Sometimes it’s not enough that a relationship be doomed from the start; sometimes it falls in such a way that it is doomed twice over and will drag down everyone else in caught up in the whirlwind of fate. Such a destiny awaits Steve Thompson, returned to Los Angeles and working as a driver on for an armoured van courier service.
Coming from a good family and a respectable home, his younger brother due to be married soon and his elderly parents delighted to have him back in town, Steve is unable to get over his ex-wife Anna, now married to gangster Slim Dundee, a caustic relationship which no love lost between them.
“It was in the cards, or fate, or a jinx, or whatever you want to call it,” the chance meeting at Union Station which reunited Steve (Birdman of Alcatraz’s Burt Lancaster) and Anna (The Munsters‘ Yvonne De Carlo), on the arm of hot-tempered Dundee (The Woman in the Window‘s Dan Duryea), while Steve’s friend Detective Lieutenant Pete Ramirez (Panic in the City‘s Stephen McNally) tries to warn him off.
Giving Steve all the more reason to wonder how things might have been, if Anna could be rid of her jealous and dangerous husband and if they had the money, they could both be free to live their lives together, but first Steve and Slim will have to become unlikely bedfellows in a supposedly impossible heist.
Adapted by Daniel Fuchs from Don Tracy’s novel of the same name, Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross was released in 1949, reuniting the director with Lancaster who had been his leading man in The Killers, presenting Steve as an honest and honourable man trying to make the best of a bad situation whose naivete leaves him ill prepared for the manipulations of his nefarious associates, an atypically sensitive portrayal for a leading role in this genre.
Shot in moody monochrome by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea‘s Franz Planer in Los Angeles’ Bunker Hill district, torn down for redevelopment a decade later, Criss Cross is a film noir of obsession, betrayal, murder and, unsurprisingly, double crosses in the big city where nobody can be trusted, much of it set around a nightclub where a young Tony Curtis is one of the patrons.
The first hour told out of sequence, the time jumps try to make what is a fairly mechanical plot more interesting, but the trajectory is inevitable as it inevitably approaches the heist where the carefully planned logistics of Batman’s Alan Napier fall apart when the gang break their agreement with inside man Steve and from there it is a short ride to their downfall.
Released on Blu-ray as a 4K digital restoration from the original camera negative for Eureka’s Masters of Cinema collection, the new edition of Criss Cross also features two commentaries, one from film author Lee Gambin and actress Rutanya Alda and the other from film scholar Adrian Martin and a radio presentation of the story featuring Burt Lancaster.