Tag Archives: Robert Siodmak

Son of Dracula (1943, Robert Siodmak)

Son of Dracula doesn’t open well. The first scene’s all right, but once Louise Allbritton shows up–in the second scene–things start to go downhill. Allbritton’s one of the film’s constant problems. She’s a terrible actress and, in a film in desperate need of all the acting help it can get, it’s a significant defect. The second major problem pops up during the third scene (Allbritton’s in it too). It’s the music. Hans J. Salter’s music probably ruins Son of Dracula. The iffy performances hurt it, but the music just trashes the film’s potential. It works in direct opposition to Robert Siodmak’s direction (and one has to assume Siodmak had some say in the kind of score the film would use) and makes what should be sublime scenes loud and obnoxious.

Siodmak is a something of a bad fit for this film. His direction, for the most part, is fantastic. He brings noir composition to a horror film, which should work–in the Gothic sense–but it doesn’t. Some of it has to do with the music (most of it), but there’s also the special effects. With the exception of the vampires turning into vapor, which is awesome, the special effects are bad. I suppose the animated transition from bat to human form is fine, but the constant flying rubber bats is awful. Siodmak might use the bat in a different way, more of an active “character” in the film than most vampire pictures had done to this point, but it looks dreadful… and it looked dreadful back then too. What Siodmak does well is the non-special effects, but camera effects work. He’s got a beautiful scene of Lon Chaney floating across the water. Absolutely fantastic. It shows real innovation. But the film itself bucks such innovation….

The plot, eventually, reveals itself to be interesting. Except not with Chaney’s pseudo-Dracula running around. I say pseudo because a) it’s unclear if the character is Dracula or not and b) because Chaney’s performance is awful. His Dracula appears to be frequently confused and kind of weak. But he’s in it so little–if they used guest-starring credits in the forties, Chaney would have gotten one–it doesn’t really matter.

Most of the film follows Frank Craven on his hunt for the truth. A lot of it is fine, different old horror movie material. Son of Dracula frequently surprises. The story unfolds in interesting directions… except that music constantly brings it down. And the film also plays loose with its characters. Once J. Edward Bromberg arrives, Evelyn Ankers disappears. Bromberg’s performance is mediocre, but Ankers had some good material–and would have had even more had her character stuck around to see how the story unfolded.

Leading man Robert Paige is fine. The end isn’t quite sure how to use him, but Siodmak ends the film on a (somewhat) subtle note. Certainly one raising more questions than it answers and it’s fine; it doesn’t make up for the rest and the rest is a mess. The direction does, however. Siodmak’s approach makes Son of Dracula something to behold.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Eric Taylor, based on a story by Curt Siodmak; director of photography, George Robinson; edited by Saul A. Goodkind; music by Hans J. Salter; produced by Ford Beebe; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Robert Paige (Frank Stanley), Louise Allbritton (Katherine Caldwell), Evelyn Ankers (Claire Caldwell), Frank Craven (Doctor Brewster), J. Edward Bromberg (Professor Lazlo), Samuel S. Hinds (Judge Simmons), Adeline De Walt Reynolds (Madame Zimba), Pat Moriarity (Sheriff Dawes), Etta McDaniel (Sarah), George Irving (Colonel Caldwell) and Lon Chaney Jr. (Count Dracula).


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Phantom Lady (1944, Robert Siodmak)

There’s a distinct, definite brilliance to Siodmak’s direction. The film itself is unique in casting a woman as the hero in a film noir, essentially Bogart in The Maltese Falcon, while maintaining her as female. Ella Raines’s boss (played, in the film’s only mediocre performance, by Alan Curtis) is falsely convicted, due to perjury. Raines goes after the three perjurers and Siodmak creates, in each case, a magnificent sequence, whether it’s chase or just discomfort. Phantom Lady’s most well-known for the sexually charged scene with Raines and Elisha Cook Jr. at a jam session, but Siodmak’s just as impressive during the subsequent resolution to that scene.

All of or most of Phantom Lady was shot on set and Siodmak even uses matte paintings–quite effectively–for one of the pursuit scenes. Early on, during the trial, Siodmak gets the acknowledgment of artifice out of the way, summarizing the trial with voiceovers, tracking time with a court stenographer’s shorthand, focusing the cameras on Raines and Thomas Gomez (the sympathetic cop). Once that very artificial sequence is out of the way, once the audience has digested it, Siodmak doesn’t have to worry about anyone griping about the sets.

The relationship between Gomez and Raines is particularly interesting, because he’s in that position as the film noir sympathetic cop who shouldn’t be helping but is helping… but he’s also sensitive to Raines’s position (she’s in love with convicted boss Curtis). The two details never conflict for Gomez (and, to some degree, it’s entirely believable Raines would be as dedicated without the emotional investment). It’s a big surprise, seeing such unique gender dynamics in a Universal noir from 1944.

All the performances–besides Curtis’s–are fantastic. Raines is both the Kansas farm girl in love with her boss and the film noir hero without ever toggling between the two. She’s always both… Cook’s good in his scenes, as are Fay Helm and Andrew Tombes. Franchot Tone is great, surrounded by weird statues in an apartment; it looks like the Coens adapted it for Blood Simple.

I think I’ve only seen Phantom Lady once before, but certainly remembered it being good… I just didn’t remember Siodmak’s utterly great direction (or maybe just wasn’t filmically mature enough to appreciate it).

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Robert Siodmak; screenplay by Bernard C. Schoenfeld, based on a novel by Cornell Woolrich; director of photography, Elwood Bredell; edited by Arthur Hilton; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Franchot Tone (Jack Marlow), Ella Raines (Carol Richman), Alan Curtis (Scott Henderson), Aurora Miranda (Estela Monteiro), Thomas Gomez (Inspector Burgess), Fay Helm (Ann Terry), Elisha Cook Jr. (Cliff Milburn), Andrew Tombes (Mac the bartender), Regis Toomey (Detective Chewing Gum), Joseph Crehan (Detective Tom), Doris Lloyd (Madame Kettisha) and Virginia Brissac (Dr. Helen Chase).


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