Combustible Celluloid - A Video Tribute to Screenwriter Curt Siodmak
Combustible Celluloid
 

A Video Tribute to Screenwriter Curt Siodmak

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

The Brothers Siodmak:
Curt and his brother Robert
Curt Siodmak had two big minuses in his life. One, he was a screenwriter. And two, he worked mostly in the horror genre. To people in Hollywood, that put him at about the same level as a janitor or a bus driver. But to us filmgoers, he was a treasure.

Siodmak died September 2 at the age of 98. According to the Screen Writer's Guild, he was the oldest working screenwriter at the time (though the Internet Movie Database dates his most recent work at 1970).

He was born in Germany in 1902, and quickly fell into the same circles as his filmmaker brother, Robert Siodmak (The Killers), and cult director Edgar G. Ulmer. Once there, he co-wrote an early Ulmer picture, People on Sunday (1929). In the 1930's, along with other artists who feared for both their freedom and their lives, he escaped Germany just before Hitler came to power. After working in Hollywood for a few years, he was asked to write The Invisible Man Returns (1940) and the rest was history.

He not only worked with Frankenstein's monster, Dracula, and the Wolf Man, but Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes as well. In the 1950's, he wrote a famous sci-fi novel, "Donovan's Brain", that today still has a cult following. He also tried his hand at directing with films like Bride of the Gorilla (1951), The Magnetic Monster (1953), and Ski Fever (1967), but was not as successful in this realm as his brother.

Though he made mostly horror films, Siodmak was a writer of few pretensions and a strong work ethic. Following are eight of his most memorable films, all available on video.


The Invisible Man Returns (1940) Vincent Price stars as the Invisible Man, who, this time, doesn't go mad, but takes the invisibility formula to clear himself of a murder charge.

The Wolf Man (1941) Siodmak, with the help of Lon Chaney Jr., made the Wolf Man a misunderstood hero instead of a monster. But it's still pretty scary.

Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) Chaney returned as the Wolf Man and Bela Lugosi finally got the chance to play Frankenstein's monster (proving that Boris Karloff was the right choice for the role). It's a clever mixture of horror and comedy.

Son of Dracula (1943) This is actually a well-made vampire movie that has nothing to do with Dracula (1931). Lon Chaney Jr. is the vampire this time. Curt's brother Robert Siodmak directed.

I Walked With a Zombie (1943) Inarguably Siodmak's finest work. It's a sly adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre set on a Caribbean island with voodoo, music, and zombies. With Jacques Tourneur's atmospheric direction and producer Val Lewton's guiding hand, it's a masterpiece for the ages.

The Beast With Five Fingers (1946) Peter Lorre stars under the direction of Robert Florey in this excellent story of a man at odds with a disembodied hand, which tries to strangle him. You'll never forget the scene with the hand playing the piano.

Berlin Express (1948) Siodmak re-teamed with director Tourneur, providing the original story for this beautifully photographed tale of four police officers from different nations guarding a German VIP on a train to Berlin.

Earth vs. the Flying Saucers (1956) Siodmak wrote the story for this Ray Harryhausen special effects spectacular in which aliens try to blow up the earth. They succeed, at least, in blowing up the White House (Independence Day, eat your heart out).

(See Curt Siodmak's Filmography at the Internet Movie Database.)

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