My Visits With Andre

Over the years, I have been privileged to have met and interacted with many great movie directors. Among them, Mervyn LeRoy, Raoul Walsh, William Wyler, George Pal, Sydney Pollack, Alan J. Pakula, Arthur Penn, Lamont Johnson, Michael Ritchie, Brian De Palma, Melvin Frank, Frank Perry, Joan Micklin Silver, William Castle, Graeme Ferguson, Greg MacGillivray, James Cameron, Ben Stassen, Sean Phillips, Joe Alves, Keith Melton, Stephen Low and one of my favorites, Andre de Toth. The Hungarian born (Sasvrai Farkasfawi Tothfalusi Toth Endre Antai Mihaly,) iconoclastic Hollywood director is most famous for directing in 3D, “House of Wax” (1953)(“HOW”).

I first became intrigued with 3D movies when I watched “HOW” on TV as a youngster. I have since never passed up an opportunity to see it, or any other 3D movie. I still find it to be one of the best made 3D films. It plays well flat or in 3D. Amazingly, director de Toth only had vision in one eye, so he could never see the 3D. Perhaps even more amazing, de Toth also directed two other 3D movies, “The Stranger Wore a Gun” (1953) and “Bounty Hunter” (1954).

In 1996, on a trip to a Barnes and Nobles bookstore, I was thrilled to come across ‘Fragments: Portraits from the Inside,’ Andre de Toth’s autobiography. He made a number of contributions to the film noir genre and directed on of the first adult Westerns, “Ramrod” (1947). In 1951, his story for “The Gunfighter” (1950) was nominated for an Academy Award. In 1967, he was executive producer of “Billion Dollar Brain” and the following year he directed and executive produced “Play Dirty,” both of these films were filmed in Panavision. His uncredited work includes major contributions to “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) and “Superman” (1978). In fact, Superman couldn’t fly until Andre and his team joined the crew.

I had trouble putting his book down. It covered his whole life story and there was a lot to cover. Andre has a unique writing style, with each new chapter, he delivers you to another place and time. It is often up to the reader to figure out where. His memoir is a journey through his remarkable eighty-some years and through almost every emotion. His bold humor is interlaced with life’s tragedies. The story of his first son, Stephen and his ‘this big’ ball is very haunting.

After I finished the 466 page book, I found myself with many unanswered questions. Andre never discussed his age or his birth date. He never discussed how he lost the sight in one of his eyes, he talked all too briefly about “HOW” and he did not discuss his two other 3D films. I really enjoyed the book, but I was ready for the second volume. The books jacket did discuss that Andre was finishing his third novel. I figured that there might be hope, someday, that he’d answer my questions.

The September 1995 Filmfax magazine featured an interview with Andre by Anthony Slide entitled ‘Stereoscopic Nightmares: Andre de Toth revisits House of Wax.’ It was in this article that Slide announced that he and Andre had completed an interview book, ‘De Toth on De Toth: Put the Drama in Front of the Camera,’ due in the spring on 1996. Faber and Faber in the United Kingdom had published Andre’s memoir and they were going to be the publisher for this second book. De Toth was still doing personal appearances, he had been at the grand opening of the Warner Bros. Studio Museum which at that time included props from “HOW” and “Hondo” (1953) in the summer of 1996. Dan Symmes had worked with Warner Bros. Studios setting up their Museum. There had been 3D slides from “HOW” on exhibit and letters from John Wayne to Studio chief Jack L. Warner, telling of the problems with the 3D camera and his hopes that the studio would not release “Charge at Feather River” (1953) until after the “Hondo” release.

