have not seen this chair or the door behind it during the pan. It is even further on, and would have been the next stage of the circular arc. So both the desk and the visitor's chair are somewhat lost in space. The viewer knows how to walk to them, but not is not actually very clear about where they are on a floor plan, or in terms of rectilinear coordinates. Actually, study of the film allows us to conclude that Hayden's desk is along the far wall of the office, near the first door. A different set of shots would have made this instantly obvious.

Similarly, where we are in Glendale at the end is deeply confusing. The viewer always knows that they are on the main streets, but where exactly is hard to tell. It can be like being in the Mad Teacup ride in Disneyland, spun around and around.

Composition: Using Buildings

Several of the compositions are frontal, shooting walls face on, parallel to the plane of the camera. These compositions often include alleys or hallways that recede very deeply into the image. These too are shot frontally, so the alley recedes straight away from the viewer. This style gives an odd effect on screen.

Several of the shots involve high walls. These suggest the characters and their concerns are fairly small potatoes in the big city. The shots of high buildings are some of the most beautiful in the picture. They reveal de Toth's gift for composition.

Related to the building shots: images of an isolated character, standing at the sharp corner of two building walls. We see such shots of the wounded crook, towards the beginning, and one with Hayden at the end. Both shots emphasize the physical weakness of their characters, and their isolation. It also suggests their psychological complexity, and ambiguity. The two walls seem to suggest the characters ability to be multi-faceted.

One of the most beautiful shots occurs near the end of the picture, when Nelson is rushing back to the apartment house where is wife is being held captive. First we see a perspective shot down an alley way, through which Nelson's car appears. The alley buildings are full of interesting projections. Then we pan to the left, across an open parking area, around 90 degrees. We see the apartment building from the rear. It is isolated and stands alone, taking up around one half of the screen. This sort of stand alone structure is unusual in film. Its isolation is emphasized by the empty space on either side, fairly symmetrically distributed. The apartment is full of outdoor staircases and back porches, leading up to the various apartments. The camera is facing directly towards the building, in Toth's frontal style. Now the camera begins to track inward towards the building, fairly rapidly. A principal effect: we see the staircases and porches in greater and greater detail. They are very complex, and the revealed detail from the tracking is even more so. It is a fascinating visual effect. The frontal nature of the shot is key to the kind of details we see revealed by the tracking. There are very slight changes in perspective, small modifications to the angle in which we see the staircases. There are also just a plain large number of staircases on screen. The effect is a sort of visual overload, a shot with a plethora of detail.

The Opening

Crime Wave opens with a scene at a gas station. Just as in Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past (1947), this station has a peaked roof-awning that extends out over the front of the station, and glass walls that allow one to see inside. In both films, the architecture of the station itself is a big attraction. A similar gas station shows up in Vincente Minnelli's The Bad and the Beautiful (1954). I do not recall stations built like this when I was a kid in Michigan in 1960, but perhaps this style was more popular in California, where these films were shot. These stations always add plenty of geometrical patterns to the shots in which they're featured. The two stations are by no means identical; they are variations on a common theme.

Crime Wave uses the high contrast, deep focus photography popular in film noir. The shots around the gas pump are intriguingly staged in deep focus. The pumps form a series of white columns in the foreground. Between them, in the distance, we see the street, which is largely black and in darkness. Characters in the foreground, such as the crook Morgan, tend to stand in front of the pumps, and be in light colored clothing. By contrast, we see the motor cycle policeman in between the pumps, in deep focus. He is in his black police uniform. These scenes, which also include pans, must have been staged with extreme care, so that the proper alternating pumps and background were properly aligned.

One of the pans moves away from the pumps, to concentrate entirely on the policeman, his motorcycle, and the dark street beyond. The policeman seems to entirely belong to this world of blackness. His black clothes and the black street seem integrated. Similarly, Dub Taylor's white clothes and the white gas station also seem like one world. By contrast, the crooks seem like intruders in both worlds.

Many Hollywood directors use details of the background to frame their actors. There is an especially inventive shot of this kind in the opening, where we see the fallen police man and the crook between the pumps and the car. The gas hose loops under the image of the crook, and over the image of the cop in the background. Its S-shape is the only curving line in a collection of verticals, and is very conspicuous.

Two diagonal lines sweep out of one wall of the station interior; they form a tilted V. The director has Charles Bronson crouch down near the angle of the V; this makes a vivid composition. This V image is perhaps related to the shots of men near corners of buildings.

Sound and Accents

Naturalistic sound is used throughout the picture. It often completely replaces background music. Often the effect is quite odd. Just as the visuals in Crime Wave have an off kilter quality, so does the sound.

