German-born scenarist Curt Siodmak, who also directed several minor movies, distinguished himself writing scripts for imaginative horror pics, as well as visionary science fiction films. The young man...
After being cursed by delays The Wolfman Hollywood’s latest spin on the popular werewolf myth finally bares its ugly fangs in theaters this week. Predictably the film is a train wreck of a debacle -- one would expect nothing less from a notoriously troubled production that saw its original director Mark Romanek abandon ship just two weeks before the start of shooting -- but The Wolfman’s problems stem less from the late-game addition of helmer Joe Johnston who at the very least delivered a terrific looking film (its gorgeously eerie Victorian aesthetic evoking a palpable exquisite sense of dread is by far its best feature) than from the misguided efforts of its producer and star Benicio Del Toro.
The Wolfman is the brainchild of Del Toro an ardent horror fan who conceived the film as an homage of sorts to the low-budget “monster movies” from the ‘30s and ‘40s that he loved dearly as a child. It’s fashioned as a loose remake of 1941’s The Wolf Man a film that both established Lon Chaney Jr.’s performance as the definitive take on the character and introduced aspects of the werewolf legend now considered sacrosanct. The notion that a werewolf can be felled by an item made from silver for example owes its origin to The Wolf Man.
But Del Toro feels all wrong in the role of Lawrence Talbot the prodigal son of a 19th-century English aristocrat whose fateful encounter with a bloodthirsty lycan the same creature that brutally murdered his brother just days prior triggers his unwitting initiation into the accursed tribe of feral man-beasts. Del Toro's resume of low-key understated performances marked by a muttering often imperceptible delivery in films like Traffic and The Usual Suspects suggests a skill set better suited to playing another famous movie monster one significantly less loquacious than his character in this movie. Seriously -- the guy should have remade Frankenstein instead.
Playing an American-bred (but English-born we’re told) character in an 1890 setting looking uncomfortable in period attire surrounded by such “proper” British actors as Sir Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt and fully annunciating all of his line readings for the first time that I can recall Del Toro appears hopelessly out of place in The Wolfman.
Things only get worse unfortunately when Del Toro’s character transforms into the dreaded werewolf. Each time the moon is full the film transitions with increasing ridiculousness from a somber Victorian drama into a hard-core horror flick replete with grisly shots of torn flesh exposed spines and severed limbs. The first overly gruesome attack triggers a kind of nervous laugh more from the shock than anything else. The second invites an amused uneasy chuckle which soon snowballs into an outright belly laugh. And the effect soon spreads to the dialogue the outrageous gore rendering the film's mannered melodrama strangely hysterical.
Of all the Wolfman players only Hopkins seems to get the joke reveling in his manipulative mischief as Talbot's inappropriately glib stoutly aloof father. If only he'd let his castmates in on it.
Wrote story for "Son of Dracula"; directed by brother Robert
Published Last novel in German, Die Macht in Dunklen/The Power in the Dark
Produced "Love Slaves of the Amazon"; also wrote and directed
Began film career as co-scripter (with Billy Wilder) of "People on Sunday"; co-directed by his brother Robert and Edgar Ulmer
Hired as an extra on Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"
Last feature, "Liebsspiele im Schnee/Ski Fever"
Brother Robert directed "The Depression Is Over," which is based on his novel
First of film adaptations of "Donovan's Brain"
Black Mask magazine accepted his seminal sci-fi novel, Donovan's Brain for serialization
Made directorial debut with "Bride of the Gorilla"; re-teamed with Lon Chaney Jr.
Collaborated on the screenplay for Joe May's "The Invisible Man Returns"
An adaptation of his novel "Hauser's Memory" was aired on NBC
Directed first 13 episodes (eight which he also scripted) of the syndicated series, "Number 13 Demon Street"; never aired in USA
Wrote and directed, "The Magnetic Monster"
Second movie adaptation of "Donovan's Brain"
Left Germany for England, before travelling to the USA in 1937
First US credit, penned the story for "Her Jungle Love"
Breakthrough screenplay, "The Wolf Man," starring Lon Chaney Jr.
