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Robert Siodmak

IMDb

Date of Birth:
8 August 1900Dresden, Saxony, Germany

Date of Death:
10 March 1973Locarno, Ticino, Switzerland  (heart attack)

Short Biography:
The director Robert Siodmak (which he insisted, be pronounced 'See-odd-mack') was a masterful film maker who successfully blended the techniques of German Expressionism with contemporary styles of American film, particularly film noir, in the process creating a handful of moody, sometimes chilling, and always memorable motion pictures. Though born in Memphis, Tennessee, of Jewish parents who visited on business, Siodmak spent his youth in Germany from the age of one. He received his tertiary education from the University of Marburg and briefly tried his hand at acting with local stock companies. When this didn't work out, he joined his father in the bank business, but with rampant inflation and the Great Depression about to hit, this too was a short-lived venture. After losing much of his own money on the stock market, Siodmak managed to get a job writing titles for imported American films and, by 1927, progressed to film cutter.

In 1929, Siodmak managed to coax producer Seymour Nebenzal to finance an experimental film based on a story written by Robert's brother Curt, People on Sunday (1930). The film, essentially a series of light-hearted vignettes using non-professional actors, was co-directed by Siodmak in conjunction with Edgar G. Ulmer, and co-written by Billy Wilder. The resulting popularity of this little film led to a contract with Erich Pommer at UFA. Siodmak's first noted effort as director was the comedy/drama Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht (1931), again with brother Curt and Billy Wilder writing the screenplay. The story concerned a man tired of living, but too cowardly to commit suicide. He takes out a contract on himself but, after the contract has been sold to an unknown, changes his mind, desperately trying to figure out the identity of his would-be assassin. The film was ahead of its time (and the plot has been copied many times since) but failed at the box office. Siodmak's second effort, Voruntersuchung (1931) ('Inquest'), was a murder mystery in which the son of the magistrate prosecuting the case was the chief suspect. This picture truly established Siodmak on the scene as a leading exponent of expressionism, using lighting and photography to convey emotion, such as fear and repulsion. 'Voruntersuchung' is very much a victory of style over content, laden with atmosphere and imbued with realistic detail, both sight and sound. There are unusual camera angles and close-ups, flashing lights and incidental sounds (for example, a ruler scraped along heating pipes to intimidate an interrogated suspect) not used as prominently on screen before.

When Hitler came to power in Germany, Siodmak joined Billy Wilder in Paris and stayed there until 1940. He directed varied output, from the depression-era musical La crise est finie (1934) with Danielle Darrieux and the Jacques Offenbach operetta La vie parisienne (1936), to the taut suspenser Personal Column (1939), which dealt with the trapping of a Ripper-style serial killer. In 1940, Siodmak was on the very last ship leaving France for America on the eve of Germany's occupation of Paris.

After a brief stay at Paramount from 1941 to 42, Siodmak found his niche at Universal (1943-48), a studio renowned for combining expressionist techniques with Hollywood neo-realism, particularly through their horror and thriller output. Siodmak's experience with editing and having filmed in France on relatively low budgets, enabled him to create at Universal a number of quality films which looked good without being expensive to produce. After directing the atmospheric, though routinely-plotted, Son of Dracula (1943) 1943, Siodmak had a noteworthy hit with the murder mystery Phantom Lady (1944). This film maintained suspense throughout, by its fast pace, the use of moody lighting and clever little touches, such as a strange hat which leads to the discovery of the key witness in the story. Siodmak was also able to elicit strong performances from his cast, in particular, Franchot Tone as the murderer. Another excellent Siodmak film that year was the period drama The Suspect (1944), set in 19th century gas-lit London, starring Charles Laughton as a man driven to murdering his shrewish wife.

Generally recognised as Siodmak's masterpiece, was the stylish thriller The Spiral Staircase (1946), a joint venture between RKO and David O. Selznick's Vanguard Films. The story of a demented perfectionist, who murders deformed girls, is set in a gothic New England mansion in 1906, against the backdrop of a raging thunderstorm. The film is rich in period detail and imagery. Because the chief protagonist and next on the killer's hit list (Dorothy McGuire) is mute, Siodmak used reflections and disconcerting mirror images to convey terror, much in the same way Murnau did in his silent horror classic Nosferatu (1922). George Brent, as the villain, gave arguably the best performance of his career.

