Cast & Crew
Ted De Corsia
In Los Angeles, escaped convicts from San Quentin, Doc Penny, Ben Hastings and Gat Morgan, hold up a gas station, and although they get away with a small amount of money, a policeman is killed and Gat is wounded. Leaving behind Gat with part of the loot and a stolen car, Doc and Hastings head south to do a robbery, hoping to trick the police into believing they are heading for San Diego. The injured Gat proceeds unannounced to the apartment of Steve Lacey, a San Quentin parolee who has gone straight. Steve, who now has a loving wife, Ellen, and a good job as an airplane mechanic, has much to lose by harboring a criminal, but is forced at gunpoint to let in Gat, who then dies in the living room. To Steve's surprise, Otto Hessler, a former physician and ex-convict whom Gat called to treat him, shows up, and after pocketing the stolen money, leaves the Laceys to deal with Gat's body. Fearing that the police will not believe in his innocence, Steve calls his parole officer, Daniel O'Keefe, for help at Ellen's urging. However, Steve convinces Ellen not to mention Hessler's appearance at their home, as having two ex-cons on the premises would look more suspicious. Meanwhile, Los Angeles police sergeant Sims has obtained an identification of the robbers from the gas station attendant and, guessing that they will contact their former prison mate Steve for help, proceeds to the Laceys' apartment. Treating Steve's story with skepticism, Sims arrests Steve and holds him for three days, but then offers to let Steve off easy if he will work with the police in locating the robbers. Although Steve refuses, knowing that communication with his old acquaintances would endanger his new life with Ellen, Sims releases him, and the Laceys return home. Steve and Ellen's relief is short-lived when they find that Doc and Hastings, who have circled back to Los Angeles, are hiding in their apartment. To scare them away, Steve declares that the police are closely watching him, but this does not dissuade Doc, who wants Steve's help with another bank holdup in Glendale they are planning. Meanwhile, Sims confronts Hessler at the animal hospital where he now works as a veterinarian, and after tricking the drunken doctor into confessing that he was at Steve's apartment, orders him to return there to get information about the robbers. When Hessler again shows up at the Lacey apartment, Steve prevents him from entering, but Doc and Hastings overhear the conversation and Hastings trails him back to the animal hospital and kills him. A pedestrian witnesses the murder through the window and calls the police, and Steve's car, which Hastings stole, is found in the vicinity. By the time Hastings has returned to the Laceys' apartment, an all-points bulletin has been issued for Steve's arrest, and the thugs realize they must flee. Although Steve and Ellen are forced to accompany them, Steve manages to leave a cryptic note in the apartment that gives the place and time of the intended robbery. At the new hideout, Doc and Hastings reunite with two other criminals, Zenner and Johnny Haslett, who keep track of pertinent news on a police radio. By threatening Ellen's well-being, the criminals make Steve agree to drive the getaway car during the robbery, then, as he has a pilot's license, fly them to Mexico. Meanwhile, the police return to the Laceys' apartment and after searching it, find the note. On Saturday, the bank is filled with policemen disguised as bank personnel and customers, and the robbery fails. Doc, Hastings and Zenner are shot, but Steve drives off wildly through traffic. Although pursued by Sims, Steve arrives at the hideout in time to save Ellen from the psychopathic Haslett, who has heard about the failed robbery on the police channel. Steve fights Haslett, who is arrested when Sims and his men arrive. Sims also pretends to arrest Steve, but after taking Ellen and Steve away in a different police car, he scolds Steve for not calling the police when Gat first arrived on their doorstep. After admitting to Steve that he separates the good men from the bad by riding them hard, Sims drops all charges against him and sends the Laceys home to continue their lives.