In April 1997 the American Cinematheque in Los Angeles announced a film retrospective of Andre de Toth’s work. The Cinemateque is an independent, non-profit cultural organization in Los Angeles dedicated exclusively to the public presentation of the moving image in all its forms. They were already renovating their future home, the Historic 1922 Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, which was re-opened in 1998, they would later add the 1940 Aero Theater in Santa Monica, California for a second location. The Cinematheque had been doing regular film screenings at different locations around Los Angeles. De Toth would be in person for his retrospective, which began on Thursday, April 17th, 1997 with two screenings of “HOW” in twin strip at the Paramount screening room. The 98 seat theater sold out quickly for both showings. The American Cinematheque brought in an archival 3D print for these screenings in the original dual-system format with two projectors running simultaneously. There was a discussion with Andre de Toth following the first screening only. As people entered for the second screening they could see Andre leaving through the front exit door. The “HOW” print was in very good shape, with only a few flaws. There was a small group that was ushered into the projection room following the second screening for a brief discussion with the projectionist. This location had been selected due to the fact that they had a silver screen and from time to time was used to screen 3D films, plus it is across the street from where the remainder of the retrospective would take place.

The screening room had been over-sold, but it was a thrill to see the showing in a standing room only theater filled with movie buffs. Only weeks prior, I had taken the Warner Bros. Studio Tour. The backlot tour then and even now still has the exterior “HOW” museum set from the film. The tour guide pointed out the Museum entrance, which was visited again during the Monday tour during 3D-Con 2017. The Museum entrance is located between the Daily Planet building from the former “Lois and Clark” television series and the hospital from the “E.R.” television series.

In 1946 de Toth had written a piece in the Hollywood Reporter about wanting to do a 3D motion picture. After the success of the British 3D short films shown at the 1951 Festival of Britain and the huge success of the limited November 30, 1952 opening of “Bwana Devil” most of the major movie companies, who just months prior had no plans to make a 3D film, all wanted to jump on the 3D bandwagon. Warner Bros. had hoped to make the first major studio 3D film. In January of 1953, Jack L. Warner did okay a sixty day shooting schedule with a $1,250,000 budget. Warner and de Toth rushed in hopes of beating the New York opening of “Bwana Devil.” After twenty-eight days the filming was completed. The film was being released exactly ninety days after Jack L. Warner gave the go-ahead at a cost of only $628,000. De Toth was very proud of the fact that the film is the most profitable film in relation to its production cost. The film ended the year as the seventh top money-maker of 1953 and went on to make the studio lots of money in television runs over the decades. Warner ordered the black eye patch off de Toth until he finished the film, but the legendary joke around the studio lot was that de Toth and one-eyed Raoul Walsh were co-directing the film. One reason to rush the filming was to attempt to beat the New York and National release of “Bwana Devil,” but they had not counted on Columbia’s low-budget “Man in the Dark” (1953) which was released in 3D and “Glowing Mono-Color” (tinted black & white) which opened two days prior to “HOW.”

Following the first evening of the de Toth retrospective, I still had two more weekends of great film viewing and visits with the versatile director ahead. The retrospective was continued on April 18th at the Raleigh Studios’ Charlie Chaplin Theater located at 5300 Melrose Avenue (across from Paramount Studios) between Bronson and Van Ness. At 7:15 PM the next film on the schedule was “Ramrod” (1947) with a UCLA-restored print. Released by Republic Pictures, the 94 minute film was the first “Adult” western. “Frank fights dirty, I’ve got to fight the same way,” spits cowgirl Veronica Lake (de Toth’s wife from 1944 – 1952 and their first screen collaboration.) Hell-bent on destroying everything in her path to defeat her own father. Lake’s slippery, scheming performance is the biggest surprise of her career. Also starring her “Sullivan’s Travels” (1941) partner Joel McCrea. The stars didn’t get along and McCrea turned down the lead in “I Married a Witch”(1942) not to work with her. He stars as the “ramrod” of the title, a ranch foreman trapped in a brutal maze of deceit. In 1946, a new motion picture company, Enterprise Productions, Inc. was founded by David Lowe and Charles Einfeld. Their studio was located at the corner of Melrose and Bronson, in its current life it is in fact Raleigh Studios, were the screening was taking place. John Ford took Andre to the studio, since he schedule would not allow him time to direct “Ramrod.” This screening was followed by an ultra-rare de Toth television show from the 1960′s, one of two episodes of ‘The Westener’ directed by de Toth. ‘The Westerner’ was a short-lived Warner Bros. Television western produced and written by Sam Peckinpah starring a young Brian Keith. The audience especially liked the cards that stated ‘Place commercial here.’ ‘The Westerner’ had been spun off from a 1959 episode of ‘Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theatre’ which was also written and directed by Peckinpah, unfortunately it only lasted 13 episodes. This print was also borrowed from the UCLA collection.

