Robert Siodmak

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Robert Siodmak (8 August 1900 - 10 March 1973) was a German born American film director. He is best remembered as a thriller specialist[1] and for the series of Hollywood film noirs he made in the 1940s.


Early life

Siodmak was born to a Polish Jewish family in Dresden, Germany (the myth of his American birth in Memphis, Tennessee was necessary for him to obtain a visa in Paris). He worked as a stage director and a banker before becoming editor and scenarist for Curtis Bernhardt in 1925. At twenty-six he was hired by his cousin, producer Seymour Nebenzal, to assemble original silent movies from the stock footage of old ones. Siodmak worked at this for two years before he persuaded Nebenzal to finance his first feature, the silent chef d'oeuvre, People on Sunday (Menschen am Sonntag) (1929). The script was written by his younger brother Curt Siodmak, later the screenwriter of The Wolf Man (1941).

With the rise of Nazism he left Germany for Paris and then Hollywood. Siodmak arrived in Hollywood in 1939, where he made 23 movies, many of them widely popular thrillers and crime melodramas, which critics today regard as classics of film noir.

Hollywood career

Beginning in 1941, he first turned out several B-films and programmers for various studios before he gained a seven-year contract with Universal Studios in 1943. As house director, his services were often used to salvage troublesome productions at the studio. On Mark Hellinger's production Swell Guy (1946), for instance, Siodmak was brought in to replace Frank Tuttle only six days after completing work on The Killers.

At Universal, Siodmak made yet another B-film, Son of Dracula (1943), the third in a trilogy of Dracula movies (based on his brother Curt's original story). His second feature, and first A-film, was the Maria Montez-Jon Hall vehicle, Cobra Woman (1944), made in garish Technicolor.

But his first all-out noir was Phantom Lady (1944), for staff producer Joan Harrison, Universal's first female executive and Alfred Hitchcock's former secretary and script assistant. Following the critical success of Phantom Lady, Siodmak directed Christmas Holiday (1944) with Deanna Durbin. And for the first time in Hollywood, his work attained the stylistic and thematic characteristics that are evident in his later noirs. His black and white stylisations and urban backdrop together with his light and shadow designs formed the basic structure of classic noir films. Christmas Holiday was Deanna Durbin's most successful feature, and she considered it her only good film. During Siodmak's tenure, Universal made the most of the noir style, but the capstone was The Killers in 1946. A critical and financial success, it earned Siodmak his only Oscar nomination for direction in Hollywood (his German production The Devil Came at Night (Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam) would be nominated for Best Foreign Language Film in 1956). Robert Siodmak was considered an actor's director, discovering Burt Lancaster and skillfully directing actresses such as Ava Gardner, Olivia de Havilland, Dorothy McGuire, Yvonne de Carlo, Barbara Stanwyck and Ella Raines.[1]

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