The Film Noir Blogathon: My Analysis of Criss Cross (1949)

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I would like to begin by thanking the gracious host of this fantastic blogathon, Quiggy of The Midnite Drive-In, for creating such a perfect homage to such a perfect genre. I’m just as ecstatic as you are for such a magnificent number of responses, and I’m incredibly honored to be one of the blogathon’s many participants. Now, without further ado, on with the post!

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Yvonne De Carlo, Burt Lancaster, and director Robert Siodmak share a banana split on the set of Criss Cross (1949).

The film begins with two things that instantly grab my attention. The first is the wonderful yet ominous score, composed by Miklós Rózsa, who oversaw the music of an innumerable amount of classics, including but not nearly limited to Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), Spellbound (1945), and Ben-Hur (1959). The second thing that catches my eye is the very first exchange of the movie: an amorous love scene in the parking lot of a dance hall that features what appears to be an already established couple, Anna (Yvonne De Carlo) and Steve (Burt Lancaster). They anxiously discuss their affair and plans for the aftermath of a heist that is to take place the following day, including their plan to end up together, with Anna promising her lover Steve that “after it’s all over it’ll be just you and me, the way it should have been from the start”.

Despite the film giving no background about how the couple met or why they plan to go through with what seems to be a dangerous operation, the audience’s sympathy immediately lies with the pair, and the film could have ended right there and gotten a five star rating from me. It goes on, however, and shows Anna’s inquisitive husband Slim Dundee once she leaves the parking lot and reenters the Round Up dance hall. The two argue, of course, and make it painstakingly obvious why Anna is having an affair. Not long afterwards, Slim and Steve get into a predictable scuffle. We find out only later that it was staged just to throw Lieutenant Pete Ramirez off their trail, and that Steve and Slim actually plan on pulling off the robbery of an armored car together, but what meant to be a fight only for show turned into a real one once Slim began questioning Steve about his wife. Nonetheless, the two let bygones be bygones and the day of the robbery arrives. Steve, an employee for the armored car agency that they plan to steal from, is behind the wheel.

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Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster share an embrace in this publicity still for Criss Cross (1949).

As he drives to his destination and the plan is put into motion he begins to hear Anna’s comforting words in his head, and from there he narrates a flashback that finally gives some insight into how it all really started. He begins just after his return to Los Angeles after his divorce from Anna, and spins quite the yarn about how he returned to the Round Up where they used to spend their time together, reunited with her there, and fell in love with her all over again. Steve starts to dream of resuming their marriage, but his hopes are soon dashed once Anna marries Slim, the resident gangster of Los Angeles, and all of the money that comes with him.

A heartbroken Steve is on his own for a time, but inevitably Anna comes back into his life and the two begin a clandestine liaison. After a series of secret meetings between the two of them, Slim finds out that Steve and Anna have been seeing one another, and in a moment of desperation Steve devises an elaborate excuse in order to diffuse suspicion. He states that he was only conversing with Anna so that she and her mobster husband would assist him in holding up one of the armored cars that he is meant to protect for the company he works for, and as soon as the explanation leaves his lips he finds himself planning an armored car robbery for real.

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Tony Curtis dances his way to stardom with Yvonne De Carlo in Criss Cross (1949).

Lancaster’s performance stands out head and shoulders above the rest, and though I have not seen the bulk of his filmography I would certainly dare to say that this is the best acting I have ever seen him display onscreen. The feelings of desperation and heartache that Steve goes through are so very convincing that it is quite difficult to separate the actor from the character. Of course De Carlo’s performance is also first rate, and even though at times her acting is a bit stiff (especially compared to such superb an actor as Lancaster) I find her magnificent beauty and appeal makes her vastly underrated as an actress. She practically sends shockwaves through the screen, and I truly feel that she deserves more credit for her incredible films outside of The Munsters. Another notable appearance occurs twenty-two minutes into the film, during the scene in which Steve first sees Anna again at the Round Up, dancing with another man. That man is none other than Tony Curtis, in his feature film debut. He was so nervous that he kept his back to the camera as often as possible, and amusingly he would later star in two more films with Burt Lancaster, Trapeze (1956) and The Sweet Smell of Success (1957), both of which gave Curtis a starring role but gave Lancaster top billing.

