Criss Cross (1949)

Criss Cross (1949)

Run time: 88 min
Rating: 7.6
Genres: Crime | Drama | Film-Noir
Director: Robert Siodmak
Writers: Daniel Fuchs, Don Tracy
Stars: Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, Dan Duryea
Storyline
Lancaster is a pathetic yet powerful loser whose fatal weakness is his attachment to his treacherous ex-wife.  Potent film noir.
Details:
Release Date: 1949 (USA)

5 responses to “Criss Cross (1949)”

  1. IMDBReviewer says:

    Burt Lancaster, hot off his success in "The Killers," where he burned up the screen with the smoldering Ava Gardner, paired up again with director Robert Siodmak to make this noir hit with yet another sultry and exotic leading lady, this time the stunning Yvonne de Carlo. In this role she proves she’s not just a decorative sex symbol and gets to strut the acting chops I’ve always suspected her of possessing. For those who are only familiar with her as Lilly Munster on the famous TV show, it is a treat to see her at her youthful beauty and in one of her best roles. Although I believe Gardner to be the more beautiful of the two, I couldn’t imagine her pulling off this role (at least at this stage of her career; she later developed much more depth) as impressively as de Carlo does, who in my view is (or at least became, in this movie) the better actress. Lancaster also proves that his star-making performance in the aforementioned "The Killers" was not a fluke, and despite the two films’ possessing a surface similarity–sexy dame double crosses love or lust-strucked sap with fatal consequences, which, of course, would describe many noirs–Lancaster makes a unique, interesting and multi-dimentional dupe in both roles. He exudes typical male ‘traits’ of toughness, masculinity and jadedness but yet is susceptible to the more typical ‘female’ qualities of vulnerability, sensitivity, lovelorness and hopeful, but ultimately futile, optimism in his refusal, or inability, to become completely cynical and hard-bitten, even at the end. In "Criss Cross" he plays the divorced Steve Thompson, who has recently returned to San Francisco where his ex-wife Anna remains, trying to convince himself of every reason in the book for moving back home except the real one–his lingering, potent love and strong attraction for her which still persists. He moves back in with his family and gets his job back at an armored-car company, all the while playing what will turn out to be a dangerous game–going back to their old haunts where he pretends he has no desire to see Anna, when he knows sooner or later he will. The situation proves to be all the more risky when he discovers she has married Slim Dundee, an abusive, big-shot gangster. But despite this extremely dangerous, untenable situation, he is unable to resist when Anna’s siren song beckons, luring not only him, but her husband, into her lethal web and complex scheme with cold-blooded precision.

    The three principals give riveting performances: Lancaster’s Steve–the viewer can feel his painful uncertainty in knowing he should not and must not get tangled up with his ex again, and yet he must; he is so in love (or lust) that there really is no other option for him. De Carlo’s Anna in my view is the most difficult role in the film to convincingly portray–despite her despicable, heartless, self-serving actions, she still remains likable and even heartrending in her justifications. She convincingly displays vulnerability and anguish but at the same time is completely venal and selfish, willing to use the two men who love her and then discard them. We get the feeling that she *may* be good at heart, but really and truly has lost her way, has assessed she’s too far gone to ever go back, and so she will plow on ahead determinedly, consequences and feelings and people’s lives be dam*ed. The scene where de Carlo is with the men as they plan the heist is reminiscent of the one in "The Killers" where Ava Gardner is with the criminal gang–it is obvious they are no mere decorative dames, molls who remain in the background; they play an active role with the big boys, but they have something up their sleeves. As for Dan Duryea as Slim, despite his seeming, or in fact playing, the same kind of roles in all the movies I’ve seen him in, that of the smarmy, slimy, sleazy character who possesses many of the most undesirable, worst traits in humankind–mean, petty, greedy, cowardly, sneaky, etc., he remains puzzlingly fascinating and even likable, and he does not fail here. His character here is the kind of person no man, and woman, crosses without consequence, and like Lancaster, who loves Anna to the end, Slim is dead set upon paying her back what she has reaped, but despite the fact that all that she’s done to him, he still loves her as well. In fact, his feelings for her and the devastated, shellshocked look on his face at the end brings to mind that song, or at least the famous line I’ve heard somewhere, "I loved her but I had to kill her."

