Curt Siodmak - Writer





Writer and Director. Nationality: American. Born: Kurt Siodmak in Dresden, Germany, 10 August 1902; brother of the director Robert Siodmak. Education: Attended the University of Zurich, Ph.D. 1927. Family: Married Henrietta de Perrot, 1931, one son. Career: Reporter, freelance writer, and railway engineer; 1929—first film as writer, People on Sunday ; 1930—first novel published; 1934–37—writer for Gaumont-British; 1937—moved to the United States, and writer for Paramount, 1938–40, and Universal, 1940–46; 1951—first film as director, Bride of the Gorilla ; 1952—formed production company with Ivan Tors.

Films as Writer:

1929

Menschen am Sonntag ( People on Sunday ) (R. Siodmak and Ulmer—doc)

1931

Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht ( Looking for His Murderer ) (R. Siodmak); Le Bal (Thiele)

1932

F.P.1 antwortet nicht ( F.P.1 ; F.P.1 Does Not Answer ; F.P.1 Does Not Reply ) (Hartl)

1934

La Crise est finie ( The Slump Is Over ) (R. Siodmak); Girls Will Be Boys (Varnel)

1935

Transatlantic Tunnel ( The Tunnel ) (Elvey); It's a Bet (Esway)

1936

I Give My Heart ( The Loves of Madame Du Barry ) (Varnel)

1937

Non-Stop New York (Stevenson)

1938

Her Jungle Love (Archainbaud)

1940

The Invisible Man Returns (May); Black Friday (Lubin); The Ape (Nigh)

1941

Pacific Blackout (Murphy); The Invisible Woman (Sutherland); Aloma of the South Seas (Santell); Midnight Angel (Murphy)

1942

Invisible Agent (Marin); London Black-Out Murders ( Secret Motive ) (G. Sherman); The Wolf Man (Waggner)

1943

Son of Dracula (R. Siodmak); Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (Neill); I Walked with a Zombie (J. Tourneur); The Purple V (G. Sherman); The Mantrap (G. Sherman); False Faces (G. Sherman)

1944

House of Frankenstein (Kenton); The Climax (Waggner)

1945

Shady Lady (Waggner); Frisco Sal (Waggner)

1946

The Return of Monte Cristo (Levin)

1947

The Beast with Five Fingers (Florey)

1948

Berlin Express (J. Tourneur)

1949

Tarzan's Magic Fountain (Sholem); Four Days' Leave ( Swiss Tour ) (Lindtberg)

1953

Riders to the Stars (Carlson)

1955

Creature with the Atom Brain (Cahn)

1956

Earth vs. Flying Saucers (Sear)

1962

Sherlock Holmes und das Halsband des Todes ( Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace ) (Fisher)

1970

Hauser's Memory (Sagal—for TV)

Films as Writer and Director:

1951

Bride of the Gorilla

1953

The Magnetic Monster

1956

Curucu, Beast of the Amazon

1957

Love Slaves of the Amazon (+ pr)

1962

The Devil's Messenger (Strock) (co-d)

1967

Liebespiele im Schnee ( Ski Fever )

1968

Custer of the West

Publications


By SIODMAK: fiction—

Schlüss in Tonfilmatelier , Berlin, 1930.

F.P.1 antwortet nicht , Berlin, 1931, as F.P.1 Does Not Reply , Boston, Massachusetts, 1933, as F.P.1 Fails to Reply , London, 1933.

Stadt hinter Nebeln , Salzburg, 1931.

Die Madonna aus der Markusstrasse , Leipzig, 1932.

Rache im Ather , Leipzig, 1932.

Bis ans Ende der Welt , Leipzig, 1933.

Die Macht im Dunkeln , Zurich, 1937.

Donovan's Brain , New York, 1943.

Whomsoever I Shall Kiss , New York, 1952.

Skyport , 1959.

For Kings Only , New York, 1961.

Hauser's Memory , New York, 1968.

The Third Ear , New York, 1971.

City in the Sky , New York, 1974.


By SIODMAK: articles—

Films and Filming (London), November 1968.

American Film (Washington, D.C.), August 1990.

Filmfax (Evanston), March-April 1996.


On SIODMAK: articles—

Kino Lehti (Helsinki), no. 4, 1972.

Cinéma (Paris), October 1978.

Ecran Fantastique (Paris), April, May, and June 1983.

Mace, Kevin, in American Screenwriters, 2nd series , edited by Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1986.

Segnocinema (Vicenza), January 1988.

EPD Film (Frankfurt/Main), October 1996.

Filmbulletin (Winterthur), January 1998.


* * *


Curt Siodmak was almost single-handedly responsible for the flowering of the second horror-film cycle. He wrote the best of Universal's 1940s horror films and influenced all the others. While by no means a great writer, Siodmak is a gifted, sometimes inspired hack, who, in the course of a prolific career, has created many striking and enduring characters and concepts. He has described himself as an idea man, and he has certainly come up with ideas on which he and others have rung variations, time and again.

