Cast & Crew
In 1870s Nevada, stagecoaches carrying gold shipments from the Comstock mines to San Francisco are repeatedly robbed by bandits who provide the driver and passengers with an elegant champagne picnic lunch while they haul away the loot. Having lost a fortune to the "Champagne Bandits," William Sharon, owner of the Golden State Bank, convinces Charles Crocker of the Central Pacific Railroad that the only way to defeat them is to build a railroad through the vulnerable, mountainous area between Virginia City and Carson City. After deciding that the man to build the railroad is engineer Jeff Kincaid, an adventurous and independent-minded fellow, they track him to a San Francisco jail, where he is being held for drunken brawling. After his bail is posted and he accepts the job, they send him to his hometown, Carson City. There he is reunited after ten years with his half-brother Alan and Susan Mitchell, his former childhood admirer who has grown into a beautiful woman. Both Susan and Alan work for her father Zeke, the editor of Carson City's newspaper, who fears that the railroad will bring riffraff to the peaceful town. Zeke commences an editorial campaign against the railroad that is supported by the stagecoach owner, Henry Dodson, who fears losing business, and surprisingly, by some mine owners, in particular Big Jack Davis, part-owner of the Golden Elephant Mine. Although Davis claims he is merely supporting his good friend Dodson, he is, unknown to all of them, the mastermind behind the "Champagne Bandits." Davis and his partner, Jim Squires, have been covering up the fact that the Golden Elephant no longer produces by pretending to ship out gold, then stealing everyone else's. While waiting for the arrival of automatic drills, the newest equipment for tunneling through mountains, Jeff and his crew begin dynamiting. Meanwhile, the freight wagon delivering the drills meets with an "accident" set up by Squires and the hired thugs who masquerade as miners. The wagon rolls off the mountain road, scattering equipment and killing the driver. However, when Jeff and his foreman, Hardrock Haggerty, search for salvageable equipment, they discover that before dying, the driver wrote a mysterious message, "S-O-U," in the dirt. Later, Zeke figures out that the driver may have been trying to spell out "Squires" and goes to the Golden Elephant to discuss his theory with Davis, who, without hesitation, shoots him dead. During the night, the thugs secretly return Zeke's body to the newspaper office, where Susan finds it the next day. Unaware of Zeke's discovery, Susan, Alan and others in the town suspect that he was killed because of his opposition to the railroad, and antagonism toward the railroad workers builds. A fight commences when the workers are refused service at the saloon, but Jeff stops it by challenging his own men. Alan, whose anger is fueled both by Zeke's death and by Susan's interest in Jeff, publishes anti-railroad articles and reports, unfairly, that the railroad men are terrorizing the town. After Susan declines his offer of marriage, Alan's jealousy keeps him from helping out when a landslide traps Jeff and several of his men in the half-built tunnel. After the townspeople, including Susan, help Hardrock and other railroad workers rescue the trapped men, Jeff and Hardrock discover that the landslide was deliberately caused by dynamiting. When the railroad is nearly completed, Davis, knowing he has been beaten, plans his last, most ambitious robbery. The train's initial run from Carson City to Virginia City carries an especially large gold shipment, as the mine owners have been waiting to deliver until the completion of the railroad. On board are leading citizens of both towns and Alan and Susan, who are reporting on the major community event. After watching the train leave the station, Jeff learns from Dodson that Davis has not been shipping out gold since railroad construction began. Knowing that Davis also did not ship out by train, Jeff proceeds to the Golden Elephant, where he finds champagne bottles and an unproducing mine. He captures the guard and with the help of his railroad workers, scares him into revealing Davis' plans. Meanwhile, on the train's return trip to Carson City, Susan and Alan also learn about Davis' plans. After highjacking the train, Davis' men stop it to unload the gold, but Jeff and his men show up and a shoot-out begins. After Davis and Squires escape with the gold, Davis kills Squires to avoid sharing the loot. Alan, who has pursued them, saves Jeff's life and then is also killed. Finally Jeff catches up with Davis, and after a fight, kills him. The rest of the phony miners are either killed or captured by Jeff's men. Later, while honeymooning with Susan in San Francisco, Jeff is offered a job by Crocker and Sharon to build a road linking Carson City to Reno.
