André de Toth | Subjects
| Structure and Story Telling | Visual Style
Films: Slattery's Hurricane
| Man in the Saddle | Carson City
| Springfield Rifle
| Crime Wave | Riding Shotgun
| The Two-Headed Spy | Day of the Outlaw
Television: Maverick: Cruise of the Cynthia B
Classic Film and Television Home Page (with many articles on directors)
| Television Western Articles
André de Toth
André de Toth directed films, first in Hungary, then mainly in Hollywood.
André de Toth: Subjects
- A group of characters in collective trouble (heroine talks about lifeboat: Dark Waters,
trapped tunnel builders: Carson City,
surrounded in desert: Last of the Comanches,
town held hostage: Day of the Outlaw, boat passengers: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Men at the center of military ceremonies (award: Slattery's Hurricane, expulsion: Springfield Rifle)
- Social institutions taking care of unfortunates (mental hospital: Slattery's Hurricane,
parole system: Crime Wave)
- Adaptability to changed circumstances as virtue (stage line becomes freight line: Carson City,
hero repents and stops range war, Dave Nelson reforms and joins society: Day of the Outlaw)
- Steep mountainsides and hills (mountain stream: Man in the Saddle, Carson City,
Cooper and bad guy roll down a hill: Springfield Rifle)
- Storms (hurricane: Slattery's Hurricane, wind and sand storm: Man in the Saddle,
dust from dynamiting, landslide: Carson City,
horse raid cloud of dust: Springfield Rifle)
- Snowy landscapes (Springfield Rifle, The Two-Headed Spy, Day of the Outlaw)
- Rugged slightly older heroes, with a man's man profession (pilot Widmark: Slattery's Hurricane,
engineer Randolph Scott: Carson City, guard Randolph Scott: Riding Shotgun,
spy Jack Hawkins: The Two-Headed Spy)
- Younger rivals, often jealous, played by leading man types in dressy clothes (John Russell: Slattery's Hurricane,
Richard Webb: Carson City, John Baer, Kem Dibbs: Riding Shotgun,
Erik Schumann: The Two-Headed Spy)
- Working woman heroines (rancher: Man in the Saddle, newspaper woman: Carson City,
storekeeper: Day of the Outlaw)
- Business and military leaders, shown in council discussing momentous affairs, often
in very dressy clothes (railway business leadership: Carson City, military: Springfield Rifle,
military: The Two-Headed Spy)
- Tough-looking working men (railroad builders: Carson City, stokers: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Mean policemen (cops chew out victim: House of Wax, hound reformed ex-con: Crime Wave)
- People attacked at their place of work by cold killers (newspaper publisher: Carson City,
sculptor Vincent Price in studio: House of Wax)
- Characters with rooms full of books, suggesting their education and concern for reading
(Widmark: Slattery's Hurricane, newspaper owner's office, San Francisco office: Carson City)
- Meals lead to comedy (buffet from bandits: Carson City,
dessert on boat: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Undercover spies (Springfield Rifle, The Two-Headed Spy)
- Hoaxes by criminals (stolen telegram: Dark Waters,
crooks pose as candy manufacturers: Slattery's Hurricane,
fake mine as hideout for bandits: Carson City,
phony shares sold in boat: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Lies (told by desperate good guy to crooks: Day of the Outlaw)
- Suspicion (hero blamed for murder, newspaper man suspects crooks: Carson City,
towards hero: Riding Shotgun, everybody on boat: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- High technology enterprises, often on a large scale (weather monitoring by plane: Slattery's Hurricane,
railroad construction: Carson City)
- Communication devices (control room, radio, teletype: Slattery's Hurricane,
red flag, shouting look-outs: Carson City,
heliograph: Springfield Rifle,
police communication center: Crime Wave)
- Innovative technology, and its effect on society (air drill used to build railroad through mountain: Carson City,
new rifle: Springfield Rifle)
- Airplanes (weather planes: Slattery's Hurricane, hero as plane mechanic: Crime Wave)
- Navigation (airplane: Slattery's Hurricane, boat: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
related (innovation of drilling tunnel from both needs to meet in middle, surveying equipment: Carson City,
finding way over mountain: Day of the Outlaw)
- Maps (Nevada, diagrams: Carson City,
wall map at police office: Crime Wave)
- Hoses (gas station: Crime Wave, torture: The Two-Headed Spy)
- Medical crises of bad guys (attack on plane: Slattery's Hurricane,
Burl Ives: Day of the Outlaw) good guys (heroine: Dark Waters)
André de Toth: Structure and Story Telling
- Mystery plots (dying message: Carson City,
how are rustlers getting inside information: Springfield Rifle,
Agatha Christie's "And The There Were None" imitation: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Accents and dialects of characters (candy manufacturers, admiral, woman in bar: Slattery's Hurricane,
Texas gunslinger, title song singer: Man in the Saddle, Fess Parker: Springfield Rifle,