Followed at 9:45 PM by “Crimewave” (1953). It is very strange watching this Warner Bros. film. It had been shot in 1952 by the same creative team from “HOW.” It featured Gene Nelson (who was a song-and-dance man,) and from “HOW” Phyllis Kirk, Charles Bronson and blacklisted actor Ned Young. This film is totally divorced from the glamor of “HOW.” L.A. Noir doesn’t get any better than this. Sterling Hayden plays the toothpick-chewing cop, busting crooks all over Glendale and Pasadena. Shot in stunning deep-focus black and white by Bert Glennon. “Crimewave” barrels through all 74 minutes from one crackling action sequence to another. Jack L. Warner had wanted Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner to star in the movie, but Andre protested this, it would have been a completely different film. Warner gave in, but only gave de Toth two weeks to shoot the film, which was fine with de Toth as he finished it under schedule and under budget. Considering it was not released in the U.S. Until 1954, there didn’t seem to be a need to rush the movie. De Toth wanted to show what a thankless job police detectives have. He had to fight the production office, they said shooting entirely on location was impossible and would be a production nightmare, but Jack L. Warner approved the locations. Reportedly author James Ellroy names this as one of his favorite films. De Toth mentioned that he came up with the idea during filming of “HOW,” but actually filming had wrapped the previous year.

I can only speculate that this is another reason why de Toth got the job to direct “HOW,” since de Toth had proved he could film a movie fast. The Glendale branch of Bank of America leased their entire building to Warner Bros. Since the movie offered an object lesson to would-be bank robbers, that might not happen today. A shot of the old Glendale Airport has de Toth’s private plane in it, his way of saying thank you to his mechanics for keeping him in the air. At almost midnight, the audience was ushered down to the Studio Cafe, where Andre was waiting for a post screening discussion. It was a little chilly sitting in the open-air cafe. De Toth had just left the Los Angeles Art Museum’s screening and question and answer session. It was great to sit and listen to him talk. He was in a wheelchair and after having broken his neck three times in his life, he can’t turn his head as much as he would like. He apologized for not being able to look at some of the people who were asking questions, but he said if he did, his head might fall off. Someone asked about Charles Bronson, who de Toth also used in “Riding Shotgun” (1954). De Toth said he liked Charlie and enjoyed watching him grow as an actor. He then told a story that is not in either of his books. They were filming at Bronson Canyon and Charles was complaining about his name De Toth said how about Charles Bronson and went back to work on the film, six months later, he noticed that Charles Buchinsky had become Charles Bronson.

On Saturday, April 19th there was a book signing scheduled from 4:30 pm – 6:00 pm. I arrived at 4:00 pm and found Andre and his wife Ann (his 7th) already there setting up. De Toth was very proud that his first book had sold out in four months. Faber and Faber published a soft-bound edition to coincide with the second book’s release. The Cinemateque had both books for sale. There was a small group of people who showed up at 4:30 to get an autograph. I was able to have him sign several “HOW” items from my collection. I pointed out that in the “HOW” pressbook that it announced “Director Plans Book on Warner 3D Pic.” One of the (phoney) press releases in the pressbook stated “The lessons learned about 3D during the filming of Warner Bros. “House of Wax,” which opens (blank) at the (blank) Theatre, could fill a book – and will. Andre de Toth, director, has collected a store of information which will be the basis of a handbook for use by the entire industry.”