G. W. Berntsen
Francis J. Scheid
The president of the Golden State Bank (Larry Keating) must stop of a rash of stagecoach robberies perpetrated by the "Champagne Bandits," so named because they serve the waylaid passengers a formal dinner while the lockbox is being opened. He hires the resourceful but unpredictable engineer "Silent" Jeff Kincaid (Randolph Scott) to build a railroad line through the mountainous region between Virginia City and Carson City. Kincaid's efforts are not welcomed by the locals, who resent the intrusion of an iron horse in their tranquil mountain community. Particularly troublesome is mining magnate "Big Jack" Davis (Raymond Massey), who is secretly the leader of the Champagne Bandits. When a newspaper editor (Don Beddoe) discovers the identity of the criminals, he is murdered by Davis, and blame falls upon Kincaid and his crew. When their worksite is sabotaged, Kincaid and some of his men are buried within a mountain tunnel. The townspeople, in spite of their animosity toward the railroad men, join together to help save them. Through his bravery and ingenuity, Kincaid earns the respect of the townfolk, and gains an opportunity to find the true murderer and clear his name.
Carson City was the first film released in Warnercolor, a process that was cheaper and less complicated than Technicolor, the dominant color process between 1934 and 1952. While Technicolor required that the image be exposed on three strips of film at once (through the use of a cumbersome camera), Warnercolor combined these elements as multiple layers on a single strip of film. Warner Bros. did not invent this process. The technology had been developed during World War II by the Eastman Kodak company. As a result of postwar trust-busting, the company was forced to share the innovation, and processes similar to Eastman Color soon began to appear under a variety of studio brand names, including Metrocolor, Columbia Color and Deluxe (20th Century-Fox's version). This process is essentially the same as is used today, but in 1952 it had yet to be refined. Early Warnercolor films were less vibrant than Technicolor, and yielded noticeable film grain.
Initially Michael Curtiz (Casablanca, 1942) was slated to direct the film, which was being produced under the title The Champagne Bandits. Then, Curtiz shied away from the film because of concerns about the new technology. As De Toth playfully recalls that Curtiz said (mimicking his fellow countryman's Hungarian accent), "I don'tt vanttobee guinea pigg for Varner Color." Curtiz had helmed experimental color films twice already (Doctor X  and Mystery of the Wax Museum , both shot in two-strip Technicolor), and was not eager to repeat the experience.
De Toth viewed the project not as a likely failure, but as an opportunity to explore the new process. "I was aware that 'guinea pigs' expire sooner than sane dullsvillians, but I was also conscious of the added possibility of learning, experimenting and having an awful lot of fun while expiring. I wanted to take advantage of all that." (quoted in the book-length interview De Toth on De Toth, edited by Anthony Slide).
"It is always more exciting to be an unsuccessful pioneer, than a successful teller of old tales. This promised to be intriguing."
In his autobiography, however, De Toth cites a more prosaic reason to take over the film, "I didn't like the script, I needed the money, the pastures started to look much greener on the other side of the fence I was straddling."
When De Toth inherited the production, Charlie Ruggles was scheduled to play the leader of the Champagne Bandits, but the new director felt he lacked the sophistication necessary to the role. "For Charlie Ruggles not to spit out the champagne after tasting it would have been against his grain," De Toth recalled, "To make him drink it for the sake of the title and the script? Ridiculous." Feelers were extended and Raymond Massey was brought in as a more cosmopolitan Jack Davis.
De Toth was right in thinking that the champagne plot device might not feel authentic. Whether being tasted by Ruggles or Massey, it never rises above gimmickry, and most likely for this reason, the title of the film was changed to something more immediately recognizable as a rugged Western.
There was no question about possession of the leading role. It belonged to Scott, an icon of the Western screen. De Toth very frankly noted Scott's shortcomings as an actor, "He had a tremendous inferiority complex about his acting ability and that made him so stiff... he creaked." But the director makes it clear that acting skills are not all that makes a great performer, "Good actor, he wasn't. He was Randy Scott."
