Friday, August 5, 2011

Film: Criss Cross (1949) [Robert Siodmak, Dir.]

Matinee lovers, are we not overdue for some old school pulpy film noir? Exactly. This afternoon i bring you one of my favorites, Criss Cross, not least because of the hotness of our two leads--Yvonne De Carlo as Anna and Burt Lancaster as Steve (not to mention a dancing cameo by a young adorable Tony Curtis). Your matinee manager is going to tantalize your senses first, by giving you that dance cameo and wonderful music by Esy Morales and his Rhumba Band as your amuse bouche before we get started on the lowdown. Bon appetit, mes chers (and try not to get hung up on Burt's talk of cellophane before the awesome music meets your ears):

Set in late 1940s Los Angeles, this dark tale pits us immediately in the denouement and then takes us backwards to how our beauties got into the criss-crossing heist they are knee deep in...

In the flashback we learn that Steve has returned home after working across the U.S. to work Anna out of his mind, his ex-wife.
But back in L.A. for an hour and all he wants is to seek her out. He is a hunk of man, and a hopeless dewey eyed romantic---Anna is his gorgeous achilles heel. She's every man's achilles heel. And she knows it...
Because we are in a noir world, nobody is really all that good, which makes it so damn fun. But while our heroes are flawed, the true baddie is Slim Dundee (played by Dan Duryea) who looks like Burt could crush him before breakfast. Not so fast, though matinees, he is brainy evil with a pack of thugs while handsome Burt has a bit of a soft heart---a heart that doesn't keep him out of trouble and may actually entice him to danger...
Like many noirs, our femme fatale Anna is stunning and dangerous, Steve can't resist--but should he? Anna knows how to take care of herself and she knows that is the only way to survive.
Steve's childhood friend Pete Ramirez is a local cop and tries to keep Steve from his own bad decisions.
Steve's mama makes a mean pie and tries to do the same.
But the heart wants what the heart wants and Steve and Anna are entwined with Slim and your matinee session is all the steamier and more wicked for it. There are back alley deals and double crossing---an intersection of lies and hard motives.
High contrast and dark shadows are one of the aesthetic hallmarks of a beautiful noir and Criss Cross delivers on both fronts. Everyone is a little seedy, a little bitter and too pretty in the perpetual chiaroscuro light.
This noir is a sexy little gem. Enjoy it and watch your back, lovers...

Trivia: Criss Cross followed up on Siodmak and Burt Lancaster's success in The Killers (from Hemingway story) with Ava Gardener. Highly recommended as a noir double feature.

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