Many of the performers have accents. Two of the characters have foreign accents. Dub Taylor has a strong Southern accent, of the kind not often heard in old Hollywood films. The kind hearted boss at the airport has a slight accent that reminds one of Dean Jagger. Perhaps Toth, as a Hungarian immigrant, was more alive to the sounds of America than other directors. Sterling Hayden has a mannered way of talking here, that he did not employ in his other pictures. Perhaps the actors were coached in distinctive speech rhythms.

A Different Looking City

California looks different in this picture. There are two shots of trolley cars in the film, one right in front of the building that contains police headquarters - one remembers that the crime thriller Trapped (Richard Fleischer, 1949) took us to a Los Angeles Trolley car barn. We also see buses. This is different from the car culture that dominates much of modern Los Angeles.

Glendale has an old fashioned, small town look. Its main street buildings, with their two and three story fronts, look like traditional small town America. We have many such towns here in the American Middle West. We are not used to seeing this sort of architecture in Los Angeles. Most directors pick locations that look far more "typically Californian". The bank is also in a traditional American style of architecture.


Riding Shotgun

Riding Shotgun (1954) is the last of the Westerns André de Toth made with Randolph Scott.

The Stagecoach Robbery - and the Mountains

The stagecoach robbery takes place against the sort of mountains familiar in Toth. Once again, major events are taking place on a mountain-side landscape.

The Town

The last 45 minutes of Riding Shotgun takes place in the town of Deepwater. Toth builds up a remarkable visual vortex, showing the town from a huge variety of angles and crowd stagings.

Most of the buildings in Deepwater are more than one story high. Their facades play major roles in the film's compositions.

The entrance in Deepwater shows the town as eerily deserted. This makes a contrast to later crowd scenes. It is part of the variety of staging attempted by the film.

Staging Through Doors and Windows

While Scott is holed up in the cantina, many scenes are staged through the cantina door. We frequently see the deputy in the street, through the door.

When the deputy Tub Murphy is eating in the lunchroom, we see the town behind him, through a huge plate glass window. The effect is startling, and unlike anything else in the movie. It suggests an openness about the deputy, who is a sympathetic, comic character. It provides a release of tension, a feeling of unwinding not present elsewhere in the tense scenes.

None of the other buildings are so open. The casino, for example, has few windows.

The Cantina: Color, Polygons, Mirror

The cantina interior offers a pleasant contrast to the rest of the town. It has bright red and green colors. It offers plenty of appetizing looking food, and music.

The bar of the cantina is polygonal, making some good compositions.

Toth also makes good use of the much-discussed mirror behind the bar, for some creative stagings recalling film noir.

The Young Hot-Heads: Leading Man Rivals

Once again, a mature, bull-like hero (Scott) is contrasted with young leading man types, who serve as thorns in his side. In Riding Shotgun, however, there is no romantic rivalry fueling this conflict, unlike other Toth films. These young men are just hot-heads. However, Ben is a discharged guard from the same company employing hero Scott, and there is definite professional jealousy motivating him.

Both of these handsome men get the glamour treatment in their cowboy clothes. Both wear brown leather vests and colorful shirts:

They are two of the most colorful images in the film, and always draw the eye in any crowd. Their vests oddly echo that of the bad guy. His is much darker brown, though, and of a distressed leather: something rarely seen in Western films or television. (One suspects that distressed leather looks "modern", and hence not suited for Westerns. It also is not as shiny.)

Both of these men have parallel story-lines, with similar conclusions. I especially liked Deputy Ross' refusal to be carried by the crowd. It gives him a bit of dignity. It also is richly comic, and shows what a mess this crowd has become.

Sexism and Machismo

The young men are clearly motivated by machismo, a false male pride. So are the town elders, who want their "authority" enforced.

The intelligent heroine is shut up, and treated like a child. This is the sort of traditional sexism that was often socially endorsed in the 1950's. Here it gets a stinging rebuke. The film shows sexist attitudes leading to social catastrophe.

Pans

Many of the earlier outdoor scenes are pans. Toth will often follow riders. Some spectacular pans follow riders along the ridge of a hill, as their distant path weaves through a complex mountain landscape.

The pans in these early outdoor scenes, often climax with a character revealed at the end of the pan. The character is much closer and more camera-filling, than scenery in the early part of the shot.

A complex pan during the robbery moves down at an angle. It starts off with a fairly vacant screen, following riders, but winds up on a medium view of the robbers.

Circular Staging: based on a series of Pans

The climactic casino robbery involves two spectacular circular panning shots. These travel almost around the whole casino: While many of the earlier pans in Riding Shotgun were exteriors, these casino pans are circular views of interiors.

