THE MAESTRO: Robert Siodmak

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The director Robert Siodmak 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 exquisitely styled Hollywood thrillers including The Spiral Staircase and The Killers (both 1946).

Born in the USA but raised in Germany, Siodmak began working in film in 1925 and directed his first feature, the pseudo-documentary People on Sunday, in 1929. The film launched the careers not only of Siodmak, but of co-screenwriters Billy Wilder and Curt Siodmak (Robert's younger brother).

Siodmak's first solo feature was Farewell (1930), a kind of working-class Grand Hotel. Scripted by Emeric Pressburger, its technical accomplishment and experimental verve heralded an important new talent in German cinema. Three years and three films later, however, the Jewish Siodmak was forced into exile, first in France and then, in 1941, to Hollywood.

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After making several light, highly enjoyable B pictures for various studios, Siodmak hit his peak at Universal making deft, noirish thrillers like Phantom Lady (1943), The Suspect (1945), Uncle Harry (1945), The Dark Mirror (1946), and an especially superb pair of crime dramas, Criss Cross (1949) and Cry of the City (1949). Central to the success of all of these is Siodmak's ability to evoke a sinister mood, a fear of each and every dark shadow, while maintaining a taut narrative drive.

Siodmak's last great Hollywood product was the swashbuckling classic The Crimson Pirate (1952). He then returned to Europe and, with the exception of such mature efforts as the very fine German-made melodramas and crime dramas The Rats (1955), The Devil Strikes at Night (1957), and Dorothea Angermann (1958) turned out mostly unexceptional films into the 60s.

Robert Siodmak died on March 10, 1973 (age 72) in Switzerland.

SOURCE: Turner Classic Movies