Now firmly ensconced as a director of A-grade films, Siodmak proceeded to direct The Killers (1946), a classy film noir based on a 1927 story by Ernest Hemingway. Today regarded as one of the best of the genre, 'The Killers' is, for the most part shrouded in shadows, which, combining with its narrative composed of almost entirely of flashbacks and scenes shots from above, engenders a feeling of claustrophobia and impending doom. The story unfolds like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place, pre-deterministic in its post-war world view. Siodmak continued in the same vein with The Dark Mirror (1946), in which police try to determine which of two identical twins (played by Olivia de Havilland) has committed murder; Cry of the City (1948), about a policeman tracking down a childhood friend, turned killer; Criss Cross (1949), a violent, suspenseful crime melodrama about an armoured car guard, who is compromised by gangsters; and the stylish film noir, The File on Thelma Jordon (1950), with Barbara Stanwyck at her best as a chillingly ruthless, manipulating femme fatale in the vein of her Phyllis Dietrichson or Martha Ivers. By the end of the 1940's, Robert Siodmak had established a reputation as a master of suspense and the macabre, second only to Hitchcock.

In stark contrast to his usual output, Siodmak directed Burt Lancaster in the muscular The Crimson Pirate (1952), a colourful, cheerful swashbuckler, with spectacular action scenes, unmatched in the genre before 'Pirates of the Caribbean', half a century later. This was Siodmak's swan song in Hollywood.

Coming full-circle, he returned to Germany, where he directed several interesting dramas, notably Die Ratten (1955) with Maria Schell as a pregnant, homeless 20-year old, in the nightmarish world of burnt-out post-war Berlin; and The Devil Strikes at Night (1957) ('The Devil strikes at Night'), the story of a serial killer in Hamburg in the late 1930's. Reminiscent of Fritz Lang's M (1931), this intense film stood out for the realistic treatment of its subject. It won ten awards, including the Deutscher Filmpreis in Berlin and made a star of Mario Adorf, who Siodmak cast on the strength of having seen him on the Munich stage in 'The Caine Mutiny'. Siodmak's last films of note were international co-productions: Custer of the West (1967), which was shot in Spain with Robert Shaw in the title role; and The Last Roman (1968), with Laurence Harvey and Orson Welles. Neither film was a success. Robert Siodmak retired from film making in 1970. He died three years later of a heart attack in a hospital in Locarno, Switzerland.

The Crimson Pirate (1952)

# 02606 IMDb

The Crimson Pirate (1952)

TaglineAsk me no questions: believe only what you see!

By Robert Siodmak

Action, Adventure, Comedy (1h 45min)

USA USA

Fine! Rated 7.3 after 5,016 votes on 05-Oct-18.

Burt Lancaster plays a pirate with a taste for intrigue and acrobatics who involves himself in the goings on of a revolution in the Caribbean in the late 1700s. A light hearted adventure involving prison breaks, an oddball Scientist, sailing ships, naval fights, and tons of swordplay.

The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)

# 12354 IMDb

The File on Thelma Jordon (1950)

Tagline...SHE'LL LIE...KILL OR KISS HER WAY OUT OF ANYTHING!

By Robert Siodmak

Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Mystery (1h 40min)

USA USA

Fine! Rated 7.0 after 1,593 votes on 05-Oct-18.

Thelma Jordon is in love with a jewel thief, Tony Laredo, and he persuades her to go live with her rich aunt, and steal her jewels. During the robbery, she shoots her formerly-rich aunt, but makes it look like an outside job. Cleve Marshall, an assistant district attorney, is assigned the case, promptly falls in love with Thelma (and she with him), and he maneuvers and presents the state's case (...)

Criss Cross (1949)

# 07014 IMDb

Criss Cross (1949)

TaglineWhen you Double-Cross a Double-Crosser...IT'S A CRISS-CROSS!

By Robert Siodmak

Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Thriller (1h 28min)

USA USA

Fine! Rated 7.6 after 5,961 votes on 05-Oct-18.

1 nomination

While driving an armored car in a lonely road, Steve Thompson recalls his life, after divorcing his beloved wife Anna and working in many places in the United States of America, from the moment he returned home in Los Angeles a few days ago. Although traveling for almost two years trying to forget Anna, he is still obsessed with her. However, when he arrives in town, the sentimentally inconstant (...)

Cry of the City (1948)

# 06960 IMDb

Cry of the City (1948)

By Robert Siodmak

Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Romance (1h 35min)

USA USA

Fine! Rated 7.3 after 1,705 votes on 06-Oct-18.

1 nomination

Basically the story of two tenement-bred, Italian-American, childhood-friends who grow up with radically different views on crime, and are pitted against each other while following their chosen paths: Gangster Martin Rome is seriously wounded during a gun-battle in which he has killed a policeman, while Police Lieutenant-Detective Candella, of the homicide squad, is seeking the solution to (...)

The Dark Mirror (1946)

# 06875 IMDb

The Dark Mirror (1946)

By Robert Siodmak

Film-Noir, Thriller (1h 25min)

USA USA

Fine! Rated 7.1 after 3,302 votes on 11-Oct-18.

Nominated for Oscar

When Dr. Frank Peralta is found stabbed to death straight to the heart in his apartment, two neighbors swear to the veteran Lt. Stevenson, who is charge of the investigation, that they saw Ruth Collins leaving his apartment late night. The detective interrogates Ruth and she has the alibi of three witnesses that she was walking around in the Jefferson Park during the night. Then he visits Ruth in (...)

