One of the classic noirs was Siodmak’s 1947 The Killers, which was Burt Lancaster’s debut and which always looked better in the publicity stills than on the screen. This follow-up is by far the greater film. A young Lancaster – his chiselled jawline could engrave granite – is Steve, who still holds a candle for his ex-wife Anna (Yvonne De Carlo). But although she might be persuaded, she’s hooked up with nasty gangster/ club owner Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea) who can buy her everything lowly Steve can’t. But wait! Steve is an armoured car driver and he proposes an inside-job heist. Can he persuade Dundee to bankroll the job and get Anna back so tehy can reunite and run off with the lolly?
This compelling, densely-plotted thriller (there’s a shrewd script from Daniel Fuchs; a tale of menace, complicity and betrayal) is full of atmosphere – from the smoky dance club’s rumba band (Tony Curtis is an extra playing a dancefloor gigolo) to the action-packed, violent hold-up (the masks and smoke bombs adding a surreal dimension).
Criss Cross has been called: ‘one of the most tragic and compelling of film noir‘ by the genre’s go-to guru Alain Silver. The whole thing reeks of brilliantine and the car fumes of LA, back when it was still a recognisable city rather than a patchwork of freeways. The casting and characterisation are excellent – from the snake-like Duryea to the grasping De Carlo. Everyone seems to be double-crossing everyone else. There’s also a memorable score (Miklós Rózsa) and glorious cinematography (Franz Planer). Throughout, the tension is as taut as an onion skin.