A young man, Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster, Atlantic City), returns to his hometown and quickly reconnects with his ex-wife (Yvonne De Carlo, Band of Angels), who (accidentally?) gets him involved with a gang of crooks.
Reaction & Thoughts:
“Stick around. You make it all so nice and sad.”
Criss Cross knows what makes noir fans happy. It gives genre enthusiasts a sardonic narration, snazzy flashbacks, a troubled anti-hero, a beautiful femme fatale, double-cross and everything else associated with the genre. The film does its job almost too well: by giving the viewer what they want, the film ends up looking a bit predictable.
Criss Cross was meant to reunite the team that gave us the 1946 noir classic The Killers: producer Mark Hellinger, director Robert Siodmak and actor Burt Lancaster. But fate had other plans: producer Hellinger died suddenly and the project got stuck in creative limbo. With Hellinger gone, changes were made to the screenplay and Lancaster, who didn’t appreciate the script’s evolution, had to be forced to make the film.
I don’t have any information regarding the first draft, so I can’t objectively assess Lancaster’s attitude. However, based on the final product, I think I understand Lancaster’s disenchantment with the project. The actor probably felt that the film was too close to The Killers for comfort. Criss Cross mirrors The Killers in lots of ways, including story structure and characters. Similarities aside, Criss Cross is great in its own right.
Criss Cross was stylishly directed by German émigré Siodmak. The man knew how to make a great thriller. After all, this is the same person who not only directed the brilliant The Killers, but also superb thrillers like The Spiral Staircase (1945) and The Dark Mirror (1946). As expected, Siodmak gives Criss Cross a captivating visual identity and a great sense of urgency — that’s just what the man did best.
What crime writer Daniel Fuchs’s (Panic in the Streets) script lacks in originality, it makes up for in pulpy attitude. The twists and turns come fast and furious. There aren’t any wasted frames — the script is so tight that “you can bounce a quarter off it.” The dialogue is snappy and quotable. The ending is as dark as it gets — the very last scene is guaranteed to put a smile on a misanthrope’s face!
And the cast is perfect in every way. Yvonne De Carlo, in particular, is a great femme fatale. Best remembered as Lily Munster in the cult TV series The Munsters, De Carlo is shockingly good as the alluring woman who brings chaos wherever she goes. The film’s entire plot hinges on De Carlo convincing the audience that men are willing to drive off a cliff just to get a kiss from her, and this is exactly what De Carlo does.
Dan Duryea (Scarlet Street) is wonderfully nasty as a crime boss. Stephen McNally (Winchester ’73), who usually plays bad guys, is cast as the tough but decent Det. Lt. Ramirez. I also loved Alan Napier’s (Alfred The Butler in TV’s Batman) performance as an old criminal who can be bought for the price of a bottle of gin. Tony Curtis (The Defiant Ones) makes his film debut in a bit part as De Carlo’s young dance partner.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Criss Cross doesn’t escape the trappings of the noir genre… it embraces them! This is noir on steroids! Although the film offers no surprises (I’m sure noir fans will be able to predict every twist), there is little to complain about quality-wise here. The acting, the music score, the gloomy cinematography, Robert Siodmak’s direction, everything is top-notch. Highly recommended! B&W, 88 minutes, Not Rated.