DAILY | André de Toth @ 100

André de Toth

Everyone seems to agree that Sâsvári Farkasfalvi Tóthfalusi Tóth Endre Antal Mihály was born on May 15 but there’s some dispute as to which year it was. Some say 1910, others 1913, but Wikipedia and the IMDb have settled on 1912, which would make today the 100th anniversary of his birth—so that’s the year we’re going with. We do know, of course, that he died on October 27, 2002; a few days later, Ronald Bergan wrote in the Guardian:

If we are to believe even a fraction of what has been written by and about the film director André de Toth…, then his life was even more exciting and varied than the plots of his movies. Having met him a few times in his 80s, I can only vouch for his extraordinary energy, passion and earthy humor, and the conviction with which he delivered his anecdotes.

These included stories of when he was taken for dead during a student riot in Vienna and woke up in the morgue; and how, when his girlfriend fell pregnant and her father whisked her away for an enforced abortion, de Toth saved her when he discovered her father visited male prostitutes and threatened blackmail. There was also the story of how during the war he fell in love with an anti-Nazi jewelery courier who had a passport made under the name of Mrs de Toth before embarking on a dangerous mission, and how the passport was returned to him covered in blood. Another told of how, while scouting for locations in 1973 in Egypt, he was kidnapped and interrogated by a group of young men who, because of his eye patch, thought he was Israeli minister of defense Moshe Dayan, until he revealed, literally, that he wasn’t Jewish.

Curiously, the one-eyed de Toth was married for eight years to Veronica Lake, whose “peekaboo” hairstyle gave the impression that she had only one eye, and he directed House of Wax (1953), the first horror film in 3D, the effects of which he couldn’t have seen.

But as Dave Kehr noted back in his days at the Chicago Reader, those “effects are done with playfulness, zest, and some imagination (they range from a barker batting paddleballs in your face to a murderer leaping from the row in front of you), making this the most entertaining of the gimmick 3Ds.” Later, in 2005, Kehr noted in passing that de Toth is a “great noir stylist,” and in 2009, Dan Sallitt reviewed Ramrod (1947) and Pitfall (1948) for MUBI. Picking up on Andrew Sarris’s notion that de Toth “had a knack and preference for depicting baseness and treachery,” he wrote, “I don’t know if I fully agree with that concept, but along the way he noted that de Toth’s villains speak quietly…. Quietness is sometimes character-specific in de Toth, a contribution to particular characterizations. But it is also a free-floating dramatic effect that de Toth employs because he likes the vibe. That a quiet response so often imparts dignity to de Toth’s characters implies, among other things, that de Toth likes to depict restraint and composure, and that his view of human nature may be more affirmative than Sarris believed. One senses that even the nastiest de Toth villains get points in his eyes for controlling their strength. ( In his own, somewhat brutal way, de Toth distributes virtue evenly across his universe, à la Renoir.”

Alain Silver‘s interview with de Toth, conducted in January 2000, ran in Senses of Cinema in 2003. Mike Grost breaks down aspects of de Toth’s style, film by film. In 2007, Peter Nellhaus reviewed Thunder Over the Plains (1953) and Riding Shotgun (1954), two westerns featuring Randolph Scott, and last year, David Cairns took another look at Play Dirty (1969) for MUBI.

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