Master craftsman of suspense and crime films who, in the mid-1940s, applied his Germanic sensibility to a series of exquisitely styled Hollywood thrillers including "The Spiral Staircase" and "The Kil...
Born in the USA while his father was there on business
Moved with family from the Southern US to Germany
Entered German film industry as title writer for imported US movies
Directorial debut, "People on Sunday"
Master craftsman of suspense and crime films who, in the mid-1940s, applied his Germanic sensibility to a series of exquisitely styled Hollywood thrillers including "The Spiral Staircase" and "The Killers" (both 1946).
Born in the USA but raised in Germany (from age one), Siodmak began working for UFA in 1925 and directed his first film, the landmark pseudo-documentary "People on Sunday", in 1929. The film launched the careers not only of co-directors Siodmak and Edgar Ulmer, but of co-screenwriters Billy Wilder and Curt Siodmak (Robert's younger brother), cinematographer Eugen Schufftan and his assistant, Fred Zinnemann.
Siodmak's first solo feature was "Farewell" (1930), a kind of working-class "Grand Hotel". Scripted by Emeric Pressburger (whom Siodmak had earlier "discovered" while working as a writing scout), 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, where he made, among others, the enjoyable "42nd Street" clone, "La Crise est Finis" (1934) and the darker drama "Pieges/Personal Column" (1939), and then, in 1941, to Hollywood.
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, for 20th Century-Fox). 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 parodistic 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.
Siodmak's brother Curt enjoyed success as a writer of horror films ("I Walked With a Zombie" 1943, "The Beast With Five Fingers" 1947) but earned less acclaim for his directing work.