Jim, der Mann mit der Narbe.
A suicide averted by a thief in the night.
The hand of Billie Wilder is on the screenplay, Kurt S. as well, score Friedrich Höllander, Franz Wachsmann in charge.
Siodmak’s assurance is everywhere “chicken shit made chocolate”, as Wilder observed of Lubitsch.
An unforgettable ride through Berlin at top speed, “like a patient etherised upon a table.”
The extant rescension of Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht. “Our best! Our pride! Jim, the man with the scar.”
A wedding in the ruins.
La Crise est finie
The enchanting tale of a provincial tour gone bad, the players take the train to their exhaustive theme, “on ne voit ça qu’à Paris!”
Andrew Sarris speaks of “Siodmak’s personality, such as it is” (The American Cinema).
No work, they take up residence in a closed theater. The title is a healthy bit of hocus-pocus, Wellesean “sidearm snookery”, the year after LeRoy’s Gold Diggers of 1933.
Andre Sennwald of the New York Times, “in Paris they know how to laugh.” The comparison to Clair is very apt.
A very able analysis that makes its way into Truffaut’s Tirez sur le pianiste and even has echoes in Pete Walker’s The Flesh and Blood Show by way of suggesting Balzac on How a Genius Pays His Debts.
Théâtre Élysée-Clichy, La Crise est finie... by means of a gag transposed to the Comédie-Française in the famous finale of Donen’s Charade. Capra repeats the word-of-mouth premiere a month later in Broadway Bill.
“...nous vivons dans l’âge d’or.”
G.32, invented by a winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, is the MacGuffin, Siodmak’s first American film is a vigorous recomposition of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps featuring an intern and a sketch artist and an escapee from the Riverford Sanitarium.
All very logical, “there’s no such thing as insanity, it’s—it’s just like a nightmare only you have it during the waking hours.”
According to Variety, “one of those sinister mellers...”
But then, “I don’t think it’s likely that your name is John McGonigle.”
What every honeymoon couple needs, “a needle and thread... a pair of scissors... a shoehorn... The Patriotic Panty—Save Silk for Uncle Sam... the cutest little embroidered V, for Victory.”
Ist das nicht ein guter Film? Ja, das ist ein guter Film!
“... to furnish wartime propaganda.” (Halliwell’s Film Guide)
Albert Basserman from Foreign Correspondent has the Leo G. Carroll role in Spellbound before the fact, Hitchcock always pays (wedding ring mania is the ruse for entrée to Riverford).
A masterpiece well and truly up, with Miles Mander from Hitchcock’s earliest extant film as Professor Langner.
“Oh, McGonigle, why did you get these dopes!”
“I didn’t get them, they got me... I feel like the main attraction at a fox hunt.”
The local constabulary, “a four-year-old with a butterfly net could nail you two Keystone Kops,” says their sergeant.
It should be clear by now that this is an analysis of The 39 Steps amounting to a piece of criticism infinitely superior to any otherwise offered, G.32 on the face of it is “a toy.”
The end, which comes as a blinding flash, “I never intended to create this weapon, it was an accident,” is certainly remembered in Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly and is followed by a little gag that Hitchcock uses in North by Northwest (probably this gave Kubrick his original idea for the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Child observing a nuclear war).
Son of Dracula
This wartime Dracula posits a coterie of adherents to Hitler among segregated Southerners who lead an antebellum life amid swamplands.
Count Alucard, a Hungarian impostor, slays the Colonel and weds his “morbid” daughter. She desires immortality and promises it to the man she loves, on condition that he eliminate the Count for her.
Like Huston’s Wise Blood by analogy, a thousand-year Reich of “Nazism without Hitler”. The war is never mentioned, the subtlety and force of the argument are muted but unmistakable to any but film critics, among whom A.W. of the New York Times distinguished himself at once by deriding the film as gibberish.
She’s about thirty, her features are vague in the memory, her name is unknown, she wears a fantastic hat, she’s a condemned man’s only alibi.
No-one’s seen her, no-one can find her, it’s 1943, she’s home on Long Island pining for her late fiancé.