After Andre read this, he pointed to his new book and said “It took me a while, but here it is!” He then admitted he had never heard of any such handbook. Then, a reporter from a foreign newspaper showed up and did a quick interview. There was a period where no one was there, so Andre and Ann went for a short walk. They went by the area where Andre’s Enterprise Productions office had been. When he returned to the booksigning, Andre said, “My old office looks the same, except they added a few more coats of paint. The ants and the termites all remembered me.” At 5:45 pm, the movie-going crowd began to show up for autographs. At 6:15 pm the new 35mm print of “Slattery’s Hurricane” (1949) was introduced. This brand new print was supplied by Martin Scorsese.

Scorsese wrote, “I’ve always been fascinated by Andre de Toth’s movie,” and “Andre de Toth is a ‘director’s director,’ a special category that speaks for itself,” in his forward to de Toth’s ‘Fragments: Portraits from the Inside’ (which was reprinted from ‘Double Exposure Take Three’ by Roddy McDowall.) The 87 minute Fox film starred Richard Widmark as the hot-headed pilot, making all the wrong choices in life, beginning with dropping his sexy, dope-fiend girl friend Veronica Lake for old flame Linda Darnell. A strange, unclassified piece of work, “Slattery’s Hurricane” doesn’t fit easily into any genre.

The screening was followed by a western Bar-B-Que. Unfortunately, there had been only fourteen tickets sold prior to the day of the event and thirty-four more sold at the door, which was about eight too many. The food got a little thin by the end of the line and steak and chicken was passing over the grill pretty fast. De Toth was back for another discussion. Dennis Bartok with the American Cinemateque, who may have tired of being the brunt of most of de Toth’s jokes and putdowns, invited Todd McCarthy (chief film critic for Variety) to sit in and co-host the question and answer session. Andre had called him Todd ‘cowpoke’ McCarthy in his first book’s dedications.

There was a little break prior to the next films being screened. I realized that I had seen the gentleman talking to McCarthy earlier in the day on the cover of the ‘Entertainment@Home’ magazine next to the title ‘Where in the World is QUENTIN TARANTINO?’ At first, I had the impulse to pick up the phone and call the magazine and yell “I FOUND HIM!” But I realized, I didn’t have their phone number. Instead, I decided to eavesdrop on their conversation. They were talking about “HOW,” Quentin said he had a flat 16mm print of “The Stranger Wore a Gun” and said he would like to see it in 3D. The American Cinemateque had mentioned it to Andre and he didn’t seem interested, so they had not pursued it.

At 8:45 pm with Tarantino in the audience, the double feature began. “Man in the Saddle” (1951) was the first of six films Andre made with Randolph Scott. They were all produced in collaboration with Columbia or Warner Bros. By Scott and his producing partner Harry Joe Brown. This 87 minute film was released by Columbia. It’s a ruggedly handsome Western with Scott as a heartsick rancher who refuses to give up his true love, even after she marries another man. Adult storyline, sophisticated characters, stunningly visual fight sequences, rip-roaring brawls set against windstorms, in dark saloons, with the roof literally collapsing overhead all really set this film apart.

“Springfield Rifle” (1952) from Warner Bros. was the second feature. This 93 minute film has union officer Gary Cooper playing against character, branded a coward and thrown out of the Army. The image of Coop with a yellow stripe painted down his back is a stone-cold shock. Lon Chaney Jr. plays one of his scruffy, unshaven, bad-to-the-bone, western roles expertly. Fess Parker in one of his first roles, just two years before the December 15, 1954 ‘World of Disney’ telecast of “Davy Crockett: Indian Fighter” made him a star. Andre picked him out of a ‘cattle call’ for the film. Like “Ramrod,” it hurdles you through a serpentine series of betrayals as the disgraced Cooper infiltrates a gang of Confederate horse raiders.

During the break, I happened to pick up a copy of the LA Weekly newspaper, which had an ad for an Andre de Toth appearance at a local Los Angeles bookstore. How could I pass that up? On Wednesday, April 23rd, I arrived at the Beverly Hills bookstore location at 7:30 pm to an almost standing room only area in the bookstore. An elevator door opened and Andre appeared with a cup of cappuccino in his hands. He made his way to the table at one end of the room and made himself comfortable and began to take questions from the audience. On occasion, he had trouble hearing the questions and the store manager would ‘translate’ the question. Sitting behind me at the back of the room was Anthony Slide, who Andre would defer some questions for him to answer.

