by Jay Seaver
When you leave a place, it's probably best to stay gone. You left for a reason and that reason is probably still there, even if you've been elsewhere for a year or two. Ah, but if Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) had recognized that, then we wouldn't have a movie, so hurrah for fictional characters making bad decisions.Steve's been wandering around the country since his divorce, but he gets homesick and comes back, getting a job with an armored truck company. This pleases his mother (Edna Holland) and old friend Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally), an LAPD detective who meets up with him at The Roundup, their old bar. Steve says he's not going there to see if she's still around, but who's he kidding? Soon, though, his ex-wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo) is walking in... Along with her new husband, gangster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). Soon, Steven and Anna are falling into old habits, and when Slim catches them, Steve recovers by saying he was looking for Slim, to help plan an armored car robbery. It should end there, since everyone knows armored car jobs are fool's errands, but Anna convinces both to go through with it. The question, of course, being which of her husbands she's trying to get to screw over the other.
"Those noir characters just never learn."
So, you've got your basic noir ingredients here - small-time crooks, a femme fatale, an L.A. setting, double-crosses, and a job that goes wrong. Director Robert Siodmak is a steady hand, though, keeping everything moving forward, sort of simmering. He and screenwriter Daniel Fuchs (working from a Don Tracy novel) use the flashback structure well, using the opening to set up that Thompson and Dundee don't much like each other, but that they're working together on something which Det. Ramirez doesn't much like. It's a nice tease, especially since it only brings us up to before the job - that's the point where you need to not know what's going to come next.
The movie's big action set-piece is the armored car robbery, and Siodmak stages this rather well. In a way, it feels like a Western shoot-out, though the armored car is a much more stationary target than a stage. The guns smoke like they do in Westerns, and there's a great emphasis on each shot that today's action movies with their semiautomatic weapons just can't give you. What comes after is a little drawn out, but leads up to an ending that makes up for it.
The cast is strong - Lancaster has a great working-class vibe to him; he's not dumb, but he's obviously not sophisticated, either. Duryea's gangster is obviously small-time, so there's a pretty good chance Lancaster's character can match wits with him, but neither of them is in DeCarlo's category. She's a social climber, even if she's starting out close to the bottom. She's good with the scheming and manipulating, for sure, a prototype femme fatale, one who seduces the audience just as she does the protagonist.Criss Cross is a quick movie, at 87 minutes and only a very few wasted. Later movies (heck, maybe even the Steven Soderbergh remake) may have more going on with the same basic plot, but this version is a solid film noir.
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originally posted: 05/08/05 18:47:11