Mrs. Munster beguiles Burt Lancaster, but he should know better
Jun 9, 2012
The dame is out of his life. She is not out of his head.
The guy (Burt Lancaster) tells us in his voice-over narration that he did not come back to Los Angeles to see his ex-wife (Yvonne DeCarlo, who later earned fame as the matriarch of TV's The Munsters). He did not go specifically to their old neighborhood to see her. They used to frequent a nightclub, but he assures us that he does not go there now hoping to see her.
He tells us all this and he almost sounds like he believes it. Almost.
Except that he doesn't. He knows he is trying to convince himself as well as us. He's smart enough to know that he can't get over the dark-haired beauty with beguiling eyes. It's too bad he's not smart enough to know where his infatuation will lead in Criss Cross (1948).
His police officer friend knows and tries to warn him. Lancaster shrugs off the pleas that he be careful. He wants DeCarlo so badly he's willing to go bad to get her the money she wants. He is confident that he can betray his father and co-workers at an armored car service by setting up a daring robbery, and he knows that he will be able to turn the tables on his treacherous partners-in-crime when they betray him.
Not quite. Soon Lancaster is immobilized in the hospital with his arm in a cast and his eyes cast nervously on the shadows that play across the door through which he expects someone to come to kill him.
Through it all he thinks he has the love of the woman he loves. When Lancaster sees DeCarlo again after the long separation that follows their divorce, a nightclub's energetic Latin beats add intrigue that heightens DeCarlo's exotic allure. She is icy and enigmatic, the kind of dame two guys can lose their heads over. Because the other guy is played by Dan Duryea, who made an impressive career playing suave but brutal bad guys, we know Lancaster is in trouble almost as soon as he does.
Although we know this, Criss Cross is still full of nasty surprises. Its finale is bittersweet without the sweet. It's the kind of climax that reminds us that film noir often defied the Hollywood addiction to happy endings.
Before it gets there, it is richly atmospheric in the best tradition of noir. Director Robert Siodmak and cinematographer Franz Planer cloak their scenes in threatening shadows. The screenplay by Daniel Fuchs shimmers with the kind of hardened lines that can be delivered only by people who know life is hard and so they must be harder.
Criss Cross can make its audience feel like Lancaster's character. Long after the movie has left their lives, viewers will have DeCarlo's femme fatale in their heads.
"I didn't come back on account of her. It had nothing to do with her. I wasn't going to go looking for her. I didn't expect to run into her. I didn't particularly want to see her. I was sure of that if I was sure of anything. Then from the start it all went one way. It was in the cards or it was fate or a jinx or whatever you want to call it." Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) in Criss Cross is a drifter, taking jobs where he finds them. He'd … more