Robert Siodmak
(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

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Robert Siodmak si trasferi' in Germania ds bambino e vi rimase sino all'avvento del Nazismo. Ebbe tempo di fare esperienza nel teatro espressionista e di collaborare al documentario "Menschen am Suntag" (Ulmer, 29). In Francia traspose alcuni drammi teatrali. Nel 41 sfuggi' di nuovo al nazismo ed emigro' in America, dove trovo' subito lavoro, specializzandosi nel film criminali d'azione., che si distinguono per l'atmosfera mordida da film noir e per l'impeccabile messa in scena.

Son of Dracula (1943) horror;

Cobra Woman (1944) favola poetica: due principesse orientali gemelle, una buona e una cattiva, una semplice e affezionata, l'altra perfida tiranna di un'isola stregata;

Phantom Lady (1944) is a thriller inspired by Freudian theories of madness. The implausible plot (particularly the ending) detract from the ingenious idea.

A mysterious lady enters a bar, visibly distressed. A man approaches at the counter and invites her to a musical. She accepts, but only if he agrees that they remain strangers. No names are exchanged. At the theater, the drummer keeps staring at her. Then she leaves, refusing to reveal her name, as mysteriously as she appeared.
The man, Scott, walks home and finds three men who look like thugs. They are police officers: his wife has been murdered, strangled with one of his ties. He admits that he had an argument with her just before she was murdered, but cannot prove where he was that night. His alibi (that he doesn't know the name of the woman he spent the evening with) is not convincing. Neither the barmaid nor the cab driver remember seeing the woman. He tries in vain to find her, but fails. The jury finds him guilty and he ends up in jail. The only person who believes his story is his secretary Carol, who must be seriously attached to him (she almost cried when she heard of the murder). She lost her job (since her boss is now in jail), but she decides to stay in town and do her own investigation. She spends her evenings at the bar, staring at the barmaid, who soon begins to feel uncomfortable. One night she follows him into the subway. It looks like he is about to push her under the train, but at the last second someone walks in. She keeps following him until he snaps. She tries to make him admit that someone bribed him, but he runs away and is killed by a car. Back home, she finds the inspector waiting for her. He has switched sides and now believes Scott is innocent. He provides her with the address of the drummer, who testified that there was no woman with Scott at the theater. Carol lets the drummer seduce her and take her to his apartment. Then she extorts a confession: someone paid him a lot of money to lie at the trial. But the drummer sees a piece of paper from the police in her purse and understands that he is being set up. She runs away and calls the inspector. In the meantime, a man walks into the drummer's apartment and strangles him. When the inspector arrives, they find the dead body.
The following day Scott receives a visit at the jail from his old partner Jack: he is the same man who strangled the drummer. Jack claims to have just returned from Brazil to help Scott. Carol briefs him up, and confesses how much she always loved Scott. She isn't even afraid of being killed for him. She is only afraid that the only witness, the mysterious woman, might be killed if the killer finds her before she finds her. Finding that woman is also Jack's intention, but precisely to kill her. The only distinctive feature of that phantom lady was her hat, a rather unique hat, wore (in theory) only by a famous singer. The trio of Carol, Jack and the inspector try to find out more about the hat in the singer's dressing room, and the inspector notices that Jack has a dizzy spell while they are talking about madness.
While the inspector is out of town, Carol finds out the name of the store that made the hat for a famous singer. One of the women who work at the store admit making an illegal copy of the hat for a customer. Jack takes Carol to see this woman. She is gone insane after her fiance' left her before the wedding, but Carol at least gets hold of the hat, which could reopen the case. Jack make sher believe that he called the inspector with the news, and the inspector will be meeting them at Jack's house. Now he is alone with her, and has his chance to kill her. While he is having one of dizzy spells, she finds items in one of his drawers that reveal how he has been after the same witnesses she was: the only other person who could had had that interest is the murderer. She tries to call the inspector, but in vain. Jack is closing in on her in the dark room with a tie in his hand, but (of course) the inspector arrives just in time. Jack prefers to jump from the window than be arrested.
Scott is released and he proposes to the faithful secretary.
Suspect (1944) film noir. Langhton e' un brav'uomo che la moglie tortura e tiranneggia; un giorno la uccide e poi si risposa, ma l'aver ucciso lo spinge ad uccidere ancora e, quando se ne rende conto, decide di costituirsi; Strange AFfair of Uncle Harry (1945) film noir;

Spiral Staircase (1945), a Hitchcockian thriller, is a concentrate of suspenseful scenes.