Hitchcock material gets a rigorous analysis here, from Blackmail for the overweening artist to Rebecca for the terrible wife to Strangers on a Train for the liberating murder and the madman, on to Frenzy and Truffaut’s Vivement dimanche! for the crusading secretary.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times said “reason is what this picture lacks.” A film much admired “for reasons that have never been clear to me,” said Dave Kehr (Chicago Reader).
Litvak’s Confessions of a Nazi Spy has the artist’s trajectory southbound.
Siodmak, very much as Lang does in Der Tiger von Eschnapur and Das indische Grabmal, plays this straight on with calm detachment, but the development of the theme is slightly different, and so in Cobra Woman an American perspective on the war sees a happy conclusion, whereas in Lang the destruction of Germany is inevitably to be regretted.
That is the allegory missed by all writers, incredibly, though Scott Darling wrote the story and George Waggner produced it (with an excellent score by Edward Ward) and Siodmak directed it in Technicolor on beautiful sets depicting the South Seas and Cobra Island, where mass murder is the province of the usurping high priestess to King Cobra.
Home delayed by a telegram, she’s married someone else, dissolve to an airliner in storm.
Prelude thus ended, the two parts of the film begin, a whore brought to tears by the mea culpa at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans during midnight mass, the tale (also in two parts) of her unhappy marriage.
It ends with her free, the clouds part, stars and moonlight beam upon her.
“This relentlessly grim and boring melodrama was also a travesty of the novel on which it was based” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).
“Always. Mona.” And so the song is “Always”, also “Spring Will be a Little Late This Year”.
By Herman J. Mankiewicz out of W. Somerset Maugham, with some of the finest cinematography ever achieved.
“A demented melodrama” (Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader).
Happy the Englishman who sees his mortal enemies come and go, and does not depart by steamship but stays to set his watch by Big Ben.
The spectator of this wartime drama has the pleasure of Siodmak starting hares, a thousand and one films, before they all land suitably cased in the one pot.
TIME (Feb. 5, 1945) called it a “morally reprehensible tale”.
The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
The precise point of anguish is the unmarried sister who clings to her childhood impressions and the mind of Harry, something to be guarded from the world, from marriage, in a word.
This has been overlooked generally, and sometimes interpreted badly, a small, crucial point.
George Roy Hill’s Toys in the Attic has a different line, and Lang’s Scarlet Street a different ending.
Bosley Crowther in the New York Times complained of Lang’s The Woman in the Window and blamed Siodmak’s ending on the Hays Office, a view cited by Jonathan Rosenbaum in the Chicago Reader from Halliwell’s Film Guide.
Geoff Andrew in Time Out Film Guide says it’s “oddly critical of staid petit bourgeois aspirations.”
The Spiral Staircase
“The Wonder of the Age” is promised at 4:30 and 7:30 in the hotel parlor now a movie theater showing The Kiss (unidentified, but adding a touch of Surrealism by adducing the drowned girl described later). Upstairs a girl is changing her clothes, and someone is in her closet watching her (this looks like a source of Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom, possibly—other influences are on Hitchcock’s Psycho and Beckett’s Film). The watcher’s eye is seen in extreme close-up, then is “projected” onto the scene, framing the girl, who is lame. She is strangled just below the frame, with only her hands in view clenched and crossed above her head.
Siodmak has picturesque views, one of the town and one of the countryside, that prove he knows his painters. His turn-of-the-century décors are functional and probably show the effect of Welles.
Having vanquished immobility, muteness is to be conquered (Dorothy McGuire). But the complicated image, which enforces a bariolated view of Siodmak before Custer of the West took everyone around Purgatory for a spin, still has Ethel Barrymore an invalid, kept by her good kind son the Professor (George Brent). He sees mute McGuire with no mouth, à la Buñuel, and says there is “no room for imperfection.” Barrymore rises from her bed and kills him, McGuire regains her voice.
The image of the spiral staircase shot from above under the opening credits is perhaps suggestive of a film reel. The original novel by Ethel Lina White (who wrote The Wheel Spins, filmed as The Lady Vanishes) was called Some Must Watch, and is the source of a first-rate script.