The Two-Headed Spy

The Two-Headed Spy (1958) is a drama about a British undercover agent who rises to the rank of General in Nazi Germany.

The Two-Headed Spy resembles Springfield Rifle in Toth's work, in that both star undercover military men in suspense filled dramas. Both films also only gradually reveal the truth about some of the characters in their stories.

Characters

The bull-like Hawkins, is contrasted with his young, conventionally handsome leading man-style aide, played by Erik Schumann. This recalls the way leading man type John Russell played in support of the rugged stars in Slattery's Hurricane and Man in the Saddle. In all these films, jealousy and romantic triangles fuel conflicts between the men.

The villain is once again played by Alexander Knox, who previously was the bad guy in Man in the Saddle.

Imagery

The big suspense scene in staged in a snowy forest landscape. This recalls Toth's love of snow-filled landscapes.

The sinister hoses in the torture scene, inevitably recall the more innocent hoses in the gas station in Crime Wave.


Day of the Outlaw

Day of the Outlaw (1959) is a Western. Much of it is shot against that Toth favorite, snowy landscapes.

SPOILERS ahead.

Non-violence

The townspeople have to cope with a violent invasion. It was a cliche to have "townspeople fighting invading bandits with armed rebellion". But Day of the Outlaw takes a different approach. The townspeople cope as best they can - non-violently.

At the end, hero Ryan finds he is disgusted with his own contemplated violence against a husband whose wife he covets. He turns to a non-violent stratagem against the villains, perhaps as part of this new awareness. He also appeals to the better nature of Burl Ives' character, to avoid a blood bath.

The final scene has Ryan symbolically disarming Dave Nelson, as part of Nelson's re-integration into human society. This too perhaps has a subtext recommending non-violence.

Non-violence was prominent in real life at this time, in Martin Luther King's Civil Rights struggle. Other Western directors were recommending non-violence, such as Joseph H. Lewis in The Halliday Brand (1957) and The Rifleman episode The Deserter (1960).

Story Construction

Day of the Outlaw has an odd story construction. The first fifteen minutes seems like a different movie from what follows. The construction is game-like and playful. It seems to be misleading the audience into what the movie is actually about. The opening builds up to a big climax, marked by the rolling bottle, that is interrupted at the last second, and never takes place.

Pans

The dancing scene shows Toth's fondness for 360 degree panning shots. These whirl around with the dancers, and are much faster paced than the pans in other Toth films.

Costumes

Pace (Lance Fuller) wears a remarkably fancy cowboy outfit, with complex vest fastenings and leather chaps. Lance Fuller, a supporting actor of the period, was sometimes cast in sly, insinuating and raffish roles, sometimes with an undertone of sexual confidence or innuendo. His clothes contain suggestions of sexuality. He is the best looking of the bad guys, with the exception perhaps of Dave Nelson.

Maverick: Cruise of the Cynthia B

Cruise of the Cynthia B (1960) is an episode of the Maverick television series, directed by Toth. It is a pleasant whodunit, with atmospheric ship board scenes. It is nicely crafted, an example of the superior whodunit mysteries sometimes featured on Maverick. But I have trouble relating it to Toth traditions. It does have suspense, something frequently found in Toth's noir films.

The relentless suspicion the characters have towards each other, is a convention of whodunits. But it also recalls a bit, the constant suspicion shown towards the hero of Riding Shotgun.

Accents

The man who starts all the trouble has a Scots accent. Toth frequently includes accented characters in his films. One might note that American TV circa 1960 also liked accented characters: for example, The Rifleman has a Scots-accented banker.

Circles

The huge ship's wheel is a motif in the climactic scene.

Businessman Morton's name is in a circular arc on his office window.

A circular life preserver with the name Cynthia B is on the wall of the boat.

Pans

Toth regularly pans, for example, along the ship deck while the characters are talking, walking, and making entrances and exits. Few of the pans are as complex or through as wide an arc, as in Toth's feature films, though.

There is also a track, as a man walks past characters looking out over the boat rail. Other tracks follow characters walking down the deck as well.

The Meal

The meal on the boat is one of the most entertaining scenes. It follows Toth traditions, of having a meal lead to comedy and unusual perspectives.

The shot where the heroine leaves the dining room is well-staged, and shows Toth techniques:

Re-Use of Sets

The shipboard sets in Cruise of the Cynthia B seem to be left over from a previous Maverick episode, According to Hoyle (1957), directed by Budd Boetticher. And the shipping company's offices recall the office in According to Hoyle, as well. Such re-use was typical of Maverick.