When asked about being able to see “HOW” at home in 3D, Andre talked at length on what someday, due to digital and HDTV, every home would have “Large screen digital sets and with the use of some sort of viewing glasses, 3Dimensional images…” That has now come and unfortunately gone. In addition to “HOW,” the audience seemed very interested in the work Andre had done on “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) and “Superman” (1978). I raised my hand and asked Andre, “Would you have made your other 3D films differently, had they not been in 3D?” I was shocked by his answer. First, he informed me and the crowd that he only made one other film in 3D. Then, he reiterated what he had just said about “HOW,” that you don’t film for 3D. He would make a 3D film the same as a regular film. I had tried to question him at the previous Saturday book signing, about “The Bounty Hunter” (1954) and “The Stranger Wore a Gun” (1954). When I asked about “The Bounty Hunter,” he told me he didn’t like that film. Puzzled, I pressed for a reason, he told me, “I am never satisfied with any of my films.” I wasn’t sure if he didn’t remember the film or just didn’t like it. While it was shot in 3D, it apparently wasn’t edited for 3D and it was released flat. Warner Bros. does have all the original elements, so hopefully, some day we will see it in 3D. I asked about “The Stranger Wore a Gun” and he told me it was an okay film. I could not get him to discuss his 3D films, after 43 years, he just didn’t remember. Dan Symmes told me that Andre would always refer to him, if he had a question about his 3D past.

Andre answered questions about “Lawrence of Arabia.” He stated several times over the two week period that a film could only have one director and David Lean directed “Lawrence of Arabia.” When asked if he directed the train scene, he admitted that he had. I have seen in print how he humbly took no credit for his work, as he did with the screenplay credit to Lotte Colin for “Play Dirty” (1969). The credits I had seen for “Lawrence” lists “second unit direction: Andre Smagghe, Noel Howard and Andre de Toth.” Perhaps Andre has also forgotten that after his television work, as an excuse to enjoy the good life in Rome, he co-directed three Italian films. So, a film can only have one director, unless an Italian co-director will qualify the film for government subsidies.

I enjoyed hearing him talk about his work on “Superman.” He was sitting in his office, having finished whatever project he had been working on, wondering from where his next meal would come. There was a knock on the door, they wanted him to help make Superman fly. I recall the news stories back from 1978 about the problems they were having making the flying scenes with Christopher Reeve look real and how they were going to scrap all the footage and start over. Andre said, “When you see the film, if he is flying, I shot it.” I remember the film’s slogan “You’ll believe a man can fly.” “Superman” earned a special Oscar for its special effects.

After the question and answer session, I talked briefly to Anthony Slide. I mentioned that in their book, Andre said, “It’s too bad none of the other one-eyed directors made a third-dimensional movies. John Ford, Fritz Lang, Raoul Walsh…” Raoul Walsh had directed “Gun Fury” (1953), John Ford is reported to have worked uncredited on “Hondo” (1953), when director John Farrow (Mia Farrow’s father) had to leave to go onto his next project. Herbert L. Strock is best remembered for his drive-in movie fare, had directed “Gog” (1954). Slide said he didn’t remember de Toth making that statement. I purchased a book for a friend and stood in line for another autograph. When I reached Andre, I showed him an autographed picture of Raoul Walsh sitting in front of Columbia’s 4-way 3D camera directing “Gun Fury.” His stated “Walsh never made a 3D movie.” Stubborn, isn’t he? I also tried to find out which 3D movie he didn’t remember making. I asked him which was his other 3D film, to which he replied “I only made one other 3D film.”

