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Criss Cross

(1949, Siodmak)

"From the start, it all went one way. It was in the cards or it was fate... or a jinx or whatever you wanna call it."

Film noir is often defined as "pessimistic, fatalistic, and cynical" with characters that are "trapped in unwanted situations" they just can't control; whether it was in the cards, or fate, or a jinx. Even if they can't control them, they often end up making things worse with their actions, like a snowball effect, which is the case in this dark and twisted noir.

Criss Cross follows Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster), who can't help but rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife, Anna (Yvonne de Carlo) even though she is now married to Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea), a mobster with no scruples. By the twists of fate, Thompson ends up leading Dundee into planning a heist to the armored truck company he works for.

This film is one of those perfect encapsulations of what film noir is. From the flashback narrative to the dim-lit cinematography, from the romance to the heist, from the lead man thrust into a situation he feels he can't control to the femme fatale you're never really sure where she stands on. It's all in there, in prime form.

In the last 5 years or so, I've seen more films from Burt Lancaster and Dan Duryea than I had before, and they both have become favorites. Lancaster has a unique mixture of tough-guy persona and charm that goes perfectly with the character of Steve, while Duryea can't help but be so good at being "slimy". The main cast is rounded by de Carlo, who I hadn't seen in anything other than The Munsters, but she's so good as the stone cold Anna.

Aside from the performances, I really loved how the story always keeps you guessing where things are at. As the title suggests, there's a cross waiting at every turn and every corner from every character. There's never a sense of certainty in it, and it's great to share that with the main characters, specifically Steve. We never know where the cards or fate would lead us, but we're going there anyway.