Robert Siodmak’s The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry has a goofy ass title, but it’s a seriously dark film. The final third in particular is a bleak take on the punishments repeatedly doled out in ’40s noir due to the moral censorship enforced by the Hays Code. But then, the final minute of the film occurs and…it’s mind boggling and frustrating and silly and I dunno man. According to the interwebz, the ending was tacked on to appease the Motion Picture Production Code. It’s a dogshit way to wrap things up, but up to that point the movie is fantastic.
The Suspect is a period melodrama by blog favorite Robert Siodmak. This is the 9th Siodmak film I’ve reviewed here and by this point I can honestly declare that he can pretty much do everything. Seriously. Gothic horror. Two-fisted noir. And for today’s film, a murderous drama set in 1902 London. This one is light on his German expressionism influences and contains a bit more pomp than I typically enjoy, but it’s heavy on the suspense as the protagonist leaves behind a trail of bodies and must make a painful decision in the film’s final minutes.
Might as well tear through the rest of Robert Siodmak’s noirs, huh? The File on Thelma Jordon is a crime melodrama featuring a couple of Siodmak’s favorite recurring motifs: the double cross and dual personalities. Starring Babraba Stanwyck as the titular character, the film also features Wendell Corey as one of the most sympathetic male leads I’ve seen in a noir yet.
The Robert Siodmak train keeps a rollin’ with 1948’s Cry of the City. The character dynamic presented in the film mirrors Angel with Dirty Faces a bit, in which a gangster goes against his childhood friend, who grew up to become a priest. In Siodmak’s film the priest is replaced by a cop, played by Victor Mature (Kiss of Death). And rather than offer up the certainties of retribution that 1930s film did, Siodmak delivers a stylized and wonderfully bleak feast of noir. It failed to pack the emotional punch that The Killers or Criss Cross had, but Cry of the City (what a fuckin’ name, huh?) contains several memorable moments blanketed within Siodmak’s always impressive style.
I’ve been digging Robert Siodmak’s films hard lately (and have reviewed five already on this blog), so I figured I’d keep the ball rolling with 1946’s The Dark Mirror. This time the German maestro takes on the well-worn territory of evil doppelgangers. This motif had been around for a while, but hadn’t really been done to death until the ’70s and ’80s, when evil twins typically had scars along their cheeks or eye-patches or some other obvious shit to tell them apart.
Awww yeah…another Robert Siodmak joint. I love this dude! It’s also another Cornell Woolrich adaptation. Phantom Lady, based on his 1942 book of the same name, nicely conveys Woolrich’s motif of the passive male and avenging female that subverts the traditional femme fatale. It’s also a fine example of Siodmak’s German expressionistic style bleeding into the visual trademarks of noir. These elements culminate in a tense, tough little ride into fatalism, cover-ups, and good ol’ American psychopathy.
I planned on holding off my thoughts on Robert Siodmak’s The Killers for a while just because it’s such a quintessential noir. And because I knew I would have a lot to say about it. But my plate was clean today of freelance work, so fuck it, let’s rumble. Honestly, guys, this is the Citizen Kane of film noirs. Adapted from the short story by Ernest Hemingway (arguably the granddaddy of the hard-boiled school of writing), The Killers is an exemplary example of Siodmak’s refined blend of Hollywood talent and German expressionistic leanings. The character played by Burt Lancaster also strongly defines the classic Hemingway hero who accepts his fate in the face of death.
This is the third time in less than two weeks I’ve reviewed a Robert Siodmak joint. Christmas Holiday really amps up the melodrama and while it kinda seems overly sappy on the surface, ya gotta put it into context. Hollywood didn’t take too kindly to hookers as lead characters, so Siodmak took a lotta flak for this one. I’m not a huge fan of this one, it’s nothing I would want to rewatch anytime soon, but there’s some interesting things going on. And when the tone dramatically shifts from domestic bliss to noir, it’s wicked fun.
Talk about a blueprint for film noir, Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross lays down an impenetrably stark view of the Los Angeles underworld and one poor sucker who gets trapped in its web. What lured him there? A woman, duh. The title refers to the barrel of bluffs characters dip their heads into – bobbing for salvation. While film noir is known for its doomed heroes and hopelessness, Criss Cross transcends these motifs and reaches this surreal nightmare of despair, obsession, and betrayal unmatched in the golden era.
I’m taking a break from molls and smart-mouthed hoods today to write about a good ol’ fashioned “dark house” mystery: The Spiral Staircase. I saw it for the first time last night and am pretty hyped about it, so I have to get this review of my chest. Directed by German transplant Robert Siodmak and shot in balls-out expressionistic mode by shadow meister Nicholas Musuraca, the film is a masterful exercise in suspense with a helluva one-two punch at the climax. The atmosphere in this one is almost inconceivably dark. It’s like sticking your face in a can of black paint, then trying to make your way through a large house. It’s a powerful visual experience wrapped around a wicked little mystery. And I haven’t seen a staircase captured so passionately since Odessa.