Both of the other 3D films were from the Randolph Scott/Harry Joe Brown team, two of his six films with Randolph Scott. In ‘De Toth on De Toth,’ Andre states “It was their idea to do “The Stranger Wore a Gun” in 3D.” As it probably was their idea to shot “The Bounty Hunter” in 3D. Andre later said he didn’t enjoy the experience of directing Randolph Scott, I can imagine it was difficult to direct the star of a film while he was also the producer. “The Bounty Hunter” was the second after “A Star is Born” (1954) and final film co-produced by Transcona Enterprises for Warner Bros., which consisted of Judy Garland and her then husband Sidney Luft. The next film was to be “The Helen Morgan Story” (1957) starring Garland, but after the tepid box office performance of “Star,” Garland and Luft bought out the rest of their contact from Warner Bros. So perhaps there were other reasons why Andre stated that “I didn’t like that film.”

Friday, April 25th was the second to last day of the retrospective. The first film may have been one of the best of the event. They screened the UCLA restored 35mm print of “Pitfall” (1948) at 7:15 pm. Bertrand Tavernier wrote in the preface of ‘Fragments,’ One of the best film noirs and one of the most incisive.” “I feel like a circle within a circle.” complains the bored Dick Powell as the 9 to 5 insurance man “with a suitcase” John Forbes, his life is so unexciting, he tells his lovely wife (Jane Wyman) “Whatever happened to the young couple that was going to buy a boat and tour the world?” Andre de Toth‘s masterpiece “Pitfall” shows how Femme Fatal Lizabeth Scott and proficient noir troublemaker Raymond Burr not only cure Dick Powell of his boredom and predictably making his life unpleasantly exciting taking him on a noir boat ride. De Toth’s direction is pure perfection, where his camera is always in the optimal position, even his scene transition dissolves have meaning and show how John Forbes life is falling apart!

Followed by a post-screening question and answer session. One drawback to the pre-American Disabilities Act Raleigh Studios’ Chaplin Theater was the fact that it was upstairs and not accessible to this director. The audience met at the first floor cafe and listened to Andre reminisce about the film. Many of the amazing stories behind his fights to get his films made are in his books. This film seemed to have quite a few. Andre told of his death-defying flight on Dick Powell’s airplane to Palm Springs.

Powell was going to produce and “Maybe direct” the film. Andre was originally only going to co-write the screenplay. A few weeks later, Powell decided to play the lead (against type) and asked Andre to direct it as a favor (also, no more money.) Andre picked the unknown Raymond Burr from a photo the casting director had in a stack of “nothing photos.” The producers had wanted Humphrey Bogart. Andre told how he got “Pitfall” (a shattering study of a married everyman, who has an affair with a single girl) past the Hays Production Code Administrative Office. He said he invited two of the six members to lunch with their mistresses and he was able to pass the film!

The brand-new 35mm print again supplied by Martin Scorsese of “Day of the Outlaw” (1958) started at 9:30 pm. Robert Ryan plays a fierce, friendless cattleman who turns out to be the only hope for a Wyoming town invaded by Burl Ives (another actor playing against type) and his gang of outlaws. It also starred Tina Louise and Elisha Cook, Jr. Shot on location in cold almost existential black and white. Andre had to fight to film in black and white, because by 1958, “color-mania” reigned. “Snow in color is still white.” It is not your typical western and is more a 1950′s study of characters under stress. Ryan’s almost agonizing ride was planned out in the August heat. When they shot in February, the ground was several feet deep in snow. Long out of circulation, this was the first new print in over 30 years!

Saturday, April 26 was the final day. There was another book signing scheduled from 4:30 – 6:00 pm. I figured this would be my last chance to try and get any unanswered questions answered. I was still very curious about Andre’s age. The two dates I had seen were May 15, 1910 and May 15, 1913. When his old friends saw him over these two week-ends and asked “How are you?” He generally said he was fine. On the final day he was asked that question and he said “You’re either alive or dead!” When I was alone with Andre, I questioned him about his age. He completely clammed up. I repeated his last statement as a question “You’re either alive or you’re dead?” He shook his head ‘no.’ He obviously did not want to talk about this subject. Several people with the American Cinematheque had said Andre was 90. One filmgoer even said that Andre’s wife had said he was 90. I had already asked Ann about Andre’s birthday coming up in a couple of weeks and she had said she wasn’t sure what she would do, except “Probably one candle.” I began to wonder; If he was 90 now, did that mean he would be 91 on May 15th? So, I asked Ann why she thought he didn’t talk about his age. She suggested that I talk to Andre, since it really was his business. In his book he says “…anyone who talks about his age is either bragging or alibiing. Both are despicable. So why talk about your age? Does it really matter when and where, to whom and how I was born? I don’t remember. I’d quote only hearsay.”

