Sunday, 18 May 2008


Robert Siodmak has special place in my heart : he was the first director to scare the shit out of me. The scene was the Empire Cinema in Holloway, North London, and my mother had taken me to see Siodmak's THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE. I'm not sure how old I was but I was probably about five. I didn't really understand the film and was quite bored and then suddenly the screen was filled with the image of the killer's eye. This absolutely terrified me and I watched the rest of the movies through laced fingers, praying that this horror would all end soon...but I still had to get through the films climax which was one of the most frightening memories of my childhood. For years I joked with my mother that keeping me in that cinema was tantamount to child abuse! Robert Siodmak was born in 1900 in Dresden of Polish parents and cut his cinematic teeth in Germany along with his friend Max Castle. He later worked in France before arriving in Hollywood in 1939 where he secured a contract with Universal. His first film of note was the 1943 SON OF DRACULA - an extremely atmospheric entry in the Universal horror series. This was followed by THE PHANTOM LADY which was the first of a remarkable series of film noir that he would make over the next few years : THE KILLERS, DARK MIRROR, CRY OF THE CITY, CRISS CROSS, THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN, CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY, UNCLE HARRY and DEPORTED. Add to these the high camp Maria Montez extravaganza COBRA WOMAN, and the psychological suspense of THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE and we have one of the most interesting Hollywood directors of the Forties. Siodmak's remaining career is less interesting. He left Hollywood and returned to Europe where he made THE CRIMSON PIRATE and an interesting English noir starring Nadja Tiller called THE ROUGH AND THE SMOOTH (I saw this on television during the Sixties and remember it as being rather good) before going home to Germany. His films after then seem to be of little interest. He died in 1973. CRY OF THE CITY is an very good film noir starring Victor Mature and Richard Conte as childhood friends who have grown up on different sides of the law. Mature, who, plays the cop is the nominal star, fresh from his success in KISS OF DEATH, but it is Conte who really carries the film as the convicted killer on the run. Supporting cast is excellent with Shelley Winters outstanding as the girl who tries to help Conte (several missing scenes featuring Winters have been restored for British Film Institute DVD release), Fred Clark playing it straight as Mature's sidekick and Debra Paget in her film debut. A special mention must be made of the wonderful Hope Emerson as the sinister masseuse - which almost equals her classic portrayal of the sadistic prison wardress in John Cromwell's CAGED. Rating ***


Cerpts said...

Did Siodmak ever collaborate on a film with Max Castle? I don't remember any.

The ever controversial SON OF DRACULA. I always came down on the DRACULA'S DAUGHTER side of the debate but in recent years, I believe my allegances are shifting. Mainly due to the fantabulously morbid performance of Louise Allbriton and the aforementioned gothic touch of Siodmak, I'm actually more of a fan of SON than I am of DAUGHTER anymore. Actually, some of those gothic touches may have been Max Castle inspired, what do you think.

Then there's the superb PHANTOM LADY, one of my favourite films noir. Oh, that naughty, torrid scene between Ella Raines and Elisha Cook Jr. when he's orgasmically playing the drums! And I seem to remember nice shoestraps on Ms. Raines' gams.

I'm also a fan of THE FILE ON THELMA JORDAN with Stanwyck and the underrated Wendell Corey. Stop me if I'm getting any of these details wrong because I'm doing it from memory and not cheating by looking things up on the imdb.

It's funny you should talk about Siodmak's latter-career downturn because I hated THE CRIMSON PIRATE for some reason. Haven't seen it for years and years, though. And my hatreds can change on a dime (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, anyone???). And THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is in desperate need of a re-watch from me: I remember not being too impressed with it but I saw it a couple decades ago and cannot remember a THING about it.

CRY OF THE CITY I'm in complete ignorance about, though. And I must say I was suitably impressed that you did a whole mini-biography on Robert without even MENTIONING his brother (of the fur-sprouting and the brain-tanking) at all. Well done!

Weaverman said...

I know that you know that I know about Kurt Siodmak and I had planned to mention him in passing but I forgot! I also forgot to mention that Siodmak sued the arse off Sam Spiegel (or S.P.Eagle) over the script of ON THE WATERFRONT which Siodmak claimed to have co-written with Budd Shulberg. The courts felt Siodmak had proved his case well enough and he walked with $100,000 but no screen credit.

Weaverman said...

Oh, yes, re:Max Castle. Although there wasn't a real collaboration I believe that in an interview given in Germany in 1971 at the Deutcherfilmklub Siodmak credited Max with coming up with the idea of the floating coffin during a shared lunch at the Universal Canteen.

Cerpts said...

I KNEW IT!!!! Can't fool me!!!