Andre De Toth

Andre De Toth, film director

Born: 15 May, 1913, in Mako, Hungary

Died: 27 October, 2002, in Burbank, California, aged 89

A TOUGH-TALKING, one-eyed maverick, Andre De Toth was one of the film world’s most colourful characters.

At his most prolific in the postwar years, he gained a reputation among film buffs for hard-bitten crime dramas such as Pitfall (1948) and Crime Wave (1954) and a series of spare, flinty westerns with Gary Cooper and Randolph Scott that included Man In The Saddle (1951), Springfield Rifle (1952) and The Bounty Hunter (1954).

His greatest claim to fame came as the director of the 3-D sensation, House Of Wax (1953), which confirmed Vincent Price as the foremost horror icon of his generation. Blind in one eye, De Toth was unable to appreciate any of its crowd-pleasing effects.

A firm believer that all the drama should be kept in front of the camera, De Toth made significant uncredited contributions to such landmark films as Lawrence Of Arabia (1962) and Superman (1978).

He had an insatiable appetite for life, enjoyed his reputation as a playboy and was an enthusiastic sculptor, painter, writer, skier and academic. He even took up scuba diving in his seventies. In his early eighties by the time of a major Edinburgh Film Festival retrospective in 1994, he proved to have the strength and stamina of a man half his age.

He was born Savrai Farkasfalvi Tothfalusi Toth Endre Antal Mihaly, the son of a civil engineer and former Hungarian Hussar. A precocious talent, he had his first exhibition of paintings and sculptures at the age of 14 and wrote the play Discreet Bond at 17. His talents brought him the support of the playwright Ferenc Molnar and a chance to learn his craft at the Hunnia film studios in Budapest as he worked to complete a law degree.

He was a writer and camera assistant before making his debut as a director with Toprini Nasz (Wedding In Toprin) (1938), the first of five films he made over a hectic ten-month period. Hired to film the Nazi invasion of Poland, he fled to England and was employed by his fellow Hungarian emigr Alexander Korda on such epic productions as The Thief Of Bagdad (1940) and Jungle Book (1942).

He moved to America during the Second World War, starting a new career at Columbia with the spy thriller Passport To Suez (1943), and attracted critical attention for both the anti-Nazi thriller None Shall Escape (1943) and the atmospheric gothic melodrama Dark Waters (1944) with Merle Oberon.

In December 1944, he married the actress Veronica Lake. Their stormy union endured emotional upheaval and bankruptcy, produced three children and ended in 1952 when she divorced him on the grounds of mental and physical cruelty. He was granted custody of the children. He directed Lake in the adult western Ramrod (1947) with Joel McCrea and Slattery’s Hurricane (1949) with Richard Widmark.

The witty, merciless thriller Pitfall (1948) earned him further acclaim and he was Oscar-nominated as one of the writers of the Gregory Peck western The Gunfighter (1950). He became a western specialist in the Fifties, producing psychologically probing, unsentimental sagebrush tales that emphasised the brutal nature of the west and the men who tamed it.

His best films include The Indian Fighter (1955), with Kirk Douglas, and the stark Day Of The Outlaw (1959), with Robert Ryan. His other significant films include The House Of Wax (1953), an uncharacteristic venture into horror, the hardboiled Crime Wave (1954), with Sterling Hayden, and Monkey On My Back (1957), an early attempt to dramatise the realities of drug addiction.

In the late Fifties, he turned increasingly to television, directing episodes of popular shows such as Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip. Later, he spent some time in Italy, co-directing a number of sword-and-sandal epics, including Gold For The Caesars (1962). He also worked as a location scout and second-unit director on Lawrence Of Arabia (1962).

He broke his neck in a skiing accident in the Alps in the 1964, but returned to the industry, producing Billion Dollar Brain (1967) and the spaghetti western El Condor (1970), as well as directing his last major film, Play Dirty (1968), an unusually harsh, cynical war adventure starring Michael Caine.

He later worked on the flying sequences in Superman (1978), the military epic Lion Of The Desert (1980) and even made a private film aboard the minehunter HMS Bronington with Prince Charles.

He returned to Los Angeles in 1980 and, despite breaking his neck on a further two occasions, pursued an energetic lifestyle writing novels, sculpting, teaching film at USC and remaining closely involved with the film industry. He even acted in the horror film Spontaneous Combustion (1990).

His memoirs, Fragments: Portraits From The Inside, were published in 1994 and he was interviewed at length for De Toth On De Toth in 1996. Feted in Edinburgh in 1994, he received the Los Angeles Film Critics Career Achievement Award in 1995.

He is survived by Ann Green, who is reputed to be his seventh wife, and by an unspecified number of the 19 children he is reported to have fathered.