At the beginning of the century, a simple girl, Helen, is watching a silent movie in an improvised movie theater. In a room upstairs, a man hiding in a closet spies a crippled girl who is getting dressed and then kills her. The audience hears the noise. When the police detective arrives, he mentions this is the third murder of this kind. The simple girl is shocked, and the detective tells her to hurry up because she lives outside town. A young doctor walks in to see if he can help and is confronted by the old doctor of the town, who doesn't appreciate his competition. The young doctor rides the simple girl home in his horse carriage. He romances the girl, who cannot answer him: she is a mute. A child stops the doctor, asking him to see his father who is sick. The girl has to walk home by herself while rain starts pouring down and the lightnings light the sky. Helen arrives at the creepy big old mansion while a man is walking outside. She is welcomed by the housemaid, who discusses the murders (all the victims were girls with physical defects). Then they hear knocks at the door, but it turns out it is a window opened by the wind. Unseen by them, a man is staring at the girl. The girl visits the sick lady of the house, a widow, who is in bed in the room upstairs, guarded by an old nurse. Helen is only a maid, but the old lady treats her like a daughter. She tells Helen that she is in danger in that house.
The detective comes to warn the head of the house, Albert, a writer, the step-son of the old lady. Albert has a beautiful secretary, Blanche, who is romanced by Albert's stepbrother Steve, just returned from Paris, who sneaks into the room where she is working while Albert is talking with the detective. Albert sees them kissing. The detective leaves after warning that Helen could be the next victim of the psychopath, and Albert tells Helen "don't trust anyone".
There is hatred and distrust in the family. The lady holds a grudge against Albert, and makes ominous statements. Albert, who has cared all the time for his step-mother, resents Steve, am obnoxious dandy who never cared and now has seduced his secretary. And now Steve has also lied to the police, pretending he never left the house when in fact he did leave the house.
When he comes to visit her, the old lady begs the young doctor to take Helen away, knowing that he loves her. The doctor thinks that there might be a cure for Helen's muteness. He found out the Helen lost her speech when, a child, she saw her parents burn alive in their house. The doctor would like Helen to leave immediately, both to escape the danger that the old lady keeps referring to and to see a doctor in the big city. Steve makes insolent fun of the doctor's idea and of his romantic motives, and the doctor almost hits him. The promises Helen to return shortly, but has to take off to see another patience. Before walking out of the door into the rain, he kisses her. Helen goes in her room and starts packing.
In a dark room, Blanche is scared by someone. When she sees him, she recognizes him and smiles. But he kills her.
After upsetting her nurse, who promises to leave, the old lady tells Helen that a girl was once murdered in that mansion. Helen walks down the staircase and finds the dead girl. Steve walks in, all wet, and tells Helen to let him handle the situation. She finds a way to lock Steve in a room and runs upstairs. She tries to call the police but can't talk. She meets Albert and writes on a piece of paper what happened. But she soon realizes that Albert is the real murdered: he is delirious and wears black gloves. She has locked up the only person who could save her, Steve. Albert confesses he killed Blanche out of jealousy. Helen hides in the old lady's room, but the woman is asleep. Helen looks for a gun that the lady keeps in her room. Someone knocks at the front door of the mansion: it's the police detective delivering the message that the young doctor cannot leave his patience and won't be able to pick up Helen as promised. Helen tries in vain to draw his attention, but she can't talk and all the noise she makes is lost in the storm. Albert chases her up the staircase. The old lady is standing at the top with a gun in her hand: she kills her step-son, and Helen screams. The old lady has always known: there were seven victims before, not just three. Helen frees Steve and then picks up the phone: she is talking.
Questo film porto' alla perfezione la sua tecnica espressionista di creare suspense su temi ossessivi e personaggi depravati.

