B Role #1: Dark Waters (de Toth, 1944)

Some of you already know about the first part of my aforementioned “big news,” but I wanted to share it here at MATCH/CUTS nonetheless.

I’ve been given the green light to write a long form column at the indispensable blog The House Next Door, a bimonthly look at the endlessly mysterious aesthetics, politics, and ideologies of B movies. It’s entitled B Role, and my introduction/debut piece on Andre de Toth’s slithering swamp noir/melodrama Dark Waters went up a few days back.

It’s an exciting pet project based on my own personal process of film discovery, and I can’t wait to find out where it takes me. Special thanks go out to my editors, Ed Gonzalez and Keith Uhlich, for giving me the proper virtual real estate to go crazy.

The Indian Fighter (De Toth, 1955)

A far cry from the taut pacing and subtlety of The Day of the Outlaw, Andre De Toth’s The Indian Fighter glorifies a simplistic brand of machismo posing as progressive historical revisionism. The film attempts to deal with an interracial relationship between Kirk Douglas’ frontiersman and a Sioux woman (played by Italian Elsa Martinelli), but the representation of this union is forceful, trite, and masochistic. Maybe the problem lies with Douglas’ brutish performance. Like most of the characters in the film, De Toth’s direction feels intimidated by such a presence and as a result, is unable to achieve nuance or subtext. Douglas runs free, showing off his bravado for anyone willing to listen. That such an unlikable hero saves the day in the end unscathed and horny just reiterates De Toth’s jumbled Western mythology.

Day of the Outlaw (De Toth, 1959)

From a narrative standpoint, De Toth’s brilliant Western slices through familiar iconography with a sly and shifting character study of morality and regret. It filters the tension of a frontier town under siege from brutal outlaws through small gestures of panic and sacrifice, transcending petty communal differences into a more dangerous and bloody realm. If the standard Hollywood denouement plays a little slight, its only because De Toth, Robert Ryan, and Burl Ives have set the bar so high during the countless scenarios ripe with subtext and mystery, culminating in a long frozen standoff between man and nature. Day of the Outlaw is a small scale psychological thriller playing out in the numbing snowscapes and epic mountainsides of a changing old West.

None Shall Escape (De Toth, 1944)

Obviously an Allied propaganda film, None Shall Escape embraces a fictional post war milieu set at the United Nations where Nazi’s are being tryed for crimes against humanity, even before WWII had ended in real life. The main subject is Wilhelm Grimm, a sadistic German living in Poland who gets exiled, then returns to rule over the small town he once resided in as a Nazi commandant. Wilhelm is confronted by three witnesses who’ve viewed different parts of his reign of terror, sharing the life’s work of this psycho and revealing his crimes for the court. The film is convincing in it’s condemnation of the Nazi regime by creating a truly awful villain, one who will stop at nothing, including killing off family, to save the master race. However, for all of it’s potent moments, None Shall Escape is very dry on the whole, ridiculously one note in it’s arc. On the positive side, the film does have moments of sheer heinousness shocking to be found in classical Hollywood cinema. I’m not familiar with De Toth’s work, but his westerns and some of his Noir look fascinating, so I’ll give those that are recommended a look in the near future.