Douglas Sirk


Director
Douglas Sirk

About

Also Known As
Claus Detlev Sierk, Detlef Sierck, Michael O'Hara
Birth Place
Hamburg, DE
Born
April 26, 1900
Died
January 14, 1987
Cause of Death
Cancer

Biography

Best known for his Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s, Douglas Sirk first achieved success in post-WWI Germany, as a theater director. Under the name Claus Detlef Sierck, he directed for the stage from 1922 to 1937, emphasizing the work of such classic playwrights as Moliere, Ibsen, Shaw and Shakespeare. In 1934 he was hired by UFA, which released his first feature film, "'T was een April...

Photos & Videos

Lured - Movie Poster
Written on the Wind - Movie Poster
Thunder on the Hill - Lobby Cards

Family & Companions

Hildegard Jary
Wife
Actor.

Bibliography

"Sirk on Sirk"
Douglas Sirk (1973)

Biography

Best known for his Hollywood melodramas of the 1950s, Douglas Sirk first achieved success in post-WWI Germany, as a theater director. Under the name Claus Detlef Sierck, he directed for the stage from 1922 to 1937, emphasizing the work of such classic playwrights as Moliere, Ibsen, Shaw and Shakespeare. In 1934 he was hired by UFA, which released his first feature film, "'T was een April/It Was in April," in 1935. Despite his great success, Sirk left Germany in 1937 because of his opposition to the policies of the Third Reich. After a brief stay in France and Holland, where he worked on several scripts and produced two films, Sirk was invited to America to remake "Zu Neuen Ufern/To New Shores" (1937), one of his most successful German films featuring the great star Zarah Leander.

In Hollywood, after several years of aborted projects, Sirk directed his first American feature, "Hitler's Madman" (1943). His early work in Hollywood remains largely undistinguished, although Sirk devotees insist that, like his later, more important films, it contains ironic critiques of American culture. "Lured" (1947) and "Sleep, My Love" (1948) stand out in this period as atypical but competent thrillers.

Sirk's great period was during his association with Universal-International studios, beginning in 1951 and continuing until his retirement from filmmaking in 1959, and particularly with producers Albert Zugsmith and Ross Hunter. The series of melodramas he made for Universal struck a responsive chord with audiences; among the best-remembered are "Magnificent Obsession" (1954), "All That Heaven Allows" (1956), "Written on the Wind" (1956), "A Time to Love and a Time to Die" (1958) and "Imitation of Life" (1959). During its release, "Imitation of Life" became Universal's most commercially successful picture. Yet it also proved to be Sirk's last film: either because of ill health, a distaste for American culture or both, Sirk retired from filmmaking and returned to Europe, living in Switzerland and Germany until his death.

Largely considered merely a director of competent melodramas by critics in North America, Sirk's career was redefined by British criticism in the early 1970s. He became the subject of essays in theoretical film journals such as "Screen" and was given a retrospective at the 1972 Edinburgh Film Festival, along with an accompanying critical anthology. Such Sirk remarks as, "The angles are a director's thoughts. The lighting is his philosophy" endeared him to a new generation of film critics viewing Sirk as a socially conscious artist who criticized Eisenhower America from within mainstream filmmaking.

