Robert Siodmak byJake Hinkson
The classic era of film noir was notable for the incredible amount of talent behind the camera. Famous directors like Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles produced notable work in the genre, while lesser known talents like Phil Karlson, Ida Lupino, Anthony Mann, Andre De Toth, Jules Dassin, and Robert Wise (just to name a few) got their chops directing moody, violent crime stories.
Perhaps the director with the finest list of noir credits, though, was Robert Siodmak. Originally from Dresden, he was born into money and a certain social privilege—with a successful father and an artistically inclined mother. At 18 he went to Berlin, which in those days was the swinging, cultural capital of Europe. During the 1920s, Siodmak, along with his brother Curt (who would himself become an important force in filmmaking), worked his way into the bustling German film industry. It was an incredible time—the age of German Expressionism—and Siodmak worked alongside future film masters like Billy Wilder, Fred Zinnemann, Edgar G. Ulmer, and Fritz Lang. Not incidentally, all of these men would make important contributions to film noir.
Then came the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, and like so many other artists (especially the ones of Jewish descent) Siodmak fled the country and came to America. Here he developed an approach to crime films that was striking and distinctive. Though he was a master of suspense, Siodmak’s American noirs were not as nerve-rattling as Hitchcock’s, and they were not marked by the kind of rough-and-tumble violence that drew attention to Karlson or Mann. What Siodmak did—as well as, or perhaps, better than anyone else—was to create the noir mood, an atmosphere of doom, of anxiety giving way to destruction. His films are, almost without exception, beautifully visual. If you want to learn about noir style, Siodmak is probably the best place to start. His films take place in a world of shadow and light, of footsteps in the dark and smoky doorways in the night.
Here’s your beginner’s guide to Siodmak:
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