Shortly after 5:00 pm, I realized I had an hour before over five hours worth of films would begin screening. I was going to get a cup of coffee, so I offered to pick one up for Andre and Ann. The Starbucks that I was told was several miles away, remains elusive to this day. I did finally find a non-Starbucks coffee shop and headed back to the studio. I drank mine on the drive back and had just enough time to drop off Andre’s and Ann’s cups before I had to head into the theater for the final three movies.

At 6:15 pm the double feature began with the third brand-new print from Martin Scorsese, this movie was “The Indian Fighter” (1955). The French title of the film “La Riviere de nos Amours” (The River Our Loves) refers to Kirk Douglas’ (literal) wet kiss with lovely Elsa Martinelli. The film was the first production of Douglas’ Bryna (named for his mother) Company, a surprisingly erotic Western shot in gorgeous CinemaScope. The film looks great considering a budget of around $700,000. Andre had said that he enjoyed making ‘B’ films, because the studios would generally leave him alone. He was a real master of making the screen look like there was an unlimited budget. They filmed “The Indian Fighter” in Oregon. He had found the location, which was clinched when he found out the Forestry Commission’s plans. They had to cut down 10,000 pine trees and the production could have some 8,700 of them to build a real log fort, that looked great on the CinemaScope screen.

The “Indian Fighter” also introduced Walter Matthau and featured three ‘Juniors’ in the cast, Lon Chaney, Alan Hale and Elisha Cook, though by 1955 all three had dropped the appellation from their billing. John Wayne is reported to have turned down the lead role. It is funny in the film when Douglas tells ex-wife Diana Douglas, who plays Susan Rogers, “I’m not the marrying type.” Douglas used his wife Anne as the casting director. She found the female lead, Elsa Martinelli, who made her acting debut in the film. They had found the part very hard to cast. In Douglas’ autobiography “The Ragman’s Son,” he describes how he and Matinelli had constant sex during the filming if the movie. Several other ways they may have tried to save money during the filming, include: for realism the cast wore the same costumes every day, without dry cleaning. Douglas broke his nose, while doing his own stunts. Hank Warden plays Crazy Bear, but also does a cameo as a jailer. Likewise, Harry Landers plays both Grey Wolf and one of Captain Trask’s attaches. Stuntman Ted V. Mikels created the flaming arrow special effects and appears as both an Indian and a soldier, in addition to his stunt work.

“Monkey on My Back” (1957) was another brand new 35mm print. Although denied a seal of approval, by accident it was released with a Production Code number. This film is much darker than Otto Preminger’s Frank Sinatra starring “The Man with the Golden Arm” (1955). Cameron Mitchell stars in the true-to-life story of Barney Ross, a World War II hero and a former boxing champ with an addiction to both gambling and morphine. A creepy and unnerving little film, Mitchell’s night-time drug forays are the reason for the trouble with the Hays office. During the discussion following the film with Andre, he mentioned that just prior to the opening of the film, “Barney Ross was found, off the wagon…in the gutter. Too bad, it would have made a better ending.” The film was based on Ross’ autobiography and he was a consultant to the film, Ross disavowed the movie, calling it garbage. Former ‘Our Gang’ child star Scotty Beckett makes his final film appearance as a medic. Sadly, Beckett had been one of the cutest and most successful child actors of the 1930s and 1940s. His decent into a life of alcoholism, drugs and crime remains one of the most tragic of Hollywood stories. Scotty himself would die of a drug overdose a decade following this film’s release.

