Monday, September 9, 2019

KISS ME DEADLY (1955)


NOIR CITY: CHICAGO 2019
Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL
Friday, September 6th, 2019 to Thursday, September 12th, 2019

KISS ME DEADLY (1955)
United Artists, 106m
*Presented as it was released in 1955; in 35mm courtesy of Park Circus


"Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
  Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
  You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
  It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
  And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
  A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
  Than that you should remember and be sad."

—"Remember," Christina Georgina Rossetti (December 5, 1830 — December 29, 1894)

KISS ME DEADLY may be the finest of film noirs released in the 1950s, but author Mickey Spillane was not impressed with what screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides did to his novel. According to event host Eddie Muller, founder and president of the Film Noir Foundation, Spillane said all that remained of his sixth novel to feature private investigator Mike Hammer was the title. The leftist writer Bezzerides obviously did not think much of Spillane's signature character, and went the extra mile to make sure he could not be construed as the hero of the filmed adaptation. Whether one likes the onscreen Hammer figure or not, there is much to admire about the film world he inhabits. Despite adherence to the usual dictates of film noirKISS ME DEADLY does not look or sound quite like any other noir film. In comparison with other examples of '50s noir, it seems oddly contemporary; its main difference from the modern crime story is the absence of ubiquitous f-bombs. The nihilistic production also benefits from unrelenting toughness, Ralph Meeker's exceptional performance as a marginally likable heel and some quirky female characters that seem plucked from the David Lynch universe.

Director Robert Aldrich (WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? [1962]) makes the most of an intense introductory sequence that begins with Christina Bailey (Cloris Leachman) running barefoot down a dark highway. When Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) narrowly avoids plowing into her, he shows concern only for the preservation of his smooth ride. "You almost wrecked my car," he grumbles in disgust. The tone is set. Next the opening credits scroll backwards over the orgasmic panting of Christina, now attached to Mike in his convertible. She is a fugitive from a psychiatric ward, and soon enough those seeking her make their presence known. In an unforgettably suggestive segment, Christina is tortured with pliers(!) by men who remain anonymous to the camera, while a groggy Mike is helpless to intercede. The apparent leader of the villains calmly speaks with disturbing eloquence after Christina becomes non-responsive. The unlikely noir couple is left for dead, but Mike survives and finds himself absorbed in a mystery he may be ill-equipped to comprehend. Ironically for a good chunk of the film he is perplexed by a clue that reads "REMEMBER ME." That request is a tall order for a self-absorbed man like Mike, who parasitically feeds on divorce cases for his source of income.


The death of Christina draws the attention of the Interstate Crime Commission, and Mike is curious as to why. The cops show complete disdain for Mike, whose detective practice involves capturing evidence of married people breaking their vows. Worse than that, he and his assistant Velda Wickman (Maxine Cooper) get personally involved with the couples they target in the interest of gathering damning information. Mike already had proven in the opening sequence his instinct is to not cooperate with law enforcement officials, so it comes as no surprise when he refuses to play ball and leaves the interrogation room. One man contemptuously comments, "Open a window." These men seem no better than Mike. Lieutenant Pat Murphy (Wesley Addy) in particular is one smug little bastard, absolutely impossible to like. Pat personally informs Mike that his PI license and handgun permit have been revoked. Film noir sometimes highlights the determination of effective public servants in examples such as T-MEN (1947), TRAPPED (1949), APPOINTMENT WITH DANGER (1950) and PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950), but KISS ME DEADLY finds little faith in public officials. Who are the true villains here?

As Mike stubbornly persists in sticking his nose in where he knows it is most unwelcome, it becomes evident he is an outsider in every way imaginable. He associates best with other outsiders and worst with those who feign respectability. His probable best friend is Nick (Nick Dennis), a fast-talking, affable Greek auto mechanic. Mike is also helpful to an Italian American burdened with what appears to be a very heavy storage chest. When Mike gets loaded in a nightclub, he is the only white face among the black clientele; he has more in common with people of color than other white people. A man easily angered, Mike gets impatient with those who do not cooperate. He delights in pushing people around, and he can take a punch as well as anybody. Sometimes when he gets tough it is easy enough to side with him, as when he is first confronted by Charlie Max (Jack Elam) and Sugar Smallhouse (Jack Lambert). Other times Mike makes it difficult to gain the viewer's allegiance. The deeper he gets into his investigation, the more crude slaps he dishes out, as when he roughs up a meek front desk clerk. The PI is especially mean-spirited when he breaks an opera fanatic's classic record, even more so when he crushes the fingers of Doc Kennedy (Percy Helton) in a desk drawer. In those two instances of highly questionable procedure, the camera captures Mike's admiration for the type of work he enjoys all too well. The film noir often uses narration to smooth over a lead protagonist's rough edges to encourage the viewer to identify with that individual. The absence of narration in KISS ME DEADLY marks a genre in transition, as well as a main character we are not meant to admire. Even if the viewer should not condone Mike's tactics, it is difficult not to empathize a little after the brutal killing of his friend causes the gumshoe to go berserk.


