Criss Cross

Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo in Criss Cross (dir. Robert Siodmak, 1949).

Now this is a noir. Fatalistic, snarly melodrama played for maximum tailspin effect. Dan Duryea is his typical heel self, and even though the film's in black and white, you get the feeling his suit is yellow. A good Miklos Rosza score, and taut cinematography by Franz Planer, who breaks the Los Angeles background up into multiple diagonal swaths: modernist architecture, elevated trains, hilly sidewalks. The suddenness with which Lancaster's Steve is sucked into the crime plot never feels contrived; even though he's come off as a big decent lug in most ways up to that point, as soon as it happens it feels sickeningly inevitable. The corruption that sets in from then on makes emotional sense not only as a consequence of his involvement with the criminal element, but as an outgrowth of character traits that, in retrospect, have been visible all along: bullheaded selfishness and embittered entitlement. Everyone warns him that De Carlo's Anna is all wrong for him, but by the end it's clear: they are made for each other.

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