Born in Denmark, Sirk went to Germany in his teens to study law, philosophy, art, and drama. While there, he became involved in theater, spending many years as a successful stage producer and director before making his first feature-length film, April, April (1935). Sirk found himself at odds with the Nazi regime, which exerted rigorous control over the theater. But because film had an international market, film directors had more freedom than directors in the theater, and this prompted Sirk's switch to movies. He finally fled Germany in 1937, working throughout Europe, South Africa, and Australia before emigrating to Hollywood, where he arrived in 1939. Despite his reputation in Europe, Sirk virtually had to start all over in the United States and he changed his name, Americanizing it to avoid the liability of a German name during the war years. Sirk's first American film was Hitler's Madman (1943), which was followed by the moderately popular thrillers Lured (1947) and Sleep My Love (1948); thus was inaugurated Sirk's association with the genres of the thriller and melodrama. Time and again he was assigned scripts in these popular forms and given ridiculously small budgets with which to work. Yet he produced films that many critics now regard as brilliant, partly because of the reevaluation of the melodrama form during the 1970s by literary and film scholars. Such melodramas as All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), and Imitation of Life (1959) are now seen as offering compelling critiques of conservative patriarchal and racist American values. Critics argue that melodrama achieves its effects through the very stylization that has provoked its denigration when it is compared to realism. Because the staging is more often symbolic than realistic, it can comment on character and action in the manner of a parallel story; in effect, the setting and style express what the characters are unable to, either because they are unaware or because they do not have a language adequate to their emotions. Thus, women's entrapment by bourgeois domesticity is often represented visually in Sirk films by framing women behind stair rails or hemming them in by the excessive furnishings of a middle-class home. Claiming ill health, Sirk retired from the film industry in 1959 and returned to Germany, where he resumed the work in the theater that had been his first enthusiasm. He died in Switzerland.