Though critics and fans often brand Mike a stupid individual, I think he is better described as a boorish, egocentric character who is out of his element, a type of man whose time has passed. He is intelligent enough and experienced enough to know a big case when he stumbles onto one, and he proves his street smarts on numerous occasions, especially when he correctly deduces what became of a small artifact associated with Christina. He also predicts the location of two incendiary devices placed within the automobile he was gifted by those who would celebrate his violent demise. In a wonderfully intense conversation, Carl Evello (Paul Stewart) admits his organization has underestimated Mike repeatedly. Mike's instincts prove less reliable when he encounters a package equipped with far superior firepower compared with what was found in his newest car. The air of fatalism that chokes film noir characters comes neatly packaged, but dangerous to the touch. Mike's first exposure to "the great whatsit" as Velda describes it creates a painful brand on his wrist (we know it is serious when the proven tough guy Mike winces!). That event marks Mike for death.

"If you had not stopped to pick up Christina, not any of these things would have happened..."

KISS ME DEADLY features about the oddest assortment of revisionist femme fatales ever to grace a noir film. Christina latches onto Mike in the opening sequence, despite his immediate disdain for her highway obstacle act. Would he have invited her into his car had he not imagined her naked under that trench coat? Probably not. Interestingly, only after Christina pokes Mike about his self-centered masculinity does he begin to loosen up a little in front of her. But in most prime examples of noteworthy noir themes, Mike would have been the wiser to allow Christina to fend for herself (she may have been better off as well). His chance involvement with Christina leads to a deadly connection with the mysteriously mousy Lily/Gabrielle (Gaby Rodgers) that has consequences far greater than anything Mike may have considered. And though her screen time is brief, Friday (Marian Carr) strikes a chord as perhaps the most weirdly amorous dame to appear in a noir film. In another example of his better judgment, Mike shows some restraint when confronted with her aggressive advances.

Point that thing somewhere else

The "good" girl has her share of baggage, too. Velda is always hot for Mike, and she certainly is an attractive brunette, but the sadomasochistic Mike would prefer to pimp her out in service of his trashy detective enterprise. She puts it well in the hospital sequence in the first act when she tells him, "You never need me when I'm around." The hotter she gets, the cooler he treats her, and his head usually turns when another skirt walks by. That is not to suggest he harbors no attraction to Velda, but her ability to seduce any other man means more to him than whatever feelings he holds for her. During the opening scenes, Christina correctly identifies Mike as a man who cares only about himself, a man who cannot give, only take. Ultimately that quality condemns him. In light of the film's devastating concluding sequence, Mike (and many others) would have been grateful had he granted Velda the alone time she always desired and steered clear of crazed blondes. But upon repeat viewings of the film, Velda's neediness is a little pathetic. She wants Mike more than any man would wish to be wanted.

The fine screenplay is complemented by cinematographer Ernest Laszlo (IMPACT [1949], D.O.A. [1949]), who relies heavily on the use of oblique camera angles, particularly in the early going. A nice touch I noticed for the first time at this event's screening is the emphasis given to the hydraulic floor jack used to quickly service Mike's vehicle after he picks up Christina—one of those devices has a role in a gruesome murder later in the story. Laszlo's coverage of complex stairways, both interior and exterior, stands for the complicated and hazardous noir labyrinth through which Mike travels. Many of the interior staircases are ornamentally fabricated; most exterior staircases are unusually high and would make for an exceptionally painful way to take a tumble (as a thug tailing Mike learns). That stairway fall always makes me gasp—somebody did that stunt! According to Eddie Muller, that scene utilized an actual staircase with no special padding.