Dark Mirror (1946)

Due gemelle, una buona e una cattiva. Omicidio, follia, doppelganger: una ragazza e' accusata di essere la psicopatica che ha ucciso un uomo, ma potrebbe essere la gemella. Con Killers (1946) aderi' alla scuola del poliziesco documentario, girato per le strade. In una cittadina di provincia due hitmen irrompono in un ristorante e aspettano che la loro vittima si presenti come al solito per cena. Tengono sotto tiro il barista, un avventore e il cuoco. Il cliente non si presenta e i gangster vanno a cercarlo a casa.
L'avventore, che e` suo amico, corre ad avvertire l'uomo (Burt Lancaster), ma questi, sdraiato nel proprio lettino, risponde laconicamente di sapere cosa sta per succedergli, di aver commesso uno "sbaglio" tempo addietro, e rifiuta di fuggire. Gli hitmen salgono le scale, aprono la porta del suo appartamento, e lo uccidono.
Dopo l'omicidio, l'agente dell'assicurazione indaga sulla vita della vittima, un onesto e riservato "gas station attendant" che negli ultimi giorni era rimasto a casa per un malessere. L'amico racconta (primo flashback) che il "malessere" di Lancaster ebbe inizio quando alla sua stazione di benzina si presento` uno straniero. Da quel momento Lancaster aveva perso il suo smalto.
L'assicuratore comunica la morte di Lancaster all'unica erede, la quale quasi non lo ricorda neppure. Poi ne riconosce la fotografia e ricorda (secondo flashback) come lo conobbe: furibondo e disperato, stava per buttarsi dalla finestra dopo aver "perso" qualcosa.
(Il racconto prosegue come un collage di flashback).
L'assicuratore risale al detective che lo arresto` anni addietro, e che fu anche suo amico d'infanzia. Lancaster era un pugile promettente ma perse un incontro senza praticamente difendersi. La donna che e` adesso la moglie del detective era a quei tempi innamorata di Lancaster e racconta della sera in cui capi` che stava frequentando criminali e in cui Lancaster si invaghi` della donna del boss. Tocco` proprio al detective arrestare l'amico, che nel frattempo aveva fatto "carriera".
L'assicuratore va al funerale con il detective e fa cosi` la conoscenza dell'ex galeotto che condivise la cella con Lancaster. Lancaster, uscito di prigione, torno` nell'orbita del boss, sempre segretamente invaghito della sua donna.
L'assicuratore risale alla rapina clamorosa che la banda compi`: il bottino non venne mai ritrovato.
Un gangster in punto di morte racconta all'assicuratore che, la notte prima della rapina, Lancaster e il boss ebbero un alterco a causa della donna. Fatta la rapina, Lancaster sospetto` che gli altri volessero estrometterlo dalla spartizione e fuggi` con il bottino.
L'assicuratore tende un tranello a uno dei membri della banda, "Dum Dum", ma questi riesce a fuggire. L'assicuratore sospetta che la ragazza, Kitty, sia l'unica a sapere dove si trova il bottino, ma non ha modo di rintracciarla. Risale invece al capo, ma neppure lui sa dov'e` Kitty.
Il detective lo accompagna nelle indagini e finalmente trovano Kitty: fu lei ad avvertire Lancaster che gli altri avevano deciso di truffarlo del bottino.
Gli stessi killer che hanno ucciso Lancaster tentano di uccidere l'assicuratore, mentre Kitty si dilegua.
Corrono a casa del boss, appena in tempo: "Dum Dum" gli ha sparato e sta rantolando. Confessa quanto l'assicuratore aveva gia` intuito: che lui e Kitty sono sposati e che avevano insieme macchinato per truffare prima i membri della banda e poi Lancaster. Dovevano uccidere Lancaster prima che gli altri lo trovassero e scoprissero la verita`.
Il film, lungo e complesso, e` una serie di flashback che mettono insieme le parti del puzzle. Lo scopo del thriller non e` scoprire "chi" ha ucciso Lancaster, ma "perche'" e` stato ucciso. Non e` una caccia all'assassino, ma una caccia al movente. E in tal modo diventa una caccia all'identita` della vittima, una caccia allo "sbaglio" che gli e` costato la vita.