In spite of some dull points here and there, I find this picture to be quite the thriller, and though the film contains many noir trademarks, I would consider it anything but archetypal. For once the leading lady is much more than just an afterthought and the love story is fully developed, which balances out the action in the picture nicely, gives it some raw human emotion, and sets it apart from the typical noir. All in all, Criss Cross (1949) is still a suspenseful delight for any noir fan, and its crosses and double crosses leave you hanging on the edge of your seat until the film’s tragic end.

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13 thoughts on “The Film Noir Blogathon: My Analysis of Criss Cross (1949)

  1. I have tried to get my husband to watch “Criss Cross” two times, 25 years apart, and both times he fell asleep! Both times I have found the movie and its characters more intriguing. I never fall asleep watching Dan Duryea.

    I would like to say with complete confidence that the more you see of Burt Lancaster, the more he will impress you. Enjoy the journey. I enjoyed reading about this film through our insights.

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  2. Oh, no! You should definitely convince him to try seeing it again. It’s a short film at only an hour and twenty minutes, but an enjoyable one!

    I had already seen Burt Lancaster in films like From Here to Eternity and Brute Force prior to this, and for me his belivability increased tenfold for me in this movie compared to those. Seeing his incredible acting in Criss Cross at the very least makes me want to watch his two films with Tony Curtis that I mentioned, The Sweet Smell of Success and Trapeze!

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  3. This is my favorite noir film. I think Burt is wonderful, as he often was playing doomed lovestruck men. And I love love love Yvonne de Carlo. This was my first film of hers and I’ve been hooked ever since. Great review!

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  4. Thank you! Yes, Yvonne was the main reason that I watched this film, and this was my first of hers too if you don’t count the one scene she had in Brute Force. It definitely made me excited to see both her and Lancaster in their other films, and I find that my favorite male noir characters were the tough guys who had a soft heart just for their girl. I feel like actors like Lancaster and Bogart embodied that type of character.

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  5. I’m thinking another planned double feature for my own blog now, with this and “The Killers” to cover a Lancaster noir theme. I have been a Lancaster fan for a long time. I first saw him on TV in “Elmer Gantry” and was impressed (as a wee child, mind you) See if you can find an obscure war film called “Go Tell the Spartans”. Not a great film itself, but I loved his performance in it. Thanks for a great review.

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    1. That’s a great idea! I tried to watch The Killers once, but got distracted by something else while watching it and decided to save it for another day. I’m very eager to see it, though, and I know I need to watch more films of both Lancaster and Gardner! I’ll definitely keep an eye out for Go Tell the Spartans, thank you for your suggestion!

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  6. Hey, another armored car noir! One of my Top 5 favorite noir films of all time…I just love everything about it, especially that sequence in the hospital, and it’s fun to see the Angels Flight railway, which I was able to visit a few years ago during a trip to LA. And when you mention the love story being fully developed, I also love the playful interchanges between Richard Long and Meg Randall…some nice moments to lighten an otherwise serious film. A very well-done and enjoyable review!

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    1. Thank you very much, Todd! I’m curious to hear about your other favorite noirs. Just for the romantic scenes alone, I think this is among my favorite noirs, but I’m not sure if it can hold its own against some greats like Laura, Dead Reckoning, and Double Indemnity to make it to my top five. Still a great movie, though!

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      1. Okay, here are my Top 5 favorites, as of right now (choices subject to change without notice): Out of the Past, Double Indemnity, Criss Cross, The Narrow Margin, and The Set-Up. The next five: Laura, The Third Man, Side Street, Night and the City, and Sorry, Wrong Number. And somewhere in there, I might have to squeeze in my most recent viewing, Armored Car Robbery, which I thought was outstanding.

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  7. Out of those films, the only ones I have seen are Double Indemnity, Criss Cross, and Laura. I definitely need to see more noir! Off the top of my head, I would probably say that my top five are: Laura, Dead Reckoning, Rebecca, Gilda, and In A Lonely Place. There are so many others that I would give honorable mentions, though, like This Gun For Hire, Dark Passage, and Suspicion, but I think those are my top five!

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