The conclusion of the film intended by director Robert Aldrich was not reinstated until 1997. The truncated ending in which nobody escapes the beach house may have been less open to interpretation, but neither version suggests a different end result for the lead protagonist, who forfeits his future when he opens the modern equivalent of Pandora's box. In any case, I do not think Mike should shoulder the blame for the catastrophic event that ends the film. All the blame should go to Dr. G. E. Soberin (Albert Dekker), who fails to take his own advice. Soberin has a lot to say about the huge mistake Mike made when he got tangled up with Christina, but in the film's final sequence Soberin makes a far greater error when he treats Gabrielle like a child; the intellectual is somehow completely oblivious to her potential danger. As the doctor's name implies, KISS ME DEADLY's ultimate takeaway is sobering indeed.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

TRAPPED (1949)


NOIR CITY: CHICAGO 2019
Music Box Theatre, Chicago, IL
Friday, September 6th, 2019 to Thursday, September 12th, 2019
NOIR CITY: CHICAGO 2019 SCHEDULE

TRAPPED (1949)
Eagle-Lion Films, 78m
*Newly restored 35mm print


This year's NOIR CITY: CHICAGO lineup celebrates "Film Noir in the 1950s" but includes a straggler from 1949, presented this afternoon by Eddie Muller, the host of TCM's Noir Alley. Thanks to a 35mm print that emerged from a private collection, TRAPPED has been restored by the Film Noir Foundation and now has its place in the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The projected image looked super and the film itself is a fine example of '40s tough guy noir, so let's hope a Blu-ray release is imminent for those of us who remain loyal supporters of physical media. In the meantime, Muller mentioned the film will be aired on TCM in November.

TRAPPED was directed by Richard Fleischer, who always delivered admirably when devoted to film noir material, i.e. BODYGUARD (1948) and FOLLOW ME QUIETLY (1949). This effort was a one-off he did for Eagle-Lion Films, and it has more than a passing resemblance to that studio's T-MEN (1947). Producer Bryan Foy developed his craft at Warner Brothers, where the B-unit thrived under his supervision from the late 1920s through the 1930s. Foy's expertise when it came to churning out tight screenplays no doubt influenced the screenplay authored by Earl Felton and George Zuckerman.


The potboiler opens with a glorified review of the U.S. Treasury, and then quickly gets to the justification for the department's existence. After a suspicious twenty-dollar bill is brought to a bank teller's notice by Mrs. Flaherty (Ruth Robinson), the harmless looking woman is scolded for not being aware she was given counterfeit currency. It's a heavy-handed scene, intended as a wake-up call to all audience members, who dare not be as careless in their financial transactions as Flaherty. Treasury agents recognize the phony twenty as the work of imprisoned counterfeiter Tris Stewart (Lloyd Bridges), who reluctantly agrees to cooperate in the search for the plates behind the funny money. As it turns out, Tris has alternate plans. Chief Agent Gunby (Russ Conway) is no match for the quick thinking and even quicker fists possessed by Tris, who after his escape from Gunby returns to his blonde girlfriend. That young woman is Meg Dixon (Barbara Payton), probably the most erotic cigarette girl of 1940s cinema. Is it any wonder undercover man John Downey (John Hoyt) won't leave her alone? Her physical presence is enough to make anyone want to smoke.

Tris begins his own search for the counterfeiting plates he helped engineer, and he proves himself a very tough customer along the way. Convincingly played by Lloyd Bridges, the noir protagonist Tris belongs very much in the same league with rogue males portrayed by the likes of Lawrence Tierney and Charles McGraw. Tris provides evidence of his durability when he escapes custody, and continuously shows that elements of surprise and intimidation are major components of his game plan. When he returns to Meg, the first thing he does is cover her mouth, as if some type of robbery or assault were about to take place. He seldom treats her better. He gets decidedly more physical with Sam Hooker (Douglas Spencer), the ex partner who sold the plates Tris returned to claim. Sam is left in a cowering heap on the floor. When Tris encounters Jack Sylvester (James Todd), the new owner of the plates, the insouciant Jack shaves while sitting at his desk. Tris unplugs the razor. In his quest to escape with Meg to Mexico, it seems nothing will stop Tris, but naturally the treasury guys have other ideas.

The serviceable cinematography by Guy Roe (RAILROADED! [1947], BEHIND LOCKED DOORS [1948] and again working with director Richard Fleischer for ARMORED CAR ROBBERY [1950]) promotes the persistent grittiness of the taut narrative with well-covered slug fests and an atmospheric concluding sequence at a trolley station. What takes place when a criminal attempts to raise his hands in surrender could only transpire in a film noir.

