Criss Cross

Released January 19, 1949: CRISS CROSS, starring Burt Lancaster, Yvonne De Carlo, and Dan Duryea.  Directed by Robert Siodmak (Phantom Lady, The Killers, The File on Thelma Jordan).  The story pivots around a Los Angeles armored car heist orchestrated by Burt Lancaster and Dan Duryea.  crisscrossLancaster works for the armored car company and is the vital “inside man” necessary to pull off the job, while Duryea is the boss of a small criminal outfit who can provide the manpower and resources needed to implement the caper.  But to understand how the robbery plan originated, we are taken back in time to discover that the real story is about Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo.  Several years back, Lancaster was briefly married to De Carlo, but after they divorced, Lancaster left Los Angeles and roamed about the country.  Upon his return, he eventually met up with De Carlo again and their passion reignited.  But Lancaster’s friends and family believed De Carlo was bad for him, so they intervened and discouraged her from seeing him.  As a result, she married Duryea, leaving Lancaster heartbroken.  However, circumstances bring the three of them together, and Lancaster pitches the idea of the armored car robbery to Duryea as a way to grab enough money to secretly run off with De Carlo, who is unhappy and eager to escape her marriage to Duryea.  This is a well-made movie with an excellent cast, but after it hooks you in with an exciting opening, the pace slows down considerably and doesn’t pick up again until the story reaches its fateful climax.  This pacing technique can be found in several other classic noir films, such as Kiss the Blood Off My Hands and Born to Kill, both of which follow a similar template.  The problem in Criss Cross is that the story gets a little muddled along the way and loses momentum, but thankfully, it’s the powerful performances by Lancaster and De Carlo that really drive this film.  De Carlo in particular, is simply outstanding.  She’s vibrant, beautiful, and lights up the screen with an intelligent sparkle that all but outshines her legendary costars.  In a sequence that’s over a minute long, no words are spoken as the camera follows De Carlo’s face while she dances in a crowded night club.  Lancaster watches from a distance, mesmerized, and so are we.  (Incidentally, her dance partner is an uncredited Tony Curtis.)  In her scenes with Lancaster, she conveys both inner toughness and warm sensitivity, and it’s easy to see why Lancaster is hopelessly in love with her.  Although his role is disappointingly small, Dan Duryea turns in another deliciously sleazy performance as only he can.  Complementing the film’s stars are the minor supporting players, who contribute a wealth of personality to this film.  Duryea’s henchmen (John Doucette, Marc Krah, James O’Rear, and John Skins Miller) breathe life into what easily could have been another routine crew of hoodlums.  Joan Miller, who has a tiny part as the bar’s resident alcoholic (the character is billed as “The Lush” in the credits) is simply outstanding.  It’s a small, non-essential part, but the movie wouldn’t have been the same without her.  Other familiar faces among the cast include the ever-present Percy Helton and Alan NapierCriss Cross features excellent performances by some of our favorite film noir actors, but the story is mired by slow pacing, and is ultimately quite predictable and not that special.  The primary reasons to watch this film are De Carlo’s superb performance, the talented supporting cast, and the many glimpses of old Los Angeles.  We give Criss Cross 3.5 out of 5 fedoras.

3.5 Fedoras

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