Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Robert Siodmak, 1949
Starring: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne de Carlo, Dan Duryea

Steve Thompson returns home to L.A. and immediately gets involved with his treacherous ex-wife, though his protective mother and detective friend try to disuade him. Though Anna claims to still love him, she is really obsessed with money and runs off to marry a gangster, Slim Dundee, though she carries on an affair with Steve. To cover up the affair, Steve, an armored truck driver, organizes a heist with Slim. Though Steve and Anna plan to double cross Slim, things quickly become violent and complicated, with additional layers of betrayal.

Based on Don Tracy’s novel, Criss Cross is yet another film noir from underrated director Robert Siodmak. This is something of a follow up to his most famous noir, The Killers, and reunites Siodmak with its star, Burt Lancaster. In terms of plot, there are many similarities to The Killers and, because of this, Criss Cross is undeniably the inferior film. Both narratives are twisted and non-linear, told partly through flashback and voice over. A doomed romance is at the heart of both films, where a lovelorn man follows a beautiful, though treacherous woman towards his downfall. They engage in a heist, just so the man can be near the woman, though she is already in a committed relationship with a gangster. In the end, she predictably double crosses him, choosing money over love and, in turn, damning herself.

While Criss Cross lacks the constant, heavy sense of impending doom that made The Killers such a classic film, it is a more bitter and cynical film with a more developed sense of style. There are numerous lovely shots of historic downtown LA from cinematographer Franz Planer, and there’s yet another out-of-the-park score from Miklos Rosza. I may have just made a baseball reference, but I can’t be sure. The film’s crowning achievement is perhaps its ending, which packs a punch. Though Steve is badly injury and just barely escaped death, he runs to find Anna. She admits that she loves him, but despite this, is leaving with all the cash because his injuries will just slow her down. They are interrupted by Slim, who guns them down in jealous fury to the sound of approaching police sirens.

Unfortunately the bulk of the script is not equal to this apocalyptic ending. There are several tedious moments as neither of the leads are all that compelling. Lancaster is often great when he’s given a stronger male counterpart (as Kirk Douglas in I Walk Alone) or a more spirited female companion (as in Ava Gardner in The Killers), and, most importantly, when he’s given specific scenes and somewhat limited screen time. I can’t too much about Yvonne De Carlo (The Munsters, Brute Force), as I think the limitations are with the script and not her acting talent. She was simply given a watered down version of Ava Gardner’s character in The Killers – and no one can compete with Gardner in the sex appeal department.
One actor who does stand out is Dan Duryea, who is excellent here, as always, and just as flashy as he was in Kiss of Death and Scarlet Street. He’s less cruel and demented than in those roles, primarily because he is barely given any screen time. This would have been a very different film if he had even two or three more major scenes. Keep your eyes peeled for a young Tony Curtis, who briefly appears as Yvonne’s dancing partner early in the film, and a memorable performance from Alan Napier (the Batman TV show) in a side role.

Criss Cross is available on DVD, though I can’t really recommend it due to its numerous similarities with Siodmak’s wonderful The Killers. Fans of film noir and Robert Siodmak will probably want to check this out regardless. It’s certainly not a bad film, merely one that suffers in comparison. Apparently neither Lancaster nor Siodmak wanted to make it and Siodmak did his utmost to change the script during preproduction. Lancaster was desperate to escape the role of romantically doomed lug that established his character, but he would be forced there a few more times during film noir’s reign. 

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