Gestapo confiscated all copies of his books in Germany
German-born scenarist Curt Siodmak, who also directed several minor movies, distinguished himself writing scripts for imaginative horror pics, as well as visionary science fiction films. The young man from Dresden, with a doctorate in mathematics, came to Berlin, found work as a reporter and, as an extra, became the only journalist with access to Fritz Lang's closed of "Metropolis" (1927). His story (expanded by friend Billy Wilder) was the inspiration for "People on Sunday" (1929), one of the last notable German silents. The film, directed by brother Robert (in association with Edgar Ulmer), became a landmark in the development of the docudrama, using a neo-realistic documentary technique, authentic locations and amateur actors to tell a simple story about a day in the life of two German couples. The hand-held camerawork of cinematographer Eugene Schuftan (assisted by Fred Zinnemann) prefigured both the Italian neorealism of the 1940s and the French New Wave of the 50s.<p>The success of "People on Sunday" led to contracts with UFA studio-head Erich Pommer (producer of "The Blue Angel") for the Siodmaks and their collaborators, and Curt worked alone and with his brother at UFA until 1933 when he fled Germany to escape fascism. Landing in Hollywood's emigre community in 1938, he found it easy to find work, despite English being his second language, and scored his first success as co-screenwriter of "The Invisible Man Returns" (1939). Siodmak's script for "The Wolf Man" (1941) introduced the legendary creature to the horror genre, and he also penned (alone or in tandem) such literate and engrossing delights as Jacques Tourneur's "I Walked with a Zombie", his brother's "Son of Dracula" (both 1943) and Robert Florey's "The Beast with Five Fingers" (1947), not to mention the post-war spy thriller, "Berlin Express" (1948). As a novelist in exile, unlike many of his fellow countrymen who continued writing in German, Siodmak made the difficult transition to English prose, publishing the seminal sci-fi novel "Donovan's Brain" in 1942. This tale of the first brain transplant spawned a radio adaptation by Orson Welles and four film versions, the best one arguably being "Donovan's Brain" (1953), starring Lew Ayres.<p>Siodmak made his directorial debut with "The Bride of the Gorilla" (1951) and followed with perhaps his best effort, "The Magnetic Monster" (1953), lifting special effects for its stunning climax from the 1930s German film, "Gold", but his efforts at the helm were decidedly lackluster. It is as a screenwriter that he made his mark on film, combining elements of Gothic tales with German Expressionism, the style of his generation. Many of his stories centered on the concept of Harmatia, the Greek idea that humans must endure the whims of the gods. "We all have Harmatia in us," he wrote in his 1991 introduction to the publication of "The Wolf Man". "Life itself contains the curse of the Wolf Man: suffering without having been guilty." For his contributions to the cinema, the 1998 Berlin Film Festival honored Siodmak (along with his late brother Robert) with a retrospective and presented him with the Berlinale Camera, an award founded in 1986 to express the Festival's gratitude and appreciation for a celebrity to whom it feels particularly indebted.
Together since the 1920s; married c. 1925
Born in 1900 and died in 1973
University of Zurich
Siodmak published many novels in Germany that were banned during the Nazi era.
In 1992, the German government awarded Siodmak the Bundesverdienstkreuz Erster Klasse, the German equivalent of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The screenwriter told The Los Angeles Times (Sept. 14, 1997): "They gave that to me because they couldn't catch and kill me back then [in the Nazi era]."
On his Old South Fork Ranch in Three Rivers, CA: "Nothing's 100 percent perfect, but this here ... this is as close to 100 percent as you can possibly get. How often, I look over these beautiful California hills and think: Heil Hitler. If it wasn't for that son of a bitch, I wouldn't be sitting here." - Curt Siodmak quoted in The Los Angeles Times, Sept. 14, 1997