The best of film noir continues with another film starring Burt Lancaster (I discussed Lancaster in The Best Of Film Noir – The Killers) and directed by Robert Siodmark (who directed The Killers). Criss Cross came out in 1949 and also starred Yvonne DeCarlo (remember her from The Munsters). Criss Cross has a tight script, and the dark visuals and great suspense that we expect from film noir. And of course we have the tragic film noir ending.
The Best of Film Noir – The Noir Hero
The plot of Criss Cross is similar to others in film noir – we have love, obsession, betrayal, and the heavy hand of fate, and of course a crime in the form of a robbery. Lancaster plays the noir hero, Steve Thompson, a man who returns to Los Angeles because he wants to rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife (Yvonne DeCarlo). This fatal attraction is a poor choice on Thompson’s part, and we know immediately that this can only seal Thompson’s fate.
The Best of Film Noir – The Femme Fatale
DeCarlo plays Anna Dundee, the seductress who lures Thompson in, and then betrays him by marrying a mobster, Slim Dundee. DeCarlo makes a great femme fatale, leading the noir hero on, working everything to get what she wants. Anna Dundee then allows Thompson to take the fall. And as the title says, there is a criss cross until the final, tragic ending.
The Best of Film Noir – A Great Beginning
I want to focus on the beginning of Criss Cross. You authors take note: Criss Cross is a great example of how a beginning can make or break a movie and a novel. As storytellers, we need to bring people in and make them want to stay. In Criss Cross, the opening is an aerial shot. The camera zooms down over nighttime Los Angeles. As the camera glides down, it finally focuses outside a dance club. Headlights from a passing car illuminate our doomed lovers caught in an embrace. Now doesn’t that leave you wanting more? A great book should do the same thing.
The Best of Film Noir – Setting
Although plot is important in this film noir, setting plays a key role in Criss Cross. The bar where Thompson goes to find his ex-wife Anna Dundee is narrow and dark, foreshadowing what is to come. When Thompson talks with Anna Dundee, we are treated to a visual of them in a nightclub where Anna dances the rumba. The music works splendidly with Thompson’s reaction to Anna, and we see why Thompson falls for the femme fatale yet again. Later, we find Thompson, in a drunken stupor in a dark back alley. Try as he might, he can’t rid himself of his desire for Anna. As a final example of setting, we have Thompson driving an armored car between giant silos, on a path that leads to an ambush. And there is no escape. All of these examples show how setting helps build the suspense, the tension and the drama. It also gives us feeling for the characters.
Criss Cross has one of the most shocking, cynical endings in film noir. It’s definitely worth your time. So grab your popcorn and your drink and settle in to find out what that ending is.
Watch this short video for some trivia and other tidbits about Criss Cross. You’ll never guess what actor appears in this film noir classic and my connection to him.
If you enjoy film noir, read my Reed Ferguson mystery series. Reed is a wannabe private eye who loves film noir and crime fiction, and these mystery novels are consistently well-reviewed: This Doesn’t Happen In The Movies, Reel Estate Rip-off, and the short story Elvis And The Sports Card Cheat.
5 Star Review
There is little doubt that Renée Pawlish is a promising new voice to the comic murder/mystery genre. Quite noticeable…is Pawlish’s adept development of the plot coupled with her ability to contrive clear, concise and playful prose with almost perfect pacing.
Norman Goldman, Bookpleasures Publisher and Editor