"[His] complexion matched the rocks, with Sarsaparilla frizzing through his aging veins. I called him 'Granite Jaw.' Even the horseshit was sterile around him, a perfect gentleman on or off the set who never read a script, which showed he was wise too. But he was a reader all right, an avid reader of his bible, the Wall Street Journal and wherever he was, on horseback or in bed, he was engulfed in the antiseptic cloud of a dry-cleaning establishment. A blue-book millionaire via his wife and in his own right, with a hobby which he thought was acting." (De Toth, Fragments: Portraits from the Inside) In the end, any fears about the quality of Warnercolor proved to be minor. In spite of the image's graininess, De Toth and director of photography John W. Boyle captured several memorable sequences, including the tunneling scenes and a magic hour showdown at Davis's gold mine.
Clearly, more attention was paid to the photography than to the screenplay. The New York Times called it "another familiar scramble on the Warner Brothers' cow path...nothing more than a thoroughly routine little horse opera."
It is true, Carson City does not shy away from cliché. If anything, it luxuriates in convention yet manages to sculpt an engaging drama out of the nuts and bolts in every western filmmaker's toolbox. There is a saloon brawl, a stagecoach heist, a struggle to lay rail through the rugged west, a two-fisted protagonist trying to clear his reputation, a former sweetheart, a folksy newspaperman. It's all here.
De Toth acknowledged that Carson City was mired in convention, down to the location of the shoot: the west end of the San Fernando Valley. "There were so many westerns shot there through the years that the rocks called the horses by their first names. The people riding them were so insignificant they had no names."
Yet somehow, Carson City manages to emerge as a perfectly engaging drama. De Toth was one of those directors who tended to make well-crafted dramas within the established boundaries of the genre (be it the western or film noir). This made him a reliable resource to the studios at the time. However, his tendency to "paint within the lines" has left him without much of a legacy today, and he is appreciated only by those who are better versed in the language of genre. His films are good, but only the most discriminating eyes can detect the details of quality craftsmanship that lie beneath the ordinary surface of an Andre De Toth picture.
Even The New York Times, in the end, had to acknowledge that there was something satisfying in Carson City's conventional form, "the scenarists; Andre De Toth, who directed, and practically the entire cast have performed their assignments with a competent jauntiness that suggests they weren't out to fool anybody."
One can easily imagine the straight-talking De Toth agreeing, with a shrug.
Director: Andre De Toth
Producer: Bryan Foy and David Weisbart
Screenplay: Eric Jonsson, Winston Miller and Sloan Nibley, Story by Sloan Nibley
Cinematography: John W. Boyle
Production Design: Stanley Fleischer
Music: David Buttolph
Cast: Randolph Scott (Silent Jeff Kincaid), Raymond Massey (Jack Davis), Lucille Norman (Susan Mitchell), Richard Webb (Alan Kincaid), Don Beddoe (Zeke Mitchell), Larry Keating (William Sharon).
by Bret Wood
TCM Remembers Andre de Toth
Born in Mako, Hungary to the son of a civil engineer, De Toth showed an early artistic bent, having his first exhibit of paintings and sculpture at age 14 and seeing his first play produced at age 18. After obtaining his law degree from the University of Budapest, he began acting, writing and working as a cameraman for cinematographer Istvan Eiben. In 1939, he went to England, where he worked as a second unit director for Alexander Korda on The Thief of Bagdad and other films. De Toth immigrated to Hollywood in the early '40s, and worked with Korda on The Jungle Book (1942) and several other films.
He made his Hollywood directing debut with the 1943 feature, Passport to Suez, a propaganda thriller about the Nazis wanting to bomb the Suez Canal.
