TopBilled

Thoughts on Robert Siodmak's Hollywood output

26 posts in this topic

I've been rediscovering Siodmak's Hollywood films. This guy doesn't seem to get enough recognition for his contributions to noir, so I'm going to review four of his films in the Essentials forum this month.

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 1.36.03 PM.jpg

Here's what he made in Hollywood:

WEST POINT WIDOW (1941)...a Paramount comedy with Anne Shirley & Richard Carlson
FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942)...another Paramount comedy with Richard Carlson
MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY (1942)...Paramount comedy, again with Carlson
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE DIVORCE (1942)...comedy at 20th Century Fox with Lynn Bari
SOMEONE TO REMEMBER (1943)...Republic drama starring Mabel Paige
SON OF DRACULA (1943)...Universal horror film with Lon Chaney Jr.
PHANTOM LADY (1944)...his first noir at Universal, with Ella Raines
COBRA WOMAN (1944)...south seas adventure film at Universal with Maria Montez
CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944)...Universal noir with Deanna Durbin & Gene Kelly. I will review this film in December.
THE SUSPECT (1944)...Universal period noir with Charles Laughton & Ella Raines. Reviewing it in April.

THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945)...Universal period noir with George Sanders & Ella Raines.
THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946)...RKO period noir with Dorothy McGuire. Reviewing it in April.
THE KILLERS (1946)...Universal noir with Burt Lancaster & Ava Gardner.
THE DARK MIRROR (1946)...Universal noir with Olivia de Havilland & Lew Ayres. Reviewing it in April.
TIME OUT OF MIND (1947)...Universal noir with Ella Raines & Phyllis Calvert
CRY OF THE CITY (1948)...Noir at 20th Century Fox, with Victor Mature & Richard Conte.
CRISS CROSS (1949)...Universal noir starring Burt Lancaster & Yvonne de Carlo.
THE GREAT SINNER (1949)...MGM drama with Gregory Peck & Ava Gardner.
DEPORTED (1950)...Universal noir with Jeff Chandler.
THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1950)...Paramount noir starring Barbara Stanwyck. Reviewing it in April.
THE WHISTLE AT EATON FALLS (1951)...Columbia drama with Lloyd Bridges.
THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1952)...adventure comedy with Burt Lancaster at Warner Brothers.

Anyone else a fan of Robert Siodmak?

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 hours ago, TopBilled said:

I've been rediscovering Siodmak's Hollywood films. This guy doesn't seem to get enough recognition for his contributions to noir, so I'm going to review four of his films in the Essentials forum this month.

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 1.36.03 PM.jpg

Here's what he made in Hollywood:

WEST POINT WIDOW (1941)...a Paramount comedy with Anne Shirley & Richard Carlson
FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942)...another Paramount comedy with Richard Carlson
MY HEART BELONGS TO DADDY (1942)...Paramount comedy, again with Carlson
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE DIVORCE (1942)...comedy at 20th Century Fox with Lynn Bari
SOMEONE TO REMEMBER (1943)...Republic drama starring Mabel Paige
SON OF DRACULA (1943)...Universal horror film with Lon Chaney Jr.
PHANTOM LADY (1944)...his first Hollywood noir at Universal, with Ella Raines
COBRA WOMAN (1944)...south seas adventure film at Universal with Maria Montez
CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944)...Universal noir with Deanna Durbin & Gene Kelly. I will review this film in December.
THE SUSPECT (1944)...Universal period noir with Charles Laughton & Ella Raines. Reviewing it in April.

THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945)...Universal period noir with George Sanders & Ella Raines.
THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1946)...RKO period noir with Dorothy McGuire. Reviewing it in April.
THE KILLERS (1946)...Universal noir with Burt Lancaster & Ava Gardner.
THE DARK MIRROR (1946)...Universal noir with Olivia de Havilland & Lew Ayres. Reviewing it in April.
TIME OUT OF MIND (1947)...Universal noir with Ella Raines & Phyllis Calvert
CRY OF THE CITY (1948)...Noir at 20th Century Fox, with Victor Mature & Richard Conte.
CRISS CROSS (1949)...Universal noir starring Burt Lancaster & Yvonne de Carlo.
THE GREAT SINNER (1949)...MGM drama with Gregory Peck & Ava Gardner.
DEPORTED (1950)...Universal noir with Jeff Chandler.
THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1950)...Paramount noir starring Barbara Stanwyck. Reviewing it in April.
THE WHISTLE AT EATON FALLS (1951)...Columbia drama with Lloyd Bridges.
THE CRIMSON PIRATE (1952)...adventure comedy with Burt Lancaster at Warner Brothers.

Anyone else a fan of Robert Siodmak?

Big fan of Robert Siodmak and yea, he deserves more credit.    TCM should have a directors SUTS. 

 

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
7 minutes ago, jamesjazzguitar said:

Big fan of Robert Siodmak and yea, he deserves more credit.    TCM should have a directors SUTS. 

What an excellent idea. It means there would be no repeats on the schedule, unless a director did a remake of his/her earlier film. They could really balance out the schedule, by choosing directors known for certain genres. So a day with Siodmak's noir could be followed by a day of Ford's westerns then a day of Howard Hawks' screwball comedies, and so on. Also they could highlight international directors like Kurosawa and De Sica, plus women directors like Arzner and Lupino. I think you're on to something, James!

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just for "The Killers" alone Siodmak was brought to the tops ranks in Film Noir in my opinion.

Then you have "Criss-Cross", "Cry Of The City", and "Phantom Lady". Three Noir heavy-hitters. What more needs to be said?!:)

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
29 minutes ago, decojoe67 said:

Just for "The Killers" alone Siodmak was brought to the tops ranks in Film Noir in my opinion.

Then you have "Criss-Cross", "Cry Of The City", and "Phantom Lady". Three Noir heavy-hitters. What more needs to be said?!

I decided not to review those titles, because of the fact they're more well-known. Though I like them very much. I wanted to focus on some of the others, since I feel all his films should be given a new appreciation.

CRY OF THE CITY seems different, because it resembles the more formulaic crime dramas Fox was doing at the time, and I don't think they gave him as much leeway to be creative as Universal did.

I watched THE DARK MIRROR last night and was blown away by how much his camera angles and use of shadows aid Olivia de Havilland's performance. I think he helped her more than her directors at Warners usually did. She plays twins and one is a killer...the way he lights and shoots the scenes makes her seem extremely evil. He helps Stanwyck in much the same way on THELMA JORDON.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've always liked Robert Siodmank, even though I've seen only a handful of his movies (The Killers, The Spiral Staircase, The Dark Mirror, Cry of the City, Criss Cross).

This thread gave me the idea to look up and watch his European films. So far I found Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) ,a 1933 silent film, on YouTube, and I saved for later viewing, hopefully next, what else?, Sunday.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Heck, just for " The Suspect" alone he vaults to the top of the Noir director's list in my opinion.  Criss Cross and The Killers are top notch. I didn't care too much for The Spiral Staircase.  I haven't seen the others on the list.

  • Thanks 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree he doesn't get enough recognition. I'm looking forward to seeing Christmas Holiday for the first time.  Phantom Lady and The Killers are among the finest examples of noir.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I just did a small review of The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry over on the Sergio Leone board. SPOILER ALERT.  Let me say that it is another masterpiece film undermined by the code that existed at the time.  Siodmark was forced to change two key elements of the Broadway play that it was based on.  In the play, the story was told in flashback.  In the play the ending was vastly different than the screenplay.  I'm fully convinced that the ending is why this film hasn't gotten the recognition it deserves.  I'm gonna ignore the ending and still give this film a solid 8 out of 10.  