Sirk's style hinges on a highly developed sense of irony, employing subtle parody, cliche and stylization. At one time Sirk was seen as a filmmaker who simply employed conventional Hollywood rhetoric, but his style is now regarded as a form of Brechtian distancing that drew the viewer's attention to the methods and purposes of Hollywood illusionism. The world of Sirk's melodramas is extremely lavish and artificial, the colors of walls, cars, costumes and flowers harmonizing into a constructed aesthetic unity, providing a comment on the oppressive world of the American bourgeoisie. The false lake, a studio interior in "Written on the Wind," for example, is presented as "obviously" false, an editorial comment on the self-deceptive, romanticized imagination that Marylee Hadley (Dorothy Malone) brings to the past. Sirk is renowned for his thematic use of mirrors, shadows and glass, as in the opening shot of "Imitation of Life": behind the credits, chunks of glass, supposedly diamonds, slowly fill the frame from top to bottom, an ironic comment, like the film's very title, about the nature of its own appeal. Later, more obviously political filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder have been influenced by Sirk's American melodramas, which have been offered as models of ideological critique that may also pass as simple entertainment.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Imitation of Life (1959)
Director
A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958)
Director
The Tarnished Angels (1958)
Director
Written on the Wind (1957)
Director
Battle Hymn (1957)
Director
Interlude (1957)
Director
All That Heaven Allows (1956)
Director
There's Always Tomorrow (1956)
Director
Captain Lightfoot (1955)
Director
Magnificent Obsession (1954)
Director
Sign of the Pagan (1954)
Director
Taza, Son of Cochise (1954)
Director
Take Me to Town (1953)
Director
All I Desire (1953)
Director
Against All Flags (1952)
Director of addl swordplay scenes
No Room for the Groom (1952)
Director
Meet Me at the Fair (1952)
Director
Has Anybody Seen My Gal (1952)
Director
Weekend with Father (1951)
Director
Thunder on the Hill (1951)
Director
The First Legion (1951)
Director
The Lady Pays Off (1951)
Director
Mystery Submarine (1950)
Director
Slightly French (1949)
Director
Shockproof (1949)
Director
Sleep, My Love (1948)
Director
Lured (1947)
Director
A Scandal in Paris (1946)
Director
A Scandal in Paris (1946)
Director
Summer Storm (1944)
Director
Hitler's Madman (1943)
Director
Boefje (1939)
Director
Zu Neuen Ufern (1937)
Director
La Habanera (1937)
Director
La Chanson du Souvenir (1936)
Director
Schlussakkord (1936)
Director
Das Hofkonzert (1936)
Director
'T was een April (1935)
Director
Stutzen der Gesellschaft (1935)
Director
April, April (1935)
Director
Das Madchen vom Moorhof (1935)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995)
Himself
My Life For Zarah Leander (1987)
Living It Up (1954)
Armed guard
The Caddy (1953)
Officer
Please Believe Me (1950)
Thug

Writer (Feature Film)

Summer Storm (1944)
Adaptation
Summer Storm (1944)
Adaptation
Boefje (1939)
Screenwriter
Zu Neuen Ufern (1937)
Screenwriter
Das Hofkonzert (1936)
Screenwriter
Schlussakkord (1936)
Screenplay

Producer (Feature Film)

The First Legion (1951)
Producer

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies (1995)
Other
My Life For Zarah Leander (1987)
Other

Life Events

1934

Switched to film work after Nazi rise to power (films were less subject to Nazi scrutiny)

1935

Debut as feature director

1937

Immigrated to USA

1959

Retired; returned to Germany

Photo Collections

Lured - Movie Poster
Here is an original-release insert movie poster for Lured (1947), starring Lucille Ball. Inserts measured 14x36 inches.
Written on the Wind - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for Written on the Wind (1957). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.
Thunder on the Hill - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Thunder on the Hill (1951), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Claudette Colbert. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Captain Lightfoot - Lobby Cards
Here are a few Lobby Cards from Captain Lightfoot (1955), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, and Jeff Morrow. Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
Captain Lightfoot - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Universal Pictures' Captain Lightfoot (1955), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, and Jeff Morrow.
Captain Lightfoot - Movie Posters
Here are some original-release movie posters from Universal Pictures' Captain Lightfoot (1955), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Barbara Rush, and Jeff Morrow.
Taza, Son of Cochise - Movie Posters
Taza, Son of Cochise - Movie Posters
The Tarnished Angels - Behind-the-Scenes Stills
Here are some photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Universal Pictures' The Tarnished Angels (1957), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone.
The Tarnished Angels - Movie Posters
Here are several original-release movie posters from Universal Pictures' The Tarnished Angels (1957), directed by Douglas Sirk and starring Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, and Dorothy Malone.
Taza, Son of Cochise - Pressbook
Here is the original campaign book (pressbook) for Taza, Son of Cochise (1954). Pressbooks were sent to exhibitors and theater owners to aid them in publicizing the film's run in their theater.