Ted De Corsia
Mary Alan Hokanson
William L. Kuehl
Capt. R. A. Lohrman
Maurice De Packh
When De Toth originally received the script for Crime Wave from Warner Brothers, it was a more ambitious project starring Humphrey Bogart and Ava Gardner, with a planned shooting schedule of 35 days. De Toth recalled, "I thought that Sterling Hayden in every way would be a better fit. He had a certain rumpled dignity. He wasn't bigger than life like Bogart." After throwing a fit Jack Warner let him use Hayden, but he cut the budget and reduced the shooting schedule to fifteen days. In retrospect, De Toth was surely right--Hayden delivers one of his best performances of the Fifties. Gene Nelson, who plays the young ex-con trying to escape his past, had appeared in a number of musicals in the early Fifties but this was his first major dramatic role. He later appeared in Oklahoma! (1955), but mostly he worked as a television actor and director for the rest of his career. A young Charles Bronson, still using the name Charles Buchinsky, makes an appearance as a member of the criminal gang.
Crime Wave was hardly the first film noir shot on location in the Los Angeles area, but it includes many distinctive locations in Glendale and elsewhere in Los Angeles, including Bunker Hill, a veterinary hospital with memorable architecture, and an actual Bank of America branch for the climactic robbery scene. De Toth said of the bank, "We were granted only one night. Everyone knew it. That helped. It added an urgency to get it done and then get the hell out of there; that urgency is felt on the screen. It was a wonderful night for all of us."
The film also stands out for its early use of nighttime location photography. De Toth explains: "It was unusual at that time - with the low ASA ratings of the film negative, the heavy equipment, the lights, the clumsy cameras and cranes - to shoot at night outside the pre-rigged studio backlots." Bert Glennon, the film's director of photography, was one of the most talented in Hollywood, working with filmmakers such as John Ford and Josef von Sternberg. His considerable professionalism no doubt helped De Toth achieve what he wanted and finish under schedule.
During Crime Wave's initial release Philip K. Schuer of the Los Angeles Times admired the film's "documentary quality," its "nagging-note pitch of excitement" and its performances, especially that of Hayden. The anonymous reviewer for the New York Times characterized the film as standard crime thriller fare, but with a "graphic, flavorsome birds-eye view of Los Angeles." He also pronounced it Gene Nelson's "best performance to date" and commented on the "disturbing note of righteous sadism" of the police sergeant as performed by Hayden. Writing about a revival screening in the 1990s, Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times encapsulates why the film holds up so well today: "De Toth never makes a false move, never lets up a breakneck pace and gets sensational performances from one of those amazing casts we once took for granted in Hollywood pictures."
Producer: Bryan Foy
Director: Andre De Toth
Script: Crane Wilbur, adaptation by Bernard Gordon and Richard Wormser, based on the short story "Criminal's Mark" by John and Ward Hawkins
Director of Photography: Bert Glennon
Art Director: Stanley Fleischer
Film Editor: Thomas Reilly
Cast: Sterling Hayden (Detective Sgt. Sims); Gene Nelson (Steve Lacey); Phyllis Kirk (Ellen Lacey); Ted de Corsia (Doc Penny); Charles Buchinsky (Ben Hastings); Jay Novello (Otto Hessler); Nedrick Young (Gat Morgan); James Bell (Daniel O'Keefe); Timothy Carey (Johnny Haslett).
by James Steffen
De Toth, Andre with Anthony Slide. De Toth on De Toth: Putting the Drama in front of the Camera. London and Boston: Faber and Faber, 1996.
Porfirio, Robert, Alain Silver and James Ursini, eds. Film Noir Reader 3: Interviews with Filmmakers of the Classic Noir Period. New York: Limelight Editions, 2001.
Scheuer, Philip K. "Crime Wave Rugged; Warden Duffy Kindly." Los Angeles Times, March 11, 1954.
T. H. H. "The Screen in Review." New York Times, January 13, 1954.
Thomas, Kevin. "Gems that Still Glow in the Dark; Cinematheque Serves Up an Eclectic Lineup in its Greatest Hits Series." Los Angeles Times, August 13, 1998.