TRAPPED is precisely the type of noir artifact that this annual event's devoted attendees deserve. Kudos to Muller and the many people who made the film's restoration a reality.



Sunday, August 25, 2019

THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK (1950)

Columbia Pictures, 75m 47s


Nobody is safe in this briskly-paced, undervalued noir programmer set in November of 1947 in New York City. Back from a trip to Cuba, Sheila Bennet (Evelyn Keyes) makes her way into the city by train, with a US Customs Service official named Johnson (Barry Kelley) not far behind her. Sheila suffers from debilitating headaches while she carries out her role in a diamond smuggling operation, but remains fiercely determined to reunite with her husband Matt Krane (Charles Korvin). In Sheila's absence her younger sister Francie Bennet (Lola Albright) has been in close company with Matt. That is an unenviable setup for a homecoming, but Sheila's much greater problem is her headaches are symptomatic of an illness thought long out of fashion.

A somewhat misleading opening image

Sheila Bennet (the very talented Evelyn Keyes)

A nasty take on surrogate motherhood

THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK is a social conflict drama in the vein of PANIC IN THE STREETS (1950), released by Twentieth Century Fox earlier the same year. Anyone familiar with the Fox film will recognize the similar structure of the effort from Columbia, especially once Dr. Ben Wood (William Bishop) and Dr. Cooper (Ludwig Donath) make an agonizing discovery at the District Health Center:  "a killer out of the past loose amongst 8 million people." A young patient named Walda (Beverly Washburn) is diagnosed with smallpox, later described as, "1,000 ugly sores breaking through and a fever that burns its victims to death," by the somewhat sanctimonious Health Commissioner Ellis (Carl Benton Reid). Faced with the possibility of a massive city with empty streets, Ellis shifts into a high gear and visits the Mayor of New York (Roy Roberts) on a Sunday afternoon (nobody gets a day off under these circumstances). Once made aware that smallpox could wipe out his city, the Mayor orchestrates the necessary cooperation from all levels of the public sector and private industry to combat the dreaded disease and fight for the health of the citizens on every stratum of society. Not one to take no for an answer, he instinctively demonstrates he is willing to break medical regulations in the time-sensitive fight against smallpox. Such an adulatory view of tireless public servants is a tough sell these days, when it seems all levels of government are riddled with corruption, excessive bureaucracy and financial distress. Nonetheless, the filmmaking formula offered in THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK still makes for compelling viewing, and reminds us what people are capable of when we strive for the greater good. A fatalistic noir force provides a different sort of reminder, even when there is a clear collective initiative to help each other. The following message is delivered via narration:

"...here were two agencies seeking the same thing, yet fate continued its grim joke and somehow kept the federal men and the health detectives from pooling their efforts."

The unmistakable cinematic phrasing of the noir film accents the story as it unfolds. The source of the horrific smallpox crisis that drives the narrative is a family in a state of decay, ripped apart by selfishness and greed. Sheila is betrayed not only by her husband, but by her own sister. The traditional family in self-destruct mode, or absent entirely, is one of the recurring themes associated with the noir form. Then there is Sheila herself, who presents something of a categorical problem in terms of film noir’s female archetypes. The proper noir femme fatale knows precisely what she is doing when she leads men to their doom. In this particular noir variation, the most dangerous female specimen has no idea of the danger she poses to every single person she comes near (a hotel porter, a young girl in a hospital, a boy playing in a park, a former employer, and most frighteningly, any number of people among a large urban crowd). Despite the threat to society she embodies, she raises no eyebrows from common people. Interestingly, the G-Man who knows who she is seeks her for reasons far less important than what motivates public figures to locate her. It is not unusual for other people to be unaware of the noir woman's deadly nature, but it is very unusual for that character to be completely unaware of her own destructive nature. What is not in doubt is that Sheila is an attractive woman of mystery who leaves a trail of destruction in her wake. Though she cannot be considered a femme fatale without serious question, the attractive blonde ("a pretty face with a frame to match") as a menace to others remains a looming subtext. She also has a pockmarked past with Matt. As dangerous noir dames go, Sheila's wrecking power is eclipsed only by the KISS ME DEADLY (1955) character Gabrielle (Gaby Rodgers), whose curiosity unknowingly leads to a doomsday box.




