Oscar Directors: Siodmak, Robert–The Killers, Starring Burt Lancaster

Robert Siodmak is one of the few directors to be Oscar-nominated for the genre of film noir, The Killers, in 1946, featuring Burt Lancaster’s stunning acting debut.

He was born on August 8, 1900 in Memphis, Tennessee.  The son of a Leipzig banker in the U.S. on a busi­ness trip, he was brought to Germany while still an infant. After graduating from the University of Marburg, he began acting in repertory, but financial pressures forced him into a job as a bank clerk and several unsuccessful business ventures.

In 1925, he entered the German film industry as a title writer for imported American movies. In 1928, he became a film editor.

In 1929, he made his directorial debut, co‑directing with Edgar G. Ulmer the seminal feature documentary Menschen am Sonntag (“People on Sunday”). This film also marked the beginning careers of Curt Siodmak, Robert’s brother, Billy Wilder, who collaborated on the script, and of Eugen Schfiff­tan and Fred Zinnemann, who worked on the cinematography.

Siodmak then direct several German sus­pense thrillers, but being Jewish, he was forced into exile in Paris after the Nazi rise to power in 1933.  He left for Paris just before its occupation, and in 1940 heading for Hol­lywood.

After some B pictures, Siodmak made some psychological thrillers for Universal, aptly described by the Village Voice critic Andrew Sarris as “more Ger­manic than his German films.”

He cast of Ella Rraines to excellent effects in “Phantom Lady,” “The Suspect,” and “Uncle Harry,” and then successfully cast Deanna Durbin and Gene Kelly, both out of character in “Christmas Holiday.”

Co-starring Ava Gardner, at her most erotic and beautiful, The Killers was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Director for Siodmak.

The winner, however, was William Wyler for The Best Years of Our Lives, which swept most of the awards in 1946.

Siodmak’s Holly­wood films of the early 1950s were less interesting, except for the lively costume adventure comedy The Crimson Pirate.

Siodmak returned to France in 1953, and then back to Germany the following year, where he died in 1973.