Criss Cross is a great noir from Robert Siodmak, who was one of the key directors during the noir era. It reunited Burt Lancaster with Siodmak, the director who made him a star with The Killers, which was a very loosely based on a Ernest Hemingway short story. It was also one of, if not the only, adaptation of his work that Hemongway ever liked in his lifetime. It was was Siodmak’s follow-up to Cry of the City, which might be his masterpiece, but his work from the early ’40s to around 1950 features some of the purest film noirs, so it’s hard to pick just one.
The plot itself is fairly simple, and like any good noir title, the name gives you a good idea what you can expect. Burt Lancaster plays Steve Thompson, who has been out of town for some years. It’s not explicit, but there’s a good chance he was away in the military during WW2. He meets up with his ex-wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo), and despite their marriage not lasting particularly long—just a measly seven month—he clearly still has some feelings still for her. She has a now married a sleazy mobster, Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). Soon enough, to defect any suspicions they are having an affair, he appears to be the inside man for a daring daylight robbery of a armoured truck. Thompson’s job is as an armoured truck driver.
Siodmak directs with a real sense of flare throughout, with some fantastic photography of the Bunker Hill area of Los Angeles but also some great studio work, which adds to the dreamlike quality the best noir films have. The robbery scene quickly cuts from the location photography to this simple studio set that is full of smoke and little else: it’s pure cinema magic. Siodmak hated shooting locations, much like Alfred Hitchcock did, although his location photography in this and Cry of the City is some of the best in all of noir.
Burt Lancaster shows off the classic physicality he brought to every role (he was a circus performer before he was actor), and as always, shows why he was one of the most interesting actors to come out of Hollywood’s golden era, both on and off the screen. Yvonne De Carlo never had the greatest film career—she is best remembered for playing Lily Munster today—but she did a couple of noirs early on. This is undoubtably her best role, and is a textbook example of the femme fatale. Dan Duryea is perfect as ever as the villain of the piece, something he portrayed many times in his career. Tony Curtis also appears in his first screen performance with a bit role in a nightclub scene.
Criss Cross is a great piece of fatalistic noir, with one of the bleakest endings of the ’40s, and also includes a very memorable score by Miklós Rózsa. The film even got a pretty decent ’90s update by Steven Soderbergh in his little-seen fourth film The Underneath, which was a bomb despite being a decent neo-noir during the genre’s post-Tarantino resurgence. It helps that it was made by somebody who loves the genre and wasn’t just some cynical cash grab. That film was also written by “Sam Lowry” of Brazil fame.
The disc from Eureka includes a stunning 4K scan, which was done from the original nitrate negative and looks probably the best it ever has. The extras include two commentary tracks: the first is by actress Rutanya Alda and film historian Lee Gambin, and the second by film scholar Adrian Martin . There us also a radio adaptation that starred Lancaster, and Siodmak even directed the radio version! The theatrical trailer rounds off the on-disc extras, and the booklet includes essays on the film by Kat Ellinger and Adam Batty.