One of Siodmak's first horror-film scripts was Black Friday , a story about a gangster's brain tissue being injected into a normal man, causing criminal tendencies in the recipient. The idea was like The Hands of Orlac , only more "cerebral." It probably inspired Siodmak's own Donovan's Brain (published two years later and filmed three times since), whose plot concerns an industrialist's disembodied brain exerting influence over the scientist who keeps it alive. Siodmak returned to the theme in Hauser's Memory , his later, semi-sequel to Donovan's Brain and his last screen credit, filmed as a television movie, in which a scientist injects himself with a colleague's brain fluid and relives the man's World War II experiences. (In between, Siodmak scripted another "head" film, Creature with the Atom Brain , adding a contemporary nuclear touch to his frequent subject.)

Siodmak began screenwriting as a practitioner of the fantastic mundane . His early science-fiction work in Germany is patterned after Fritz Lang's pedestrian Frau im Mond rather than Lang's more fabulous Metropolis ; Siodmak took one futuristic or fantastic idea (a floating air strip, a subterranean link between Europe and America, a supersonic flight across the Atlantic) and wove an ordinary melodrama around it. This approach served him well when he began writing in the United States, where for a long time audiences seemed to resist outright fantasy and wanted it couched in "reality." So Siodmak used invisibility as the gimmick in his story of a wronged man proving his innocence in The Invisible Man Returns . He then used invisibility in a war film ( Invisible Agent ) and a comedy ( The Invisible Woman ). Universal's subsequent Invisible Man films ( The Invisible Man's Revenge , Abbott and Costello Meet the Invisible Man ), though not written by Siodmak, followed the pattern he had established.

Siodmak's most effective realization of the fantastic mundane (and also his best picture as director) is the science-fiction film The Magnetic Monster , about a radioactive isotope that implodes every 11 hours, increasing in size as it does. His heroes are a couple of workmanlike, Dragnet- style scientists, yet—despite the nondramatic nature of his "monster" and the drab personalities of his protagonists—he manages to generate quite a bit of suspense and to make skillful use in the film's exciting climax of the laboratory sequence from a 1934 fantastic mundane German film, Gold .

Siodmak was one of numerous science-fiction film practitioners in the 1950s, but in the 1940s he was the horror-film practitioner. He gave new life to all of Universal's famous monsters. His story for Son of Dracula gave a film noir twist to the vampire legend. It was a sort of supernatural Double Indemnity , featuring a superbly icy femme fatale who manipulates, for her own devices, both the man and monster who love her. Despite its title, the film was about a true daughter of Dracula, and head and shoulders above the anemic Dracula's Daughter made nine years earlier.

Siodmak's greatest creation during this period was The Wolf Man , a movie that exhibits a purity and economy of structure and a unity of action, time, and place similar to Greek tragedy. The script abounds with subtle nuances: Larry Talbot comes on like a wolf to Gwenn Conliff, then becomes an actual wolf, attacking her at the picture's end; Larry's brother, John, has died in a hunting accident—perhaps at the hands of their father, Sir John, who favored John and whose wrongheaded, strained attempts to get close to his second son ultimately lead to wolf man Larry's death in another "hunting accident" at the hands of Sir John. Most of what is today considered standard werewolf lore actually originated with Siodmak in this picture and its two sequels. He invented the famous four-line verse ("Even a man who is pure in heart") and the business about silver bullets and full moons, and provided Lon Chaney, Jr., with his second-best (after Lennie) and most enduring film role.

Siodmak continued to develop the personality of the unfortunate lycanthrope in the sequel, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man , which began the practice of teaming Universal's monsters (a practice initiated because of a chance remark Siodmak jokingly made to Universal producer George Waggner). Under Roy William Neill's direction, the first half of the film is atmospheric and exciting, but the second half is less successful because of meddling by the studio. Siodmak had followed the continuity from the earlier Ghost of Frankenstein , which had left the monster blind, with the brain (and voice) of Ygor (Bela Lugosi). Universal cut the monster's (Lugosi's) dialogue and all references to the creature's blindness, rendering his actions incomprehensible, and destroying the effect of a moment near the end where the monster is recharged, opens his eyes, and smiles malevolently: he can see again.

House of Frankenstein , based on Siodmak's story "The Devil's Brood," adds Dracula to the group, and takes Larry Talbot to his romantic-tragic end: as the wolf man, he is killed by a silver bullet, shot from the hand of "one who loves enough to understand"—his Gypsy girlfriend. Once again, Universal's subsequent films in this series, House of Dracula and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein , though not written by Siodmak, followed the pattern he had established.

When Siodmak turned to directing (usually his own scripts), the overall quality of his writing suffered, as the titles of those films, from Bride of the Gorilla to Ski Fever , indicate. And his direction (except for Magnetic Monster ) was weak. But (even discounting his work on two films which some critics rate highly: I Walked with a Zombie —a voodoo Jane Eyre , one of Val Lewton's pseudo-horror follow-ups to Cat People —and The Beast with Five Fingers , a hoax horror picture—the disembodied Hand of Orlac ), he had already left a rich genre-film legacy that makes up for a dozen films such as Curucu, Beast of the Amazon and Love Slaves of the Amazon .


—Anthony Ambrogio



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