Crime Wave - Sterling Hayden & Charles Bronson in CRIME WAVE on DVD
Crime Wave, now available as one of the ten titles in Warner Home Entertainment's new Film Noir Classic Collection, Vol. 4, is tough, gritty and first-rate, largely because of De Toth's ability to achieve the realistic effect he described. He shot the picture in 13 days entirely on L.A. locations (mostly the Glendale area), using natural light and on-location sound wherever possible. There's even some handheld camerawork thrown in, which feels visceral instead of showy. For one scene, De Toth efficiently uses only a telephone and two hands (along with off-screen voices) to convey the action. There is not one ounce of fat in the finished product.
The movie tells a simple story. A gang of hoodlums holds up a gas station one dark night, but things go awry and a shootout leaves a cop dead and one bad guy (Nedrick Young) wounded. Young splits from his cohorts and finds his way to the nearby apartment of Gene Nelson, a parolee and old prison-buddy who is now married to Phyllis Kirk and trying to lead a straight-arrow life. Of course, this being a film noir, Nelson finds himself getting sucked into the lives of his shady friends against his wishes. Eventually he is wanted for murder and chased through the city by police detective Sterling Hayden, in one of his best, most scowling performances.
Standard stuff this may be, but De Toth really elevates it into something special. The locations add hugely to the yarn's immediacy. For a climactic sequence in a Bank of America branch, De Toth got permission to shoot in a real one for one night only, and he made the most of it. The opening gas station shootout, filmed in downtown L.A., is straightforward and shocking - superbly staged in every way. Despite its quick shooting schedule, Crime Wave looks quite beautiful, with deep blacks, crisp shadows and carefully framed compositions well-served by the fine DVD transfer. De Toth's cinematographer was the ace Bert Glennon, whose credits also included Rio Grande (1950), They Died With Their Boots On (1941), Stagecoach (1939), Blonde Venus (1932) and many other all-time classics.
Toothpick-chewing Sterling Hayden may be terrific in Crime Wave, but Nelson and Kirk also turn in excellent, sensitive performances, and Charles Bronson (billed as Charles Buchinsky) steals his scenes as one of the bad guys. Tim Carey, perhaps the best-ever player of movie psychos, plays one here, as another of the crooks. The aforementioned Nedrick Young was also a screenwriter who happens to have written the script for the other film noir sharing this disc: Decoy (1946). Young was a fine writer whose career was badly affected when he was blacklisted. Eddie Muller, on his commentary track, fills in the details and provides his usual interesting points on this film. Joining in the conversation is a jokey James Ellroy; between the two of them, they're able to identify just about all the locations used in Crime Wave - no small feat! Also on the disc is a trailer and a brief featurette including filmmakers, critics, and De Toth himself (from an archival interview) discussing the film.
For more information about Crime Wave, visit Warner Video. To order Crime Wave, go to TCM Shopping.
by Jeremy Arnold
Crime Wave - Sterling Hayden & Charles Bronson in CRIME WAVE on DVD
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
The working titles of the film were Don't Cry, Baby and The City Is Dark. According to a February 1951 Hollywood Reporter news item, Warner Bros. originally assigned Rudi Fehr to produce the film. An October 1952 Daily Variety news item reported that Steve Cochran was cast in the Gene Nelson role. According to Warner Bros. production notes, portions of the film were shot in the Los Angeles Police Department's Homicide Division and its radio broadcasting room. Landmarks in Glendale, CA, and Los Angeles appear in the film, including a Bank of America, the Glendale Grand Central Air Terminal and the Bunker Hill neighborhood of Los Angeles. A May 1953 Los Angeles Daily News article reported that director Andre De Toth made use of Los Angeles smog to create mood in the picture. Crime Wave marked singer-dancer Gene Nelson's first non-musical role.
Released in United States Winter January 12, 1954
Completed shooting December 3, 1952.
Richard Benjamin had a bit part in this film, his second, at the age of fifteen.
Released in United States Winter January 12, 1954