    Lancaster, de Carlo and Duryea were such an electrifying trio that it’s a shame the three never made a movie together again (in fact, Lancaster and de Carlo’s chemistry was not limited to the screen, the two were lovers during filming). But perhaps it’s just as well as it would be a challenge to surpass this example of film-noir excellence. The ending is one of the most stunning and shocking I’ve seen, and the final shot of Lancaster and de Carlo presents an almost artfully arranged, beautiful but devastatingly tragic tableau. Look for Tony Curtis (looking like a gigolo) as he makes an appearance in a small role as de Carlo’s partner during a zesty, lusty rumba. And keep an eye out for the dramatic, stylish, minimalist ensemble Duryea wears in one scene consisting of an all-black suit with a retina-scalding white tie–talk about fashion being way ahead of its time, Duryea sure looks sharp! Fascinating noir, recommended also as a companion piece to "The Killers."

  2. IMDBReviewer says:

    Robert Siodmak and Burt Lancaster made beautiful movies together – two of them, anyway (The Crimson Pirate is, as they say, another story). Together, they mark Siodmak’s most assured work in film noir – and indispensable titles in the cycle. Siodmak introduced Lancaster to the world in The Killers; three years after that auspicious debut, he starred him again in Criss Cross. With his chiseled face and rugged physique, Lancaster was the embodiment of the all-American pluck that had just won a war and was setting out to assume hegemony of the globe. So Siodmak cast him, again, as a loser.

    Lancaster returns to his family home in the shabby Bunker Hill section of Los Angeles; he’d been away trying to forget his marriage, which went bad after seven months. But absence made his heart grow fonder, and he thinks of his ex-wife (Yvonne DeCarlo) as a piece of apple core that gets wedged between the teeth and can’t be dislodged, even with the cellophane from a pack of smokes. Ah, romance….

    Lying to himself, he starts hanging around their old joint, The Round Up, hoping to spot her. Neither a ritzy club nor a down-and-out dive, it’s a blue-collar night spot divided down the middle, with the bar and phone booth on one side and, on the other, the tables and dance floor. It’s there he sees her again, doing a smoldering rhumba with young (and uncredited) Tony Curtis to the insinuating flute warblings of Esy Morales. She’s ready to get back together, and so is he, but pride gets in the way; in retaliation, she marries flashy gangster Dan Duryea.

    But Lancaster and DeCarlo keep bumping against each other, like cellophane and apple core. When Duryea confirms his suspicions by catching them together, Lancaster weasels his way out of a very tight corner by saying he’s planning a job for them – knocking over the armored truck company he drives for, with himself as the inside man. He rationalizes his complicity away by thinking he and DeCarlo will abscond with their share of the loot.

    The brutal heist, filmed in a fog of smoke bombs, goes awry, with lives lost on both sides. Lancaster’s arm is smashed, but he winds up acclaimed a hero – if one strung up by pulleys attached to his hospital bed. Only his erstwhile friend, a police lieutenant (Steven McNally) figures out the role Lancaster really played, and disgusted by his thick-headedness, warns that he’s not safe from Duryea’s henchmen, even while he’s recuperating. He’s right: Lancaster finds himself being abducted to the oceanside rendezvous where DeCarlo is waiting – and for a final reckoning with Duryea.

    Siodmak’s establishes full command from the movie’s first shot – a stunning aerial glide over Los Angeles at night, swooping into the parking lot behind The Round Up where Lancaster and DeCarlo are trysting – to its last, a darkly poetic pietà. Characteristically, he fragments the narrative through flashbacks, counterposing the hopes of Lancaster’s return home with the desperation into which he has fallen. He also slows down for virtuosic sequences that only a great director could bring off: a long scene when the heist is being plotted, with the bored DeCarlo smoking cigarettes (`It passes the time’) while the Angels Flight funicular railway criss-crosses the window behind her; and an equally long one in the hospital, involving a cranked-up bed, a tilted mirror on the bureau, and a visitor in the corridor – a good Samaritan who turns out to be his worst nightmare.

