Andre De Toth’s Nihilistic Diptych: Play Dirty (1969) + El Condor (1970)

January 8, 2018 | By

Writer-producer-director Andre De Toth.

Andre De Toth was a very clever, practical, and versatile filmmaker who’s probably best known by the masses as the one-eyed director who made one of the first and still best 3D films, House of Wax (1953), but his gifts in storytelling extended to many genres.

He kind of reminds me of Raoul Walsh (Objective, Burma!) – coincidentally another filmmaker who lost an eye early in his career – but De Toth’s work isn’t as broadly represented on DVD, and especially Blu-ray, and Play Dirty (1969), his directorial swan song from Twilight Time, is a deeply cynical, harsh, dour little mini-masterpiece that has aged extremely well.

Designed as a cold statement on war, the timelessness of this Michael Caine mini-classic is tied to the inherent cruelty of any war, as organized from safe headquarters by leaders indifferent to whatever consequences result from any carnage-causing decree.

 

At NO POINT does Marianna Hill ever appear in a pink top and 60s go-go boots, nor does she ever straddle a cannon. Many soldiers are indeed massacred in El Condor (1970), but while Jim gets the girl, Lee gets booze.

 

De Toth’s firm sense of storytelling is also evident in his follow-up film, El Condor (1970), which he produced for director John Guillermin (Guns at Batasi). Both were shot in Spain, and both feature not especially uplifting finales, and one can presume De Toth may have shaped both scripts to reflect a stance that scoundrels exist in all levels of civilian and military strata. Warner Archives released the Jim Brown-Lee Van Cleef western on DVD, but unlike Brown’s equally solid (but more consistently humorous) 100 Rifles (1969), it hasn’t made it to Blu (yet).

The quest by scoundrels to acquire riches is a plot point that links both El Condor and 100 Rifles, as well as The Italian Job (1969), which also starred Caine, and it’s worth pointing out the stark tonal differences about the former two and the latter, which is an overt comedy that ends with an outrageous, absurd finale. Caine was adept at comedy and navigating a determined character through impossible and ridiculous circumstances, and a problem solver perpetually breaking out a disarming grin. Yet in Play Dirty, the antihero – an engineer, a calculating thinker, and the key figure who leads oddball men towards a specific target – has a very different moral and emotional timbre, and when you watch De Toth’s gem, it’s worth keeping in mind how snugly the actor fitted both 1969 roles.

As for De Toth, in 1997 Faber and Faber published his substantive biographical tome De Toth on De Toth: Putting the Drama in Front of the Camera, a great read and slice of working in various genres during the studio system. One chapter stands out: if I’m recalling this properly, rather than pen a short paragraph on 3D, De Toth goes beyond a page length to explain the right way to apply the 3D format. The unusually technical segment represents his similarly precise approach in coordinating sound effects, cinematography, and editing in Play Dirty. Maybe he stepped away from directing because the film felt like a good end statement, but he should’ve made a few more, especially since the studios were gambling small fortunes on new talent, and their own cynical cinematic statements.

Coming next: reviews of Dick Maas’ extremely fun killer elevator films, The Lift / De lift (1983) and Down (2001), both in great Blu-ray editions from Blue Underground.

 

 

Mark R. Hasan, Editor
KQEK.com

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Category: EDITOR'S BLOG

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