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.
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.
Spiral Staircase (1945), a Hitchcockian thriller, is a concentrate of suspenseful scenes.
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.
Dark Mirror (1946)
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`.
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.
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'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.
The File on Thelma Jordan (1949) is a suspenseful noir.
Crimson Pirate (1952).
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.
Maestro della suspense.
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