Criss Cross (1948): Robert Siodmak’s Quintessential Film Noir, Starring Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo

A quintessential film noir, Criss Cross is directed by the brilliant German émigré, Robert Siodmak.

It stars Burt Lancaster, who three years earlier had made a stunning debut in “The Killer,” also directed by Siodmak.

Lancaster plays SteveThompson, a wanderer who returns home after a few years, following his divorce from his alluring and good-time wife, Anna (Yvonne De Carlo at her most glamorous).

Getting his old job back driving an armored car, he also desires to have his old wife back. But when he finds Anna, he quickly learns that she is involved with gangster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea).

Nonetheless, they carry on a clandestine affair, with Steve foolishly believing that Anna will return to him. Even after she marries Slim, Steve clings to this doomed obsession.

When Slim catches them together, Steve ad libs plans for an armored car robbery that includes Slim. The two rivals form an uneasy collaboration, but Steve and Anna plan to double cross Slim.

Wounded during the botched robbery, Thompson is recovering in a hospital and considered the hero who wounded the robbers. Dundee sends a man to the hospital to bring Thompson, but Thompson bribes the man to drive him to Anna’s hiding place where they are to meet and start a new life with the stolen money.

However, seeing Thompson’s wounded, Anna shocks him with her “criss cross,” telling him that she will take the money and leave him behind. Thompson is trying to reason with Anna when Dundee arrives. He finds them through the driver’s “criss cross,” and kills both Anna and Thompson.

On Location Shooting

Criss Cross was shot around downtown Los Angeles, beginning with an aerial panorama that ends at a nightclub just north of downtown.

Lancaster’s character lives with his mother on Hill Street, above the north entrance of the short Hill Street Tunnel at Temple Street in the Court Hill section of Bunker Hill.

For the the heist, Siodmak used the exterior and interiors of the rundown Sunshine Apartments on the Third Street steps between Hill and Olive, opposite the Angels Flight funicular.

This area of Bunker Hill was a favorite of noir directors, before it was torn down in the 1960s.

There is also an extended scene inside and outside Union Station on Alameda.

Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson
Yvonne De Carlo as Anna
Dan Duryea as Slim Dundee
Stephen McNally as Det. Lt. Pete Ramirez
Esy Morales as Orchestra Leader
Tom Pedi as Vincent
Percy Helton as Frank
Alan Napier as Finchley
Griff Barnett as Pop
Meg Randall as Helen
Richard Long as Slade Thompson
Joan Miller as The Lush
Edna Holland as Mrs. Thompson
John Doucette as Walt
Marc Krah as Mort
James O’Rear as Waxie
John Skins Miller as Midget

Directed by Robert Siodmak
Produced by Michael Kraike
Screenplay by Daniel Fuchs, based on the 1934 novel Criss Cross by Don Tracy

Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography: Franz Planer
Edited by Ted J. Kent
Production company: Universal Pictures
Release date: February 4, 1949
Running time: 88 minutes

End Note:

Stay away from Soderbergh’s 1995 inferior remake, “The Underneath.”

Curio Item

Tony Curtis made his screen debut in Criss Cross, briefly appearing in a scene at the Round-Up Bar dancing with De Carlo to “Jungle Fantasy” performed by Esy Morales and his Rhumba Band.