The Swede is gunned down, let Halliwell tell the story, “we later find out why.”
The story of a neutral, a pug with a bad right who gets mixed up with an “Irisch Kind”.
Some kind of a hope dashed, not in Halliwell’s “sleazy town” but a nice little place by the side of the road, Nick Adams lives there.
The Edgar Allan Poe Award is ample praise.
A Veiller theme, the respectable villain, from another angle.
A theft of hats, a kid from Philadelphia winds up dead in New Jersey from it, for the sake of a lovely habituée of The Green Cat, Pittsburgh.
Siegel takes it from the top down in his version for the same studio.
Crowther (New York Times) had no idea, Variety observed the “best Hemingway style”.
The Dark Mirror
Nunnally Johnson’s great study of Nazi doubletalk (a specimen of the stuff can be inspected in Hippler’s Der ewige Jude). “Paranoiac” is the diagnosis (cf. Hamilton’s Man in the Middle). Pabst goes to the source in Der letzte Akt.
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times couldn’t guess what it had been made in aid of, “rather complex, if not always arresting... just seems to ramble along and only occasionally does it rouse one out of a state of indifferent attention. In short, it lacks emotional punch... surprisingly pallid... lack of ingenuity... as in his earlier and superior mystery, ‘The Woman in the Window,’ Mr. Johnson solves the problem with a bit of trickery which is no credit to his craftsmanship,” in short, Crowther was “not always entertained.”
Variety, “doesn’t quite come off.” The Catholic News Service Media Review Office, “twisty ending that compensates for the movie’s slow pacing.” The opening shot (cf. Chabrol’s La Fleur du mal) is mentioned in Geoff Andrew’s Time Out squib, along with “Siodmak managing admirably to counteract the contrived plot.”
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “the best brand of Hollywood moonshine,” citing Agee, “smooth and agreeable”.
Time Out of Mind
On an evident basis of The Magnificent Ambersons, Welles’ famously flouted masterpiece, the family scion in stern New England who desires to write music. Siodmak in a single shot conveys the necessity of paying the fiddler. Rozsa has the score at the fateful moment...
The surprise on the train platform is from It’s a Wonderful Life (dir. Frank Capra) the year before. The Concerto in E Minor comes from Paris and Debussy, the young and now educated composer is aggrieved, there’s a line of thinking centered on Charles Ives, precisely, who tells this story, “a MS. score is brought to a concertmaster—he may be a violinist—he is kindly disposed, he looks it over, and casually fastens on a passage ‘that's bad for the fiddles, it doesn't hang just right, write it like this, they will play it better.’ But that one phrase is the germ of the whole thing. ‘Never mind, it will fit the hand better this way—it will sound better.’ My God! what has sound got to do with music! The waiter brings the only fresh egg he has, but the man at breakfast sends it back because it doesn't fit his eggcup.” Becker’s Modigliani has a similar view of Academia as a little baggage of wealth. Conversation with a critic, “I was afraid you wouldn’t make it.”
“It’s my job, you know.” The New York premiere, fiasco, well-covered in the press.
The artist in seclusion, divorced from Europe willy-nilly. The English housekeeper’s daughter gives the title, his sojourn on the Continent. The fantastically detailed filming settles down at length to the seacoast at night from a dark house, where the composer receives inspiration.
Second conversation. “Good morning, Mr. Lieberman.”
“Where to, sir?”
Borges dropped his book in critics’ pockets while they dined, “the heavens are merciful,” Rimsky-Korsakov told young Stravinsky in a case similar to this New England Symphony.
Briefly The Strange Case of Uncle Harry and good riddance.
Backstage at the Symphony premiere, Siodmak gives Ophuls a run for his money. A case of the claque put down.
T.M.P. of the New York Times, “a singularly empty romantic drama.” Leonard Maltin, “plodding period piece.” TV Guide, “a listless story”. Hal Erickson (Rovi), “slow-moving costume drama.” Halliwell’s Film Guide, “silly”.
“A lover’s quarrel with the world” ends in divorce, when he returns she’s dating a gangster, who marries her.