Dub Taylor, kind hearted boss at the airport: Crime Wave,
German with Mexican wife: Riding Shotgun, Scotsman: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Unusual sound strategies (two brothers speak at once, Russell's soft soliloquies: Man in the Saddle,
Carolyn Jones' strange way of talking: House of Wax,
natural sounds instead of music, Dub Taylor sings along with radio: Crime Wave)
- Sound and the plot (miner hears rescuers: Carson City)
André de Toth: Visual Style
- Glass walls (control room, night club: Slattery's Hurricane, newspaper owner's office: Carson City,
gas station: Crime Wave, lunchroom window: Riding Shotgun)
related (glass paneled doors to saloon: Day of the Outlaw)
- Decayed buildings (shut-down mine: Carson City, decrepit boat: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Outdoor staircases (Springfield Rifle, apartment building: Crime Wave, on boat deck: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Indoor staircases (foyer: Dark Waters,
newspaper office: Carson City,
basement workroom, hall with elevator and stairs: House of Wax, saloon: Day of the Outlaw)
- Shots through steps (Springfield Rifle, boat deck stairs: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Multi-story buildings with balconies or porches (newspaper, other buildings: Carson City,
apartment building: Crime Wave)
- Staging through windows or doors, showing more than one room or region
(station seen through train door and windows, foyer seen from porch: Dark Waters,
many shots through doors, finale with sandstorm: Man in the Saddle,
newspaper office first seen through window: Carson City,
into workroom alcove: House of Wax,
hero's apartment: Crime Wave,
cantina door, lunchroom window: Riding Shotgun,
meal on boat: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Geometrically complex building walls and facades, used to create composition (Miami street: Slattery's Hurricane,
townscape seen from second story window: Man in the Saddle,
track follows brothers walking on sidewalk: Carson City,
Western town: Springfield Rifle,
apartment with porches and staircases: Crime Wave,
Western town: Riding Shotgun)
- Rectilinear imagery (Navy award scene, second restaurant: Slattery's Hurricane,
court martial room, room with boxes: Springfield Rifle,
nested metal scaffolds in alley: Crime Wave)
- Curved or circular areas, which contain the characters (foyer with curved staircase: Dark Waters,
airplane dome, nightclub, S-shaped road, circular desk, plane window: Slattery's Hurricane,
area beneath staircase: Man in the Saddle,
vat of wax: House of Wax)
- Arches (plane, mansion grounds wall: Slattery's Hurricane,
arched tops of windows and doors: Man in the Saddle,
window in San Francisco office: Carson City,
covered wagon: Springfield Rifle,
ceiling in bank: Crime Wave,
shipping office door: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Circular forms (spirals on porch railing: Dark Waters,
roulette wheel: Slattery's Hurricane,
doorway: Man in the Saddle,
wheels on machine at mine: Carson City,
fireplace in jail: Springfield Rifle,
ship's wheel, name on window, life preserver: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- Pans, often through vast arcs (see film articles for details) (Slattery's Hurricane, Man in the Saddle, Springfield Rifle,
Crime Wave, Riding Shotgun, Cruise of the Cynthia B)
- 360 degree interior pans (Homicide department in two pans, Gene Nelson's apartment: Crime Wave,
casino: Riding Shotgun, dancing scene: Day of the Outlaw)
Costumes and Color:
- Red-yellow-and-blue color schemes (court martial: Springfield Rifle)
- Red-and-green color schemes (action scenes, San Francisco office: Carson City, cantina interior: Riding Shotgun)
- Red-and-blue color schemes (meeting, detection scenes: Carson City)
- Red or red-and-brown clothes (John Russell: Man in the Saddle,
opening stagecoach robbery: Carson City, Deputy Sheriff in red shirt and brown vest: Riding Shotgun)
- Green-red-and-brown clothes (Raymond Massey in green suit, red tie and brown vest: Carson City,
Ben in green shirt and red scarf and brown vest: Riding Shotgun)
- All-black clothes (Russell's pajamas, dressing gown: Slattery's Hurricane,
Randolph Scott: Man in the Saddle, Gene Nelson's shirt, LAPD police uniforms: Crime Wave)
- All-white clothes (heroine in hospital, Thomas Mitchell's suit: Dark Waters,
Widmark's tuxedo, Russell's Navy white dress uniform, Sailors at end: Slattery's Hurricane,
Hayden's white dress shirt, Dub Taylor's gas station uniform: Crime Wave)
- Leather (Scott's jacket, Russell's gloves and wide gunbelt: Man in the Saddle,
hero's suede jacket: Carson City, LAPD police motorcycle jackets, Charles Bronson's jacket: Crime Wave,
cowboy vests: Riding Shotgun, Lance Fuller's chaps, vest: Day of the Outlaw)
- Men in wet clothes (Russell in drenched uniform in hurricane: Slattery's Hurricane,
Maverick after water rescue: Cruise of the Cynthia B)
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.