The Killers (1946)

# 01626 IMDb

The Killers (1946)

TaglineTENSE! TAUT! TERRFIFIC! told the untamed Hemingway way!

By Robert Siodmak

Crime, Film-Noir, Romance (1h 43min)

USA USA

Fine! Rated 7.8 after 16,142 votes on 24-Aug-18.

Nominated for 4 Oscars. Another 1 win & 1 nomination

Two professional killers invade a small town and kill a gas station attendant, "the Swede," who's expecting them. Insurance investigator Reardon pursues the case against the orders of his boss, who considers it trivial. Weaving together threads of the Swede's life, Reardon uncovers a complex tale of treachery and crime, all linked with gorgeous, mysterious Kitty Collins.

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)

# 12124 IMDb

The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)

By Robert Siodmak

Drama, Film-Noir (1h 20min)

USA USA

Rated 6.9 after 1,025 votes on 22-Oct-18.

Bachelor Harry Quincey, head designer in a small-town cloth factory, lives with his selfish sisters, glamorous hypochondriac Lettie and querulous widow Hester. His developing relationship with new colleague Deborah Brown promises happiness at last...thwarted by passive, then increasingly active opposition from one sister. Will Harry resort to desperate measures?

The Spiral Staircase (1945)

# 06824 IMDb

The Spiral Staircase (1945)

By Robert Siodmak

Drama, Film-Noir, Horror, Mystery, Thriller (1h 23min)

USA USA

Fine! Rated 7.5 after 7,736 votes on 29-Oct-18.

Nominated for Oscar

In the beginning of the Twentieth Century, a serial-killer is terrorizing a small town, killing women with imperfections. In the Warren manor, the mute servant Helen nurses Mrs. Warren who is terminal in bed. The newcomer Dr. Parry falls in love for Helen and has the intention to take her to specialists in Boston for treatment for recovering her voice and marry her. When the reckless Steve Warren (...)

Conflict (1945)

# 06812 IMDb

Conflict (1945)

TaglineSUSPENSE...SUSPICION...MAN-WOMAN DESIRES!

By Curtis Bernhardt

Film-Noir, Thriller (1h 26min)

USA USA

Fine! Rated 7.2 after 2,651 votes on 01-Aug-18.

Richard Mason is slightly injured in a car accident but pretends greater hurt so that he cannot accompany his wife Kathryn on a trip to the mountains. He does, however, kill her on a lonely mountain road. Or did he? He smells her perfume, finds her jewelry, sees an envelope addressed with her handwriting. He must go back to the scene of the crime to find ... what?

The Suspect (1944)

# 10817 IMDb

The Suspect (1944)

TaglineHis was a strange SECRET! Hers was a strange LOVE!

By Robert Siodmak

Drama, Film-Noir, Thriller (1h 25min)

USA USA

Fine! Rated 7.5 after 1,360 votes on 12-Oct-18.

In 1902 London, unhappily married Philip Marshall meets young Mary Gray, who is unemployed and depressed. Their deepening friendship, though physically innocent, is discovered by Philip's wife who threatens him with exposure and scandal, driving him to kill her. Thereafter, fortune seems to smile on Philip Marshall; but does fate have a surprise in store?

Son of Dracula (1943)

# 14875 IMDb Approved 

Son of Dracula (1943)

TaglineCan You Take It? More Startling . . . More Blood-Curdling Than Anything You've Ever Seen!

By Robert Siodmak

Fantasy, Horror (1h 20min)

USA USA

Rated 6.2 after 3,811 votes on 22-Oct-18.

1 win

Count Alucard finds his way from Budapest to the swamps of the Deep South after meeting Katherine Caldwell, of the moneyed Caldwell clan that runs a plantation called Dark Oaks. She's obsessed with occult matters. Who better to guide her through this supernatural world than Count Alucard, whose name no one bothers to spell backwards? No one, that is, except the wily Dr. Brewster, an old family (...)

Menschen am Sonntag (1930)

# 05367 IMDb

Menschen am Sonntag (1930)

(People on Sunday)

By Curt Siodmak (as Kurt Siodmak), Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer, Fred Zinnemann, Rochus Gliese (uncredited)

Documentary, Drama, Romance (1h 14min)

Germany Germany

Fine! Rated 7.5 after 2,253 votes on 04-Jul-18.

Edwin, a taxi driver, lives with Annie, a neurasthenic model. They plan to spend Sunday at the Nikolassee beach with Wolfgang, an officer, gentleman, antiquarian, gigolo, at the moment a wine salesman. After an argument, Annie stays at home while Edwin joins Wolf. Wolf has brought along a new girlfriend, Christl. Brigitte, Christl's best friend, joins the group. Brigitte is the manager of a (...)

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