Tuesday, February 20, 2007

CRISS CROSS (Universal 1949) Universal Home Video

Robert Siodmak’s Criss Cross (1949) is a stylishly bleak and torrid film noir ménage a trois. Daniel Fuchs screenplay revels in detailing these shadowy intersecting lives with multi-layered plot entanglements, each tainted by the threat of imminent violence. 

The best of noir thrillers function on the ambiguity of its characters' virtues and vices. The more we think we know what everyone's all about, the less effective the piece becomes. But Criss Cross leaves us hanging fairly regularly. None of the creatures that inhabit this underworld are as pure as the driven snow, yet few are as completely unscrupulous or self-destructive as one might imagine. In the end, everyone is distilled into disturbing variations of tonal gray. 

Burt Lancaster stars as Steve Thompson, a love-struck mama’s boy who returns home after a one year sabbatical from his own painful divorce. The love of his life is Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo) – a vane selfish creature destined to destroy Steve’s chances at happiness. Anna decides to better herself – financially, at least – by marrying mobster, Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). But she is not quite ready to give up her playtime on the side with Steve. Her lure - and allure - is not without its own subtext or danger. Against his better judgment, Steve jumps into the deep end of the pool, so to speak, igniting his tawdry lust for Anna that ends badly for all concerned.

From its harrowing and daring armored car robbery to its final showdown with Steve and Anna trapped in a face off with Slim at a seaside hideaway, Criss Cross delivers the sort of pulp-fiction, hard-hitting crime melodrama that makes even the spine-chilling bowels of this seedy underworld scintillating; a sort of rogue's paradise where devoured lust and all-consuming greed collide to produce dark magic.

Reportedly, Lancaster was not at all pleased with the final film, heavily rewritten by Fuchs and Siodmak to minimize the heist scenario in service of the love story after producer Mark Hellinger suddenly died shortly before filming was about to commence. There is some truth in stating that the rewrites tend to water down the tautness of the opening act into a somewhat conventional triangulation of tainted love. Otherwise, the film works fairly well - its compromises really not all that dysfunctional to the overall arch of the story.  

Universal’s DVD is quite good. The gray scale is very well balanced with deep solid blacks. Whites are clean. A hint of age related artifacts and some edge enhancement and pixelization exist. Overall, the presentation is more than adequate. The audio is mono but well represented. There are, unfortunately, no extras.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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