Before the final film began, I shook Andre’s hand and thanked him for not only writing these fabulous books, but for coming out and telling all of his great stories. At 9:45 pm, “Play Dirty” (1969) was screened. The final film on which Andre received full directorial credit. Andre was only the Executive Producer, until the director walked off the set. Andre pushes his pragmatism and cynicism to their furthest extremes. Michael Caine stars as an inexperienced officer leading his team on a very eccentric and deadly mission to blow up German fuel dumps in North Africa. A film about the sheer mechanics of survival in alien territory (against sandstorms, landmines and their own commanding officers.) The film is so sharp and nasty you could cut your hand on it. The film was made while Andre was working for Harry Saltzman. I loved the black humor of the ending. Saltzman’s wife Jackie, hated the movie and tried to get the ending re-cut. She was successful in cutting out Michel Legrand’s score of a children’s euphorious jubilant choir from under the morbid scene where Caine orders at gun-point his rebellious patrol to bury bodies of their ambushed enemy. This was done at the last minute as the release prints started to roll off the printer. We are instead now treated to the sound of wind. “Our business is blowing fuel dumps,” snarls a British soldier. In the same way, de Toth’s business has always been making movies: hard-edged nuggets of adultery, despair and intrigue that often seem proudly out of place in the feel-good Hollywood of the 1950′s.

De Toth treated his films like a bank waiting to be cased and cracked. Pick any number of scenes from his films and you’ll see the same dogged intelligence at work, cutting, analyzing, probing without sentiment. I highly recommend both of his books, which detail one of the more memorably outrageous careers in Hollywood. He was next heading to San Francisco for another retrospective of his films. He was promoting his books and doing signings. He appeared at Cinecon 34, the annual Labor Day Weekend festival of the Society for Cinephiles. On Saturday, September 5th his film “None Shall Escape” (1944) was screened at the Alex Theater in Glendale at 5:35p.m. followed by a 7:00 pm question and answer with Andre. For many years, I still saw his autographed books for sale in Los Angeles book stores. Now, they can still be found on Amazon and Ebay.

In 1998, there was a planned summer UCLA course titled ‘The Director’s Director, A Day with Andre de Toth.’ For $135, you could have learned from the master director. It was to be a one day program that featured Andre de Toth, filmmaker for 70 years (if you check the math, 60 or 63 years would have been more correct.) Moderated by Robert Koster, production manager and associate producer on more than 40 films. Following the screening of two of his best films, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, de Toth would have discussed his life and career, his camera angles and dolly shots, his casting problems and financing challenges. De Toth was quoted as saying “In the end, the picture business is quick, unexpected and very painful.” Copies of his memoirs, ‘Fragments: Portraits from the Inside’ and ‘de Toth on deToth,’ an extended interview by British film commentator Anthony Slide were planned to be available for autograph and purchase at the event. Unfortunately the class was canceled, due to not enough registrations. Andre was however in person on Friday, August 14th at the screening of two of his films. The double bill of “Crimewave” and “Play Dirty” began at 9:30 PM, the discussion with Mr. de Toth was between the films were again at the Raleigh Studios.

Andre de Toth died on October 27, 2002 at age 89, a year younger than when I had visited with him five years earlier. He had lived a full life. He earned a law degree in Budapest in the early 1930′s, but decided to become an actor. He spent several years on the stage prior to entering the Hungarian film industry. During his seven marriages, de Toth became father or stepfather of 19 children. After his film career, he painted and worked in Bronze. His work is at the Vatican Museum and when his hands could no longer paint, he began writing. During his film retrospective, I wished him a happy birthday, even though I wasn’t certain if he was 84, 87 or “90 going on 90.” May 15, 1913 is believed to be his birth date, since that is the date he gave on his Petition for Naturalization on June 11, 1945. This article is expanded and updated from an article which was first published in 1997.

Comments

  1. John Rupkalvis says:

    What a great detailed description, Lawrence. You should have written all of those books yourself; you are a terrific writer. Andre was both talented and different, and so are you.

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