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I watched Christmas Holiday. It was ok. I believe that the writer left a lot on the table that he could've worked with. I don't know anything about Gene Kelly so I didn't know he was going against cast.  The cinematography was great.  The casting was pretty good. Its the screenplay itself that I feel is lacking.  I rate this at about 5.5 out of 10...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
10 hours ago, Moorman said:

I watched Christmas Holiday. It was ok. I believe that the writer left a lot on the table that he could've worked with. I don't know anything about Gene Kelly so I didn't know he was going against cast.  The cinematography was great.  The casting was pretty good. Its the screenplay itself that I feel is lacking.  I rate this at about 5.5 out of 10...

Interesting comment. I gave it a 9 on the IMDb. It currently has an overall score on the IMDb of 6.7 which seems low to me.

Those scenes at the church in the beginning are magnificent. Gale Sondergaard is excellent and so is Gladys George (two skilled character actresses for the price of one!). Both Deanna and Gene get to stretch their acting muscles. And Siodmak's atmospheric touches give it a haunting quality.

The only thing that keeps it from getting a perfect score from me is Richard Whorf's offbeat performance. He just doesn't seem to fit into this story. He's not miscast per se, but I think his acting choices are wrong for the scenes he's given to play and when he's on screen, he pulls it in another direction that seems at odds with the story Maugham was writing. I would have either toned him down or replaced him with another actor. Whorf was also offbeat in the earlier WB drama BLUES IN THE NIGHT. But what works for one movie does not exactly work for another movie.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
4 hours ago, TopBilled said:

Interesting comment. I gave it a 9 on the IMDb. It currently has an overall score on the IMDb of 6.7 which seems low to me.

Those scenes at the church in the beginning are magnificent. Gale Sondergaard is excellent and so is Gladys George (two skilled character actresses for the price of one!). Both Deanna and Gene get to stretch their acting muscles. And Siodmak's atmospheric touches give it a haunting quality.

The only thing that keeps it from getting a perfect score from me is Richard Whorf's offbeat performance. He just doesn't seem to fit into this story. He's not miscast per se, but I think his acting choices are wrong for the scenes he's given to play and when he's on screen, he pulls it in another direction that seems at odds with the story Maugham was writing. I would have either toned him down or replaced him with another actor. Whorf was also offbeat in the earlier WB drama BLUES IN THE NIGHT. But what works for one movie does not exactly work for another movie.

I didn't like Dean Harens character either.  Its got more to do with how he was used the wrong way just like Richard Whorf.  What I mean is I believe that the plot was faulty and that lead to their characters not being cast properly.  Its a personal thing with me. ( the screenplay).  I feel that instead of incorporating Harens character, which they had built up AND lead the film with, they should've incorporated him just as a random guy that Durbin met.  He became essentially in the way. 

A better lead in to the screenplay would've had Gene Kelly's character out and about causing mischief.  My first scene would've had Kelly either at the racetrack betting or with his bookie who has him dangling by the legs over a bridge or something and demanding his money. lol  I would've also dug deeper into his relationship with his mother and showed how he would manipulate her. He should've been the focus of the film. Instead it was spread out over characters who became in the way.  This is partially why his sudden appearance at the end by breaking out of jail didn't come across as more terrifying than it did.  I liked the ending but felt it could've had more impact if his character was built up better.  The screenwriter for The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry did a better job of making sure that Geraldine Fitzgerald's character was more developed. She was always up to something.

Gale Sondergaard wasn't given enough to do either. Like I mentioned earlier there should've have been more scenes with her interacting with Gene's manipulations to really build up the tension in the film. Finally, if anything, Richard Siodmark saved a average script with his remarkable directing abilities.  

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
37 minutes ago, Moorman said:

I didn't like Dean Harens character either.  Its got more to do with how he was used the wrong way just like Richard Whorf.  What I mean is I believe that the plot was faulty and that lead to their characters not being cast properly.  Its a personal thing with me. ( the screenplay).  I feel that instead of incorporating Harens character, which they had built up AND lead the film with, they should've incorporated him just as a random guy that Durbin met.  He became essentially in the way. 

