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April 09, 2007

Andre De Toth and Randolph Scott - Two Films


Thunder Over the Plains
Andre De Toth - 1953


Riding Shotgun
Andre De Toth - 1954
both Warner Brothers Region 1 DVD

I was rifling through the DVDs at the only store in my end of Miami Beach, looking for a film for the previous blog-a-thon. In the bargain box was this DVD with three films starring Randolph Scott, with two films directed by De Toth. In the almost forty years since Andrew Sarris placed De Toth in the "Expressive Esoterica" category, De Toth have become an almost forgotten filmmaker. The two films on the DVD are part of six films De Toth made with Scott between 1951 and 1954. The was Scott's most significant collaboration with a director prior to the legendary work with Budd Boetticher. Those four years were also the most productive for De Toth, who directed a total of eleven films during that time including the original House of Wax.

The two best online examinations of De Toth are from Fred Camper and Adrian Danks. De Toth's films with Scott are usually mentioned as part of an overview of De Toth's work, but have yet to be more fully examined.

Thunder Over the Plains more easily fits into a study of De Toth's thematic concerns. Scott plays an army officer in Texas after the Civil War. A Texan who was on the Union side, Scott is seen as part of the occupying force maintaining martial law, and by default aiding carpetbaggers who are taking advantage of Texas farmers. The conflicts between professional and personal loyalties would be played out again on the larger canvas of Play Dirty. Throughout Thunder, Scott's loyalties, to the United States, to his Texan community, and to his wife are constantly questioned or challenged. Being a vehicle for Randolph Scott, there is little shading, nor could there be the pessimistic ending of Play Dirty.

Riding Shotgun

Scott's quandry in Riding Shotgun is that the members of a small town accuse him of robbing a stage coach. This is a decidedly lighter film, but visually more interesting. De Toth's compositions are more dynamic in the positioning of characters. Close-ups alternate with long shots of sometimes one or two people within the frame. Both this film and Thunder were photographed by Bert Glennon. Based on the way space is used, with characters frequently barging in front of each other, it seems possible that Riding Shotgun was originally planned to be filmed in 3-D. Of possibly more interest for contemporary viewers may be the casting of a short actor as one of the bad guys, Pinto. The nasty little guy is billed in Riding Shotgun as Charles Buchinsky.

Riding Shotgun

Posted by peter at April 9, 2007 04:46 PM


Don't know how I overlooked this, as I try to keep an eye out for De Toth--to me he's in the top tier of classical sound era Hollywood filmmakers (or just below it, depending on how stingy one's tier system is).

You're totally on the money with De Toth's thematic concerns--I don't know how much he worked on or altered the scripts he shot, but in film after film, there he was he was concerned with divided loyalties, betrayals, grudges, all intensely felt, all in a big network or web, and usually something we're thrust into in media res, so that the first reel of a De Toth movie is sometimes confusing to follow.

Thanks for keeping the DT flame alive, Peter!

Posted by: Zach at April 19, 2007 07:37 AM