    Criss Cross displays almost documentary-style familiarity with the details of post-war life, when prosperity was finally trickling down to working stiffs. Lancaster’s sporty duds showed a new, liberated look that would become the standard for men’s casual wear for half a century (and counting), and DeCarlo, at the high-water mark of her career, looks as smashing in her slacks and barettes and print dresses as no woman has since. Siodmak catches the excitement of disposable cash in callused hands, but isn’t condescending about it; but overzealous love for it, however unaccustomed, is still the root of all evils.

    Another German expatriate like Siodmak, Franz Planer photographed the movie (and it’s probably his finest hour, too). He shoots the armored truck from a vertiginous, almost abstract angle as it invades a huge industrial plant, or savors the shadows hurtling across its hood as it speeds across an ironwork trestle. Nor does the living scenery get short shrift – close-ups of both DeCarlo and Lancaster are voluptuous (and Duryea’s especially fearsome).

    As he was able to do in The Killers, Siodmak keeps the integrity of the script, never lightening the tone or taking refuge in sentimentality. The blend of crime and doomed romance, the tug-of-war between passion and self-interest, finds perfect balance here. Of course, it’s the simplest and most infallible recipe for film noir. As DeCarlo says, `Love… love! You’ve got to watch out for yourself.’ If only she’d said it a little sooner.

  3. tfsadmin says:

    It was only fitting that Robert Siodmak directed Criss Cross, as he had also directed the film’s star, Burt Lancaster, in his first film three years earlier, and this one is Burt’s farewell to noir and city suits, as he was about to begin his swashbuckling phase, and after that would don military uniforms and cowboy gear.

    Criss Cross is basically a "big heist" movie, full of people double crossing one another with alarming frequency, and to such a degree that the story is often hard to follow. Yvonne De Carlo is the love interest, and Dan Duryea is an exceptionally nasty bad guy even for noir. The setting is L.A., and there is much excellent location photography that makes the movie a treat for people who want to see what the city looked like before half of it was bulldozed to make way for the highways.

    There’s nothing startling or especially new about this movie. It has a fine and somewhat eclectic supporting cast which includes Alan Napier and Richard Long, Steve McNally and Percy Helton. As in The Killers, there’s a strong air of fatalism in the movie, more oppressive here, with a darker tone, and a more Germanic, almost Langian feeling of hopelessness.

  4. IMDBReviewer says:

    …..typical entry for the genre. Dumb hero guy gets tangled up w/ the wrong gal for the wrong reasons, mobsters are hanging around, and there is a heist that winds up blowing everything apart in their lives.

    I liked how Lancaster played against type and was a ‘sap’ pretty much. Clearly DeCarlo was the one calling the shots in that pairing. Duryea plays his usual nasty Willem Dafoe/Peter Strauss type villain, and for my money was the most effective actor in the movie. The finale w/ him showing up at their door, well…..it’s quite something, very striking.

    I also was surprised at the violence of the heist itself-gas going off, killings, etc left and right. Considering the laughable lack of security, personnel and etc that these keystone Brinks guys are showing, it’s amazing how close the baddies came to not getting a cent for their efforts.

    Pretty decent cast too-there’s Percy Helton as the barkeep, there’s Alan Napier, there’s Tony Curtis in a cameo, there’s you other typical baddies of the day. Nice turn by Steve MacNalley too.

    Fine movie, bit lax on the plotting I think–but the tone, camera work, and of course DeCarlo-make this a worthy view.

    *** outta ****

  5. mark says:

    the scene in the club with the musicians in frilly shirts and the man playing the flute and the piano player mouthing along with the song. What is the name of that song?
    how can I get it?

    thank you

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