Siodmak’s masterpiece has been particularly hard for critics to follow, “verbose, redundant and imitative” (T.M.P., New York Times), “sordid film noir with a poor plot but suspenseful sequences” (Halliwell’s Film Guide).
“Never confusing or draggy” (Variety in rebuttal).
The gangster’s final appearance is right out of Wellman’s The Public Enemy.
The Great Sinner
The invocation of Dostoevsky attends the great treatise on art as anything but a dice-throw (Mallarmé is indicated), with the answer of Christ on which the entire film is predicated.
The critics could not subscribe to this, and have not.
At least five great films, even ten, are contained within the harrowing structure elaborated by Siodmak with such attention to detail, the military band at Wiesbaden plays arrangements of the classics as fresh as the costumes, a high point of M-G-M style.
The scribbler cannot win his soul from the house with a lifetime of royalties, it’s not in the cards.
The Crimson Pirate
He has a plan to sell Royal guns to the rebels, and the rebels to the King.
But there’s a beautiful girl, and the rebel leaders look like Jefferson and Franklin (no critic noticed this, and so the point was lost).
Here is Weiler of the New York Times, “of course, there’s a story here too but it is merely a framework for some disguised trapeze and trampoline turns.”
Parolini (Return of Sabata) and Lester (The Four Musketeers) got the point after all.
Nachts wenn der Teufel kam
A village idiot with a penchant for murder is Nazi Germany.
A police detective back with a limp from the Russian Front finds this out, an SS-Gruppenführer silences it on orders from Hitler, a thumbless Army officer pays.
Howard Thompson of the New York Times could not quite follow it. He informs us the story is true, but “it should have knocked the customer into the aisle.”
Fred Camper (Chicago Reader) has an appreciative squib (as The Devil Strikes at Night). Time Out Film Guide praises the cinematography and Werner Peters.
Escape from East Berlin
The central model is Wyler’s The Desperate Hours, it makes an elegant pirouette between the reality of Occupation remembered and figured literally, “the prison state of Communism.” Stevens’ The Diary of Anne Frank conveys the other side of the tracks, as it were.
It is beautifully equipped with a structure of modus vivendi, an affair with a Major’s wife, interrupted by a colleague’s death at the Wall and his sister’s attempt and a neighbor’s despair.
For Siodmak this means a Berlin house in a bombed-out quarter, with a cellar for tunneling.
“Wer die DDR angreift, wird vernichtet.” The structure entails a conflict of the Wyler and Stevens models, nevertheless it concludes in “the happiness of being free—to cross a street; to stroll in any direction; to talk above a whisper.”
It was fairly lost on Bosley Crowther of the New York Times, “weak script... topical melodrama... predictable... stereotyped... awkwardly written... rather shallow surface... obviously contrived,” yet at the same time “striking Germanic direction by Robert Siodmak... vivid visual style... effectively realistic.”
TV Guide, “no tension is maintained because the outcome is inevitable.”
Eleanor Mannikka (Rovi), “routine docudrama”.
Halliwell’s Film Guide, “cheerless... without much suspense.”
The final element of composition is Lubitsch’s Ninotchka or Mamoulian’s Silk Stockings. A little dirt falls on one, a little light, “we’re in the West,” and this is Mallarmé’s “extrême occident de désirs”, shown by the slowly rising camera of the last shot to be just across the street.
Custer of the West
The supreme commentary on Walsh’s They Died with Their Boots On, and thus bearing the same relation as Milestone to Lloyd’s Mutiny on the Bounty.
A magnificent film, it has gone without saying.
Kampf um Rom
Death of Theoderic the Great. The Last Roman, in English.
Daughters of the Ostrogoth. Theodora in her bath.
Justinian on the throne.
A lion in the streets. The romance of Totila and Julia.
General Belisarius. Christian marriage of the Ostrogoth queen. “Der Kampf um Rom beginnt.” The Prætorian Guard.
Kampf um Rom
Attack on Rome. The vast high walls and storming apparatus are from Griffith’s Intolerance.
The betrayal of the title is all but ubiquitous.
Triumph of General Narses. Departure of the Ostrogoths.