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.
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.
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.
- The airplane interior has a huge circular dome, plus arches
and circular radar scopes.
- The nightclub is full of circular regions above: on the ceiling,
circular pillars, a huge circular hall; and below: round tables,
themselves covered with circular plates.
- Earlier in the film we see a roulette wheel.
- The mansion where the hero and heroine work has an S shaped
road made of two circular arcs leading up to it: de Toth creates
one of his beautiful trademark pans out of the car traveling along
these circular curves.
- The mansion ground is full of walls with arches.
- The lobby of the control building has a huge circular desk, with
polygonal arcs on the inside where men are sitting.
- Widmark looks out a circular plane window, at the end.
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.
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.
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.
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
There is also an interesting pan towards the start of the film,
as Widmark moves over the mansion grounds towards the hangar.
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
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.
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:
- The two good guy brothers speak at the same time, as if in chorus.
This scene is funny, and also a nice verbal stunt.
- Much is made of the gunslinger being from Texas, and his accent.
- The nice song in the picture, "The Man in the Saddle", is sung by
a singer with a Western feel to his voice. This is a pleasant and evocative
scene, shot outdoors on a cattle drive at night.
- John Russell does a good job with various soliloquies
throughout the picture, conveying a burning intensity. He talks
quietly in these, almost to himself. It is an unusual device of
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
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
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.
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
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 (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.
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
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.
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.
- A rugged, bull-like, somewhat older man hero (Randolph Scott), with a glamorous man's-man job.
- Handsome young leading man type (Richard Webb), younger and more formally dressed
(Webb wears Western suits, while Scott is mainly in cowboy clothes). He is
jealous of the hero.
- A heroine who gets involved with both, but who prefers the hero.
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:
- Texas Stagecoach (1940).
- The Pet (1958) episode of The Rifleman television series.
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:
- The newspaper man suspects the bad guys, and goes to investigate their mine.
- The hero is falsely suspected and blamed after the murder.
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.
- The opening stagecoach robbery.
- The immediate following scene, where the bad guys go back to the mine.
- The railroad office in San Francisco (not an action scene, and less exclusively in red-and-green).
- The heroine visits the mine area, and nearly gets blown up by dynamite.
- The immediate following scene, in the streets of the town.
- The mine cave-in and rescue.
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.
- The town leaders' meeting to discuss the proposed railroad and the town's future.
- The immediate following scene, a further discussion in the newspaper owner's apartment.
- The hero and his assistant "Hardrock" investigate the wagon crash.
- The newspaper owner gets his big solution to the mystery of the "dying message", in the paper's office.
- The newspaper owner continues his sleuthing, first at the bar, then at the mine.
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 two women from Boston wear them.
- One of the cowboys has a red shirt and brown vest.
- A man wears a red tie and brown vest, along with his gray suit and hat.
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:
- A very light tan suit, at the town meeting.
- A full scale brown coat later on, worn with a yellow vest.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The young Fess Parker shows up, with his rich mountain accent.
Parker would become a huge star three years later, in Davy Crockett.
Springfield Rifle contains a few circles:
- The jail in which Cooper is held, has a circular fireplace with a
conical hood - an unusual piece of architecture.
- The covered wagon has a series of round arches. This is a container for men,
like a number of Toth circular settings.
- The heroine wears a hat, that is a series of concentric orange and black circles.
The room with the boxes, outside of where the conspirators meet, is filled with
The court martial is in an austere, purely rectilinear room.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Circular Staging: based on a series of Pans
In addition to actual pans, we have what might be called circular
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.
- The scenes at the Homicide department open with a 180 degree
pan around the back side of the rooms. Later shots in the office
complete the circuit, panning around the front half of the offices.
The two sets of pans altogether encompass 360 degrees.
- Similarly, at Nelson's apartment, we will eventually see a
nearly complete circuit around the living room.
- We will also see a broad sweep of angles around the street
corner near the bank in Glendale, towards the finale.
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
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
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
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
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 (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 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.)
- Deputy Sheriff Ross Hughes (John Baer) wears a red shirt with his brown vest;
- Former guard Ben (Kem Dibbs) wears a green shirt and red scarf with his brown leather.
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.
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
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.
- First we see the casino in normal operation. This shot ends with a view of hero Scott.
- After the casino is wrecked, and the lights are out, we get a second circular pan.
This is at floor level, showing the debris on the ground. It is dark, spooky and suspenseful:
we know that the gang is still here, waiting for the final shoot-out.
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.
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.
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,
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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:
- It is pan, following the heroine.
- It is staged through door, where we can see from one region into another.
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