Cry of The City (1948) e` un un altro esercizio espressionista (luci basse, specchi, illusioni ottiche), che consacra la sua suspense fatta di giochi di luce e ombre.

Due giovani crescono nello stesso quartiere, ma uno diventa ladro e assassino e l'altro poliziotto; il carcerato evade, ruba uccide, braccato dalla polizia; quando sta per fuggire ancora, corrompendo anche una brava ragazza, si scontra con l'amico. Nella sparatoria muoiono entrambi. Altro tipico film noir. The Great Sinner (1949) was a loose adaptation of Dostoyevsky's novel "The Gambler".

Criss Cross (1949), halfway between a caper film and a film noir, is mainly the portrait of a loser helpless in the face of the treachery of a femme fatale.

Steve (Burt Lancaster) is about to take part in a robbery, a joint venture with a man he hates, Slim, the one who stole his wife Anna. Anna promises he will elope with him after the robbery. Slim is the owner of a night club, who is planning to leave the city for good. A police detective hangs out hoping to nail Slim, whom he suspects correctly of being a gangster.
Steve's job is to drive an armored truck. As he starts driving the truck on the fateful day of the robbery, a flashback shows how he tried to get a new life after Anna divorced him, but just couldn't give her up. So he came back, moved in again with his family, and started seeing his ex-wife again. But she has no intention of losing the wealthy life that the local mobster, Slim, can guarantee, so she marries him (the night she has a date with Steve, without even telling him). In no time at all, they met again and she fooled him again. She told him that she married Slim out of disgust for his family and out of fear: Steve's old friend Pete, now a police detective, had threatened to arrest her if she did't leave Steve alone. She behaves as if it was his fault that she betrayed him again, and as if she were now desperate. Steve tells his friend Pete to stay out of his life and goes back to Anna. Slim catches them together, but Steve claims he is planning a hold-up and wants Slim to participate. Steve, Slim and an old expert plan the heist around the table, while Anna looks over their shoulder. It sounds like an impossible mission, but Steve convinces them that it is possible with inside help. During a break, Anna and Steve whisper to each other like secret lovers.
Back to the present, Steve is driving the armored truck, planning to doublecross Slim and run away with Anna. Instead, it is Slim who doublecrosses him: he attacks him after throwing tear gas bombs, but Steve throws the money back into the truck. He shoots and kills two of Slim's men, but he is hit and faints. When he wakes up, he is at the hospital. Everybody thinks he is a hero, that he fought the robbers. But the money disappeared. Everybody except Pete, who has figured out the truth. Steve refuses to confess, but Pete scares him: if Anna doublecrossed him again, then she and Slim are already far away; but if she doublecrossed Slim, if she was truly waiting for Steve, then Slim will soon come to kill him. Steve bets that Anna stuck to his plan and is waiting for him. When a man comes to kidnap him and take him to Slim, Steven bribes him to drive instead to Anna's hideout. Anna is furious that he basically just told Slim where she is hiding, and she decides to run away... alone. Too late: Slim is already there, and kills them both.
Il fatalismo e il dettaglio minuto dell'ambientazione, tipici di questi gialli documentari, toccano qui l'apice.

The File on Thelma Jordan (1949) is a suspenseful noir.

