Biography by Gerd Gemünden
Professor of German Studies, Film and Media Studies, and Comparative Literature
(b. Dresden 1900 – d. Locarno, Switzerland 1973)
Director. Robert Siodmak’s directorial debut was the famous Berlin film Menschen am Sonntag (1930), which establishes him as serious filmmaker. Yet the subsequent productions do not return to the neo-realism of his first feature. Abschied (1929), an early exploration into sound, is a Kammerspiel set in a boarding house; Voruntersuchung (1931) probes the corruption of the legal system, while Brennendes Geheimnis (1932) is a melodrama after a novella by Stefan Zweig. Forced into exile in 1933, Siodmak becomes a seminal émigré director in France. In this second career, which lasts until 1938, he shoots eleven features, including the much-lauded Pièges (1939).
The transition to the Hollywood studio system proves harder and his first assignments as director remain conventional. When he collaborates with his brother Curt on Son of Dracula (1943) he can score a popular and critical success. Yet it is only with three films made for Universal that he establishes himself as the master of noir as which he is remembered today: Phantom Lady (1944), The Spiral Staircase (1945), and The Killers (1946). His first film in technicolor and his last US film is The Crimson Pirate (1952). In Germany, he tries to build on his Hollywood and Weimar reputation. Die Ratten (1955), after Gerhart Hauptmann’s play and produced by Arthur Brauner, and particularly Nachts, wenn der Teufel kam (1957) gain him huge critical success, but are followed up by disappointing fare. He concludes his long career with Karl May adaptations and the monumental Kampf um Rom (1968).