Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.
Released on January 19, 1949
Directed by Robert Siodmak
Written by Daniel Fuchs, based on the novel by Don Tracy
Cast: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea, Stephen McNally, Richard Long, Meg Randall, Tom Pedi, Percy Helton, Alan Napier, Griff Barnett, John Doucette, Edna Holland, Garry Owen, Gene Evans, Joan Miller, Robert Osterloh, Tony Curtis
I seriously don’t understand why Criss Cross doesn’t hold a higher rank in the world of film noir than it does. I don’t often see it mentioned in books or articles on noir, and it’s rarely found on lists of noir favorites, but to me it’s one of the more perfect examples of the film noir mentality, and contains so much of the style’s elements, themes, and attitudes it’s nearly bursting at the seams. Granted, when it is mentioned, it’s highly praised, but for whatever reason it’s never included when the best of the noir canon—The Maltese Falcon, Double Indemnity, Out of the Past—are discussed.
Hopefully I can help change that. Burt Lancaster plays Steve Thompson, who returns home to LA and finds himself hopelessly drawn to his ex-wife Anna, who’s hooked up with a small-time crook named Slim Dundee but seems eager to rekindle a relationship with Steve. This doesn’t sit too well with Slim, and when he catches Steve and Anna together, Steve quickly fashions an excuse; through her, he wanted to talk to Slim about joining him in the heist of an armored truck, from a company where Steve now works as a driver. But Steve has secondary plans, and they all include Anna.
Director Robert Siodmak—who also helmed the classic noir entries Phantom Lady and The Killers—did some really solid work here, but out of everything I was most impressed with how he composed his shots, and where he placed his actors within the camera frame. I’d never noticed editing in a noir before, but combined with Siodmak’s choices, it really grabbed my attention. Add to that his location work in and around LA’s Union Station and the photogenic Bunker Hill area, and you really have yourself a film that, at the very least, is worth looking at.
The story had everything going for it, too: Burt Lancaster playing the hero chump who gets mixed up with Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea as the quietly menacing gangster who doesn’t like Lancaster messing with his girl, a romance triangle and a heist that are both filled with double-crosses, and the execution of the heist which, of course, goes horribly wrong. There were lots of superbly-executed set pieces as well, most notably a tension-filled hospital room sequence that masterfully duped Lancaster and the audience. And the ending…perfectly brutal, as any noir ending should be.
I recently purchased an excellent book on film noir which featured a list of the fifty greatest noir films of all time…and Criss Cross once again was not included. Baloney! Criss Cross deserves to be a part of any top noir list, and is included in my own Top 5. The camerawork, the cinematography, the twisty screenplay, the memorable dialogue and touches, the bygone LA locations, the score by Miklos Rozsa, and the pervasive sense of doom all combined to make Criss Cross a prime example of a true noir film, and worthy of an identical 9/10 score on my Rules of Film Noir list. For noir fans, I can’t recommend it enough. (9/10)