Impressed with his ability, Harry Cohn, head of Columbia Pictures, put the director under contract for one film and the result, None Shall Escape (1944), launched his Hollywood career. This tense, sensitive drama about a Nazi officer made to examine his actions was fascinating in its structure: Set after the war's end, the film centers around the trial of a Nazi butcher, Wilhelm Grimm (Alexander Knox), in Poland and makes excellent use of flashbacks illustrating the prosecution's testimony to form the bulk of the film. In a way, the film predicted the Nuremberg Trials after the war.
de Toth earned considerable critical acclaim with the taut, intense noir thriller Pitfall (1948) which he co-wrote. Starring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Raymond Burr, this story of a bored insurance salesman who embarks on an affair because he feels stifled in his picture-perfect home (a devoted wife, son, nice house, successful career, etc.) was striking as one of the first films to examine the American dream gone sour. De Toth followed that with a shared Oscar nomination with William Bowers for Best Original Motion Picture Story for The Gunfighter (1950), a haunting character study of a killer (Gregory Peck) trying to live down his past.
His biggest commercial hit came with House of Wax (1953), the movie that launched Vincent Price's horror film career and is still regarded as the best of all three-dimensional films to be released during that period. Unlike other directors who seemed to be dabbling with a new technique, De Toth emphasized character and plot over the special effects: Price was a sculptor rebuilding his wax figure collection (destroyed by fire) by making statues out of his murder victims. The one-eyed de Toth was an odd choice to helm a 3-D film as he could not experience the stereoscopic process, having lost an eye in his youth, but he persevered and it was the most successful 3-D film of its day.
De Toth followed that hit with some fine films: Crime Wave (1954), a hostage thriller that boasts some fine performances by Sterling Hayden and Gene Nelson and excellent location shooting on the streets of Los Angeles; The Indian Fighter (1955) an exciting Kirk Douglas vehicle about a wagon master leading his train through rough territory that won accolades for depicting the Native Americans with more depth than contemporary directors; and Day of the Outlaw (1959), the stark, stylish, low budget western about an outlaw (Burl Ives) and his gang taking over taking a small town and matching wits with one of its citizens (Robert Ryan). For many, this film best articulated many of the recurring themes in De Toth's work that would be evaluated only decades later by film scholars: survival, betrayal, the capacity for evil and complexities of human relationships.
In the early sixties film work became increasingly scarce for De Toth and he found himself relegated to directing for television: Maverick, 77 Sunset Strip and The Westerner. Tired of the limitations he was finding in Hollywood, De Toth headed to Europe in the '60s, where he found work as an uncredited consultant and location scout on David Lean's extravagant Lawrence of Arabia (1962). He directed a few films abroad, the best of which was the World War II action film Play Dirty (1968), starring Michael Caine, and then he more or less retired from active filmmaking. It was not until recently that De Toth began to receive critical recognition for his entertaining body of work. The last few years have seen several retrospectives and he enjoyed a renewed popularity at film festivals from Scotland to San Francisco. His contributions to film were recognized with the 1995 life achievement prize by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the publication of his autobiography, Fragments: Portraits From the Inside, as well as an interview book, De Toth on De Toth, by Anthony Slide. De Toth was married for a time to Veronica Lake (1944-1952) with whom he had two children. He is survived by his wife, Ann Green.
by Michael T. Toole
TCM Remembers Andre de Toth
This was Warner Bros.' first film shot in WarnerColor.
The working title of the film was The Champagne Bandits. An onscreen acknowledgment at the beginning of the film thanks the State of Nevada for the authentic data that made filming possible. According to an October 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, William Lava was assigned to write the score, but he is not credited onscreen and his contribution to the final film has not been determined. July 1951 Hollywood Reporter news items add Frosty Royce, Sailor Vincent and Slim Hightower to the cast; however, their appearance in the film has not been confirmed.
Portions of the film were shot on location at Angeles Crest, Bronson Canyon, the Bell Ranch and the Warner Ranch in Calabasas, CA, according to Warner Bros. production notes. Although Carson City was the first film to be shot in WarnerColor, The Lion and the Horse, which began production in August 1951, a month after Carson City, was released first. A third film sometimes cited as the first WarnerColor production, The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, did not begin production until January 1952. Carson City marked the producing debut of Warner Bros. film editor David Weisbart.