A better lead in to the screenplay would've had Gene Kelly's character out and about causing mischief.  My first scene would've had Kelly either at the racetrack betting or with his bookie who has him dangling by the legs over a bridge or something and demanding his money. lol  I would've also dug deeper into his relationship with his mother and showed how he would manipulate her. He should've been the focus of the film. Instead it was spread out over characters who became in the way.  This is partially why his sudden appearance at the end by breaking out of jail didn't come across as more terrifying than it did.  I liked the ending but felt it could've had more impact if his character was built up better.  The screenwriter for The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry did a better job of making sure that Geraldine Fitzgerald's character was more developed. She was always up to something.

Gale Sondergaard wasn't given enough to do either. Like I mentioned earlier there should've have been more scenes with her interacting with Gene's manipulations to really build up the tension in the film. Finally, if anything, Richard Siodmark saved a average script with his remarkable directing abilities.  

Yes, this might have been intended as a B film. But I guess if the studio's hottest star (Deanna) wanted to do it, the bosses put an "A" list director on it and brought Kelly over from MGM. Siodmak definitely elevates a weak script with his remarkable use of the sets and camera positions; he had a good collaborative relationship with cinematographer Woody Bredell (they would team up again for THE KILLERS two years later).

But because this has to be a Deanna Durbin vehicle, Gene Kelly's character cannot get the emphasis. It's like THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, where John Garfield is playing the more interesting character but it has to be about Lana Turner since she's the top star and the film was made to showcase her. 

Actresses like Gale Sondergaard and Gladys George are able to make a lot from a little. So they are ideal casting choices when working with an underdeveloped script. The studio has Dean Harens in this film because they are trying to groom him for bigger things, so I don't have a problem with him. He's also in THE SUSPECT again directed by Siodmak. As I said the only one that I have trouble with is Whorf; I guess they thought his offbeat characterization would be "comic relief" but it just seems at odds with the goals of a noir. As you indicated the ending is spectacular and fortunately Whorf doesn't get in the way and ruin that.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 minutes ago, TopBilled said:

Yes, this might have been intended as a B film. But I guess if the studio's hottest star (Deanna) wanted to do it, the bosses put an "A" list director on it and brought Kelly over from MGM. Siodmak definitely elevates a weak script with his remarkable use of the sets and camera positions; he had a good collaborative relationship with cinematographer Woody Bredell (they would team up again for THE KILLERS two years later).

But because this has to be a Deanna Durbin vehicle, Gene Kelly's character cannot get the emphasis. It's like THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, where John Garfield is playing the more interesting character but it has to be about Lana Turner since she's the top star and the film was made to showcase her. 

Actresses like Gale Sondergaard and Gladys George are able to make a lot from a little. So they are ideal casting choices in an underdeveloped script. The studio has Dean Harens in this film because they are trying to groom him for bigger things, so I don't have a problem with him. He's also in THE SUSPECT again directed by Siodmak. As I said the only one that I have trouble with is Whorf; I guess they thought his offbeat characterization would be "comic relief" but it just seems at odds with the goals of a noir. As you indicated the ending is spectacular and fortunately Whorf doesn't get in the way and ruin that.

I wasn't aware that this was intended to be a Durbin vehicle. I'm still learning this genre.  In that case it all makes sense now as to why it was written that way.  Her singing numbers also make sense now.  I thought that slowed the film down also but now I know why they were done.  I also didn't know that about The Postman Always Rings Twice. I love that film. I can think of plenty of films that were intended for one star but another character in the film basically steals the film.  Another thing you pointed out that i like. I love how a lot of these "B" movies turn out to be better than most "A" movies.  

