Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

USA 1949
Directed by
Robert Siodmak
88 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

Criss Cross

Criss Cross is in the classic Hollywood film noir style to which German-born director Siodmak was a major contributor.  Burt Lancaster plays Steve Thompson, a decent guy who can’t get over his failed marriage to former wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo). He’s the only one who can’t see she’s no good and when Steve, who works as an armoured car payroll guard, in an attempt to win her back proposes to her new husband, gangster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea), that they do a heist together you just know that it isn’t going to end well for anyone.

All the genre characteristics are here: the protagonist narrating his downfall, the femme fatale who combines sex and destruction in her desirable frame, the roster of night owls and seedy low lives, the atmospheric music (contributed by Miklós Rózsa) and stylish black-and-white photography (by Frank Planar) and so on in a tale of doomed love and crime that doesn’t pay. 

Even so, although it starts promisingly enough, the result isn’t as good as it elements would suggest with the resulting is that  film is well below realizing the full potential of its script. Principally in this respect are the characterisations of Steve and Anna, both of whom remain ill-defined. Traditionally the femme fatale knows the effect she has on men and uses it to her advantage but De Carlo’s Anna is no vamp, If anything, at least in her relations with Steve, and this is all we really see of her, compared to the calculating type she plays she’s almost Donna Reed wholesome. It is never apparent why Steve’s friend Det. Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally) or Steve's family is so down on her.

This may be due to De Carlo’s shortcomings as an actress (she mainly appeared in B pictures) but ultimately it is Siodmak's failure.  Because of the lack of duality or even ambiguity in the portrayal of her character, the final scene in which her true nature is revealed does not have any impact, appearing instead as contrived. Equally, Lancaster is too self-possessed to convey a sense of doomed victim. Making matters worse there is no chemistry between the two which might over-ride his moral compass and justify the crime which he intends to commit with Slim. Here too there are problems. It Is not clear what are Steve’s intentions in robbing the armoured car van. To get money to run off with Anna? To double-cross Slim and get him sent up the river? Maybe both but this needed to be developed to make him more than a two-dimensional figure.

The film also seems to be suffering from budgetary issues. A good deal of movie time and real time is spent on planning the robbery, little of which makes it to the screen, Instead, it is a bungled affair that takes place in clouds of smoke and a hail of bullets leaving Steve in hospital rigged in a rather odd plaster although Anna still ends up with the loot although it's never explained how she ended up with it. The call on the audience’s indulgence to make all this credible is considerable. On hte upside Duryea is in fine fettle in his usual devious persona and any film with Percy Helton has got to be worth a look.. 

FYI: Watch out for Tony Curtis in an uncredited appearance on the dance floor with Anna,  Curtis would co-star with Lancaster in The Sweet Smell of Success (1959). The film was remade as The Underneath in 1995 by Steven Soderbergh.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst