*. I was a bit surprised to find several essays by film scholars about Criss Cross when I did my usual dip into background reading for these notes. They pointed, without elaborating much, on its similarities to The Killers (same director, same star, same flashback narrative). They praised its stylishness and plot. They rated it very highly.
*. I say this was surprising because Criss Cross doesn’t strike me as a very enjoyable movie at all. The long flashback in the middle is very dull and doesn’t even do an adequate job of explaining how Scott (Burt Lancaster) wound up in this jam anyway. Was the heist his plan all along, or just something he came up with on the spot to explain a dalliance with his ex-wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo), who is now married to the hood Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea)? Also: why did Scott and Anna break up in the first place if they’re both still so obsessed with each other? Also: how exactly were the two double-crosses supposed to work? Did Scott always plan to screw Slim over, or did he change his mind when Pop got shot? I couldn’t follow any of this.
*. I haven’t read the source novel but apparently the film was initially just supposed to be a heist picture and then a love triangle got grafted onto the story later (something Lancaster wasn’t happy with). I don’t know all the ins and outs but it does have that feel of something sort of put together on the fly, leading to the kind of unanswered questions I just mentioned.
*. Worse than the script however are the two leads. I like both Lancaster and De Carlo but they come across as robotic here, and don’t share much chemistry at all. Lancaster demonstrates range by stripping down to his wifebeater, again. The ending comes as quite a surprise, but that’s largely because De Carlo didn’t give me any idea of who Anna was. Even at the end I found her a cipher. I guess she was the femme fatale, a woman stronger than the crooks and saps she’s surrounded by. But maybe she really loved Scott. I don’t know.
*. The end is actually pretty good. The heist is explosive and is followed by a hospital scene that is wonderfully suspenseful, if improbable (did hospital rooms have dressers like that in the 1940s? was it so easy to check out?). And then there’s a final showdown that does not play out the way I was expecting at all.
*. So full credit for all that stuff. There are some really good things in Criss Cross, I think mainly courtesy of Robert Siodmak (who only gets carried away in one silly contortionist overhead shot). That said, the script is a mess of stiff dialogue (“verbose, redundant and imitative” in the judgment of a contemporary New York Times review), with voiceover from Lancaster that sounds like someone reading voiceover. As I’ve said, Burt’s really mailing it in here. I’ll do the same.