In the district attorney office Cleve is drinking and discussing his miserable domestic life with a colleague. Over the phone his wife Pam sounds as excited as him about him going home. His colleague leaves, and Cleve is alone in the office when a woman walks in to complain about attempted burglaries at the home of her rich aunt. Cleve is drunk and makes scurrilous comments. At first Thelma (Barbara Stanwyck) walks out but then accepts to have a drink with him in a bar. He tells her about his unhappy marriage and kisses her. The next morning the whole story is turned upside down: a sober Cleve behaves like a gentleman with Thelma and like a good husband with Pam. However, as soon as the wife leaves, Cleve calls Thelma and they arrange for a meeting. When they kiss good night, a man sees them. The man doesn't say a word about what he saw and he too kisses her. During their following date Thelma tells Cleve that she too is stuck in an unhappy marriage, compounded by the fact that she has to take care of her rich aunt. They decide to flee the town together. The very night when they are supposed to leave, the aunt hears someone break into the house, and is shot dead. Thelma finds the body. When Cleve calls her to find out why she's late, she asks him to rush to the house. Cleve finds plenty of odd facts at the scene of the crime, but blames them on Thelma's panic attack. Cleve realizes that Thelma could be accused of the crime because she tampered so much with the scene, and helps her create a credible scene. They work frantically before the guardian comes looking for the old lady and finds the body. The next day the police accuse Thelma of the murder after finding out about the many phone calls that she received from a mysterious man (CLeve). Cleve is called to investigate while he is at the beach with his wife, and Pam, heartbroken, senses that he has no desire to stay with her. He admits that he is having an affair with another woman. The police find out that the mysterious man has given Thelma a huge sum to pay for her legal expenses. At the same time Pam finds out that Cleve has given his lover a huge sum, and Pam is afraid that he might be using him. At the trial Cleve manages to be appointed in charge of the prosecution, and swears to the jury that he will prove Thelma is the murderer, but then picks the worst possible jury for the prosecution and even provokes the jurors. He basically helps Thelma's lawyer establish reasonable doubt. The police does not know that Cleve is the mysterious man, and Pam does not know that the secret lover is Thelma. The jury finds Thelma not guilty. What Cleve does not know is that Thelma's husband Tony is smiling in court, and later meets Thelma at her house, They apparently had a plan for a long time, but now she is reluctant to go along. Cleve shows up, uninvited. Thelma tells him the truth: that she killed her aunt when the old woman found her stealing her jewels. Tony knocks Cleve out. When Cleve wakes up, Thelma and Tony have already departed. But Thelma has reached the breaking point: she causes an accident in which both die. Before dying she has time to confess. Cleve is finished too. Great Simmer (1949), l'ultimo giallo, e' invece un melodramma in cui uno scrittore aiuta la donna di cui si e' innamorato a liberarsi da un ricattatore.

Piu' commerciale

Crimson Pirate (1952).

LAncaster e' un pirata dei Caraibi, atletico e goliardico, a caccia di galeoni spagnoli; parodia del film sui pirati; film d'azione sofisticato, tipico di Lancaster (attore da lui scopert) produttore.

Tornato in Germania vi diresse Nacht Wenn Der Tuefel Kam (1957), fedele inchiesta su un maniaco sessuale omicida di 80 donne fra il 23 e il 43, all'epoca tenuto nascosto dai nazisti.

Escape From East Berlin (1962) is a a rather trivial Cold-War thriller that simply reconstructs a real event, engineered to look like an escape from a prison.

Kurt, the chauffeur of an East German officer (and secret lover of his blonde wife), witnesses the death of a friend as he tries to drive a truck through the wall (he is machine-gunned by the guards after his truck exploded). The dead man's sister, Erika, is equally impulsive and, wanting to join her brother (whom she thinks succeeded) almost get killed when she tries to sneak under the barbed wire: Kurt saves her. A neighbor sees Kurt fooling the police and demands that Kurt takes her and her baby to the other side. Kurt's family too would like to escape. Their house is near the wall, so Kurt has the idea to dig a tunnel, a little bit every day. But he tells his family that he will not follow them: his life is in East Germany. A suspicious stranger first tries to rent a room in Kurt's house, then romances his sister and finally confronts Kurt: he knows that they are trying to escape and wants to join them. Kurt tells Erika that her brother died in his attempt. They finally reach the other side. The night that they have decided to flee, Kurt has to work for the officer. Erika's father turns them in, but luckily the officer tells his wife that Kurt is in trouble and she tells Kurt who thus has a chanc to run back home. At home, he finds a crowd: more and more friends have joined in, and now they only have a few seconds to run through the tunnel while the police are breaking into the house. Kurt, wounded, makes the entrance collapse so that the police cannot chase them. Everybody makes it to the other side.

Maestro della suspense.

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