Film noir flourished in the 1940s and 1950s, with its tough talking detectives, dull-eyed killers, and steamy dolls. Criss Cross (1949), director Robert Siodmak, stars Burt Lancaster, Yvonne DeCarlo, and Dan Duryea. Film Noir Foundation founder Eddie Muller rated this lesser-known film among the best. He fell in love with DeCarlo, and I can't blame him, but the film suffers from momentum problems and uncertain handing of Lancaster's character. Still, it packs a punch.
The opening is riveting, mostly for DeCarlo. Her sexual intensity is a feature of film noir (Lisbeth Scott, Lauren Bacall, and Gloria Graham). The last twenty minutes strikes the key to the drama, and Duryea's derangement is brilliant. Lancaster is young and sweetly handsome (loves his mom) and very blond against DeCarlo's dark mystery.
The thugs in Duryea's gang are incidental but memorable -- an Italian who speaks fluent gravy, a couple of blank-faced maniacs, and young John Ducette. Duryea looks great, upholstered in the finest supper-club duds with elegantly matted hair -- never been a nattier gangster.
The intense conclusion, the criss cross, is marvelous. You don't know where you stand or where you would like to stand, whom to trust and who deserves getting it. The final moments, an elegant plot ballet, have a twisted beauty to them.
The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Double indemnity (1944) come first to mind, but the list goes on … all the way to Chinatown (1974).