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Spiral Staircase gets two thumbs up from me. :)

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
11 hours ago, kjrwe said:

The Spiral Staircase gets two thumbs up from me. :)

I WANTED to really like this film.  My problem is that everything seemed contrived. I could predict almost every element of the film.  I was multi tasking when I watched it so that may have a effect on it also. I will go back and give it another look to see if my opinion changes.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
44 minutes ago, Moorman said:

I WANTED to really like this film.  My problem is that everything seemed contrived. I could predict almost every element of the film.  I was multi tasking when I watched it so that may have a effect on it also. I will go back and give it another look to see if my opinion changes.

I don't think you should watch expecting great plot twists. An audience in 1946 would have been jolted, but today's viewers are a bit jaded and have seen it all. THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is considered a forerunner to the slasher flicks, because of how the damsel is stalked by the killer. So in that regard, Siodmak's film is quite interesting. It is best enjoyed as a moody atmospheric period piece with some great performances.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, TopBilled said:

I don't think you should watch expecting great plot twists. An audience in 1946 would have been jolted, but today's viewers are a bit jaded and have seen it all. THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is considered a forerunner to the slasher flicks, because of how the damsel is stalked by the killer. So in that regard, Siodmak's film is quite interesting. It is best enjoyed as a moody atmospheric period piece with some great performances.

Solid points;   Yea,  even before I saw the film I highly suspected, based on the casting,  who the killer was (and I was proven right),  but that didn't impact my enjoyment of the performances and the sound direction and camera work  that lead to that moody atmospheric period reflected in the film.   

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, TopBilled said:

I don't think you should watch expecting great plot twists. An audience in 1946 would have been jolted, but today's viewers are a bit jaded and have seen it all. THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE is considered a forerunner to the slasher flicks, because of how the damsel is stalked by the killer. So in that regard, Siodmak's film is quite interesting. It is best enjoyed as a moody atmospheric period piece with some great performances.

Thats exactly how I felt watching it. If I had seen it back in 1946 it would have come across better.  I'm still gonna go back and give it another watch.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
9 minutes ago, Moorman said:

Thats exactly how I felt watching it. If I had seen it back in 1946 it would have come across better.  I'm still gonna go back and give it another watch.

Let us know if your impressions change after another viewing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I watched The File on Thelma Jordan and didn't know that Siodmark directed it. I just posted a review. I knew I had seen it mentioned somewhere in the forum.  Siodmark saved a weak script with fabulous directing.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I'ver seen:
 1967 Custer of the West - didn't like it
 1950 The File on Thelma Jordon - seen it all I remember is when Babs puts the cigarette out in the guy's eyball.
 1949 Criss Cross - love it a Classic.
 1948 Cry of the City - another Classic
 1946 The Dark Mirror - nothing special
 1946 The Killers - A Classic
 1946 The Spiral Staircase - couldn't get into it.
 1945 The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry - OK nothing special
 1944 The Suspect - Ok nothing special
 1944 Christmas Holiday - Love it
 1944 Phantom Lady - Love it
 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Spiral Staircase is more about the atmosphere and mood rather than the story itself.

It would have helped if so much of the killer wasn't shown throughout the film. 

For example, early on, the killer's gender is revealed. Then, if they were going to show the killer from the back, they should have at least dressed everyone of that gender in similar clothing and the actors with similar profiles should have been chosen. By showing the killer's clothing and profile so early on, a couple of the suspects were obviously eliminated. Then, a couple of times, they zoomed in on the killer's eyes....Ouch.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, kjrwe said:

The Spiral Staircase is more about the atmosphere and mood rather than the story itself.

It would have helped if so much of the killer wasn't shown throughout the film. 

For example, early on, the killer's gender is revealed. Then, if they were going to show the killer from the back, they should have at least dressed everyone of that gender in similar clothing and the actors with similar profiles should have been chosen. By showing the killer's clothing and profile so early on, a couple of the suspects were obviously eliminated. Then, a couple of times, they zoomed in on the killer's eyes....Ouch.

I don't think the point was to conceal the killer from the audience. The point was that his identity was unknown to the others in the house.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

New Members:

Register Here

Learn more about the new message boards:

FAQ

Having problems?

Contact Us