Videos

Movie Clip

Shockproof (1949) - Change Your Brand Of Men Nifty opening by director Douglas Sirk and co-screenwriters Helen Deutsch and Samuel Fuller, introducing female lead Patricia Knight, who joins her then-husband Cornel Wilde, who reveals the nature of their character's business, in Shockproof, 1949.
Scandal In Paris (1946) - It Looks Made For You scandalinparis_itlooksmadeforyou_FC
All That Heaven Allows (1955) - So Few Widows Wear It Escorted by stately Harvey (Conrad Nagel), Connecticut widow Cary (Jane Wyman) turns heads at the country club, cruelly greeted by Mona (Jacqueline de Wit), defended by Sara (Agnes Moorehead) then jumped by Howard (Donald Curtis), social tumult in Douglas Sirk's All That Heaven Allows, 1955.
All That Heaven Allows (1955) - This May Be My Last Year Using the Universal backlot as suburban Connecticut, Agnes Moorehead as Sara conducts exposition regarding Jane Wyman (as "Cary,") at first hardly noticing the hunky gardener Ron (Rock Hudson), opening Douglas Sirk's celebrated All That Heaven Allows, 1955, produced by Ross Hunter.
Scandal In Paris (1946) - A Little Poorer Than Honest In the same year he narrated the opening to The Picture Of Dorian Gray, George Sanders introduces himself as the central character, the real person Eugene François Vidocq, and Akim Tamiroff as friend Emile, Douglas Sirk directing, in A Scandal In Paris, 1946, from Austrian ex-pat producer Arnold Pressburger, with Signe Hasso and Carole Landis.
Scandal In Paris (1946) - They Call Me Sweet Loretta Introducing leading WWII pinup Carole Landis in one of her first post-war pictures, fugitives George Sanders and Akim Tamiroff (as the historical figure and central character Vidocq, and sidekick Emile) are persuaded she’s worth a look, in Marseilles ca. 1805, in A Scandal In Paris, 1946, from producer Arnold Pressburger.
Scandal In Paris (1946) - Handsomer Than The Other Saints Via apparent happenstance, the face of St. George in a fresco (?) at a church in provincial France is that of George Sanders, the star and central character Vidocq, and has bewitched Signe Hasso as Therese, daughter of a local police official (Jo Ann Marlowe her sister), their first encounter following, in A Scandal In Paris, 1946.
Scandal In Paris (1946) - I Have A Shrewd Suspicion Maneuvering himself into being made chief of police, con man George Sanders has assumed the name of a prominent local family and become a houseguest of the aristocrat police minister Houdon (Alan Napier), whose jewels he has stolen and hidden, and whose unsuspecting daughter (Signe Hasso) remains enthralled, in A Scandal In Paris, 1946.
Written On The Wind (1957) - Not Duties, Pleasures Right-hand man Mitch (Rock Hudson) has persuaded Lucy (Lauren Bacall), secretary in a Manhattan ad agency, to meet his playboy Texas oil-family scion and virtual-brother Kyle (Robert Stack) at "21," early in Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind, 1957.
Written On The Wind (1957) - Welcome To Hadley First appearance of oil tycoon Hadley (Robert Keith), atop his tower in the town named after him, with protege Mitch (Rock Hudson), joined soon by his sobered-up son Kyle (Robert Stack), introducing his new wife Lucy (Lauren Bacall), in Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind, 1957.
Written On The Wind (1957) - Thank You, Sir Galahad First appearance of trampy oil heiress Marylee (Dorothy Malone), with grabby Roy (John Larch) and barkeeper Dan (Robert J. Wilke), who has called her newly-wedded and sober brother Kyle (Robert Stack) and his wing man Mitch (Rock Hudson), in Douglas Sirk's Written On The Wind, 1957.
Written On The Wind (1957) - Open, November 1956 Dramatic and fancy opening from director Douglas Sirk, Robert Stack as "Kyle" and Lauren Bacall as wife "Lucy" featured, from Written On The Wind, 1957, also starring Rock Hudson and Dorothy Malone.

Trailer

Companions

Hildegard Jary
Wife
Actor.

Bibliography

"Sirk on Sirk"
Douglas Sirk (1973)