Born in Memphis, Tennessee, where his German banker father and his wife were travelling, Robert Siodmak -- the older brother of Curt Siodmak -- was raised and educated in Germany and became an actor after graduating from the University of Marburg. His lack of success on stage forced him into business, but in 1926 he entered the movie business as a translator of inter-titles on American films. Siodmak became an editor in 1926 and three years later, on Menshen am Sontag (People on Sunday), he made his directorial debut in asociation with Edgar G. Ulmer, with future director Fred Zinnemann as the co-cinematographer, and Curt Siodmak and Billy Wilder as screenwriters. He was established as a director in Germany, but the rise of the Nazi Party forced him into exile in Paris, where he continued making movies. He barely made it out of France ahead of the German occupation in 1940.
After arriving in Hollywood, Siodmak was put to work in B-movies such as West Point Widow. In 1943, he directed Son of Dracula, the best of the later Universal horror films, and its success moved him up to better pictures -- the results were immediately evident in dark drama like Phantom Lady, Uncle Harry, The Spiral Staircase (usually considered Siodmak's best film), and The Killers, a landmark example of film noir, which played a key role in the early careers of both Burt Lancaster (who was later directed by Siodmak in several more pictures) and Ava Gardner, and moved Siodmak solidly into A-features. Siodmak also directed the strange psychological chiller The Dark Mirror, about identical twins (played by Olivia de Havilland), one of whom is a psychopathic murderer, which today is a very highly regarded film noir. Siodmak's American films are, in the observation of Andrew Sarris, even more Germanic than his German films and filled with dark, atmospheric touches. All possess a seriously unsettling quality on repeated viewing. Ironically, his last American movie, The Crimson Pirate, starring Lancaster, was a costume satire with element of slapstick, and it worked as well as his thrillers did. Siodmak left America after 1953 to resume his career in Europe, returning first to France and then to Germany. Among the relative handful of his later pictures to get wide exposure in the United States were Escape From East Berlin and Custer of the West, the latter starring Robert Shaw as the late U.S. Cavalry colonel -- it had interesting moments, especially the action scenes, but as a joint U.S./Spanish co-production, lacked the cohesion needed for a good historical western.