In terms of masculine archetypes, THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK takes a stand against male lechery when Willie Dennis (Jim Backus) attempts to force himself on Sheila, which results in the expected decline in his health. Similarly, Matt pays for his shabby treatment of his wife quite dramatically. When it comes to the men in her life, the filmmakers side with Sheila. The vile immigrant Matt Krane as an agent of evil and double-crossing scoundrel of a husband is in harmony with noir schematics, as well as the presumable origins of the smallpox outbreak in a foreign land, where Sheila traveled to acquire hot diamonds. The same xenophobic undertones inform PANIC IN THE STREETS.

Often credited as second unit director or assistant director, THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK is one of only three films directed by Earl McEvoy, who admirably helms the action of this film. Where he is particularly strong is in the staging of Sheila's escalating threat to mankind. As she makes her way around New York City, the horrifying potential of the smallpox epidemic becomes increasingly evident. It appears the dreaded disease indeed could spread like wildfire. Each day she is on the streets, she may be infecting countless people. Screenwriter Harry Essex worked from a COSMOPOLITAN magazine article by Milton Lehman ("Smallpox, the Killer That Stalks New York," April, 1948). Other noir titles written or co-written for the screen by Essex include DESPERATE (1947), BODYGUARD (1948) and the always re-watchable KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL (1952). Film noir fans will appreciate the presence of Dorothy Malone, Art Smith and Whit Bissell in supporting roles. Filming locations include a host of Manhattan highlights such as the Third Avenue El, City Hall, Pennsylvania Station, Gracie Mansion and Willard Parker Hospital. The transitions from location work to studio footage are not abrupt but apparent. Reed Hadley's narration badly dates the film; the subject matter would be much stronger without the intrusive voiceover treatment.





Part of a nine-film collection entitled NOIR ARCHIVE VOLUME 1: 1944-1954, THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK has been made available on dual-layered Blu-ray from Kit Parker Films in association with Millcreek Entertainment. The packaging falls well short of what classic movie collectors might expect. The 3-disc set ships housed in a 2-hub Blu-ray case, and the discs themselves are mislabeled in terms of film content. Oops! Fortunately the viewing experience, which of course is what really counts, puts a better foot forward. The transfer boasts very good source material, and the level of contrast and film grain is more than satisfactory. At this time I have not had an opportunity to sample the other selections, but I am pleased to have THE KILLER THAT STALKED NEW YORK among the film noir options within by personal Blu-ray library.


Sunday, July 28, 2019

CRISS CROSS (1949)

Universal Pictures, 87m 43s



Why are some people compelled to do the wrong thing when they know they are doing the wrong thing? The driving force behind director Robert Siodmak's uncompromisingly downbeat film noir CRISS CROSS is life's painful predictability in the face of supposedly random events. Good or bad, randomness gives shape to our lives, both in terms of insignificant things as well as how our days might come to an end. The way human lives interlock may be based largely on chance, but the resulting decisions people make probably are not. A pure distillation of the noir form, CRISS CROSS explores how fate might dovetail with genetic destiny.

In the film's opening segment, Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) and Anna Dundee (Yvonne De Carlo) meet clandestinely in the parking lot of the Round Up Café owned by her husband Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea). Later inside the club, an argument between Steve and Slim almost turns violent, but when policeman Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally) arrives on the scene, all witnesses go silent. Steve and Slim have an armored car robbery in the works, and do not want personal differences to spoil the potentially massive take.

Successfully pulling off this type of heist is thought to be an impossibility by the film's characters that are schooled in such matters. It is said an armored car holdup has not been attempted in 28 years, and those involved all got the chair for their efforts. What makes this battle plan different is the band of criminals is led by Steve, who recently has returned to his old job as a driver for Horten's Armored Car Service. Once the caper is in motion, the inside man Steve reflects upon the curious past events that led to his involvement with known criminals he dislikes. While he is driving the vehicle scheduled for robbery, the film dissolves into flashback form. "It was only eight months ago that I came back," he recalls.






Two faces of Anna

Steve drifted around the country before his instinctive return home, where he knew he would find his ex-wife Anna. After a sustained attempt to forget her, he succumbs to his hardwired attachment to her. Clearly in a state of denial, he tries to convince himself and others he has come home to assume a head-of-household role in the family home. It's a lie. Like a soldier coming home from war in a foreign land, he has returned to reclaim the woman he lost, even though on some level he understands they are not meant for each other (both recall constant bickering). But in respect to film noir's most dominant axiom, the power of fate cannot be bargained with, and Steve is aware of that, too. "It was in the cards, or it was fate, or a jinx, or whatever you want to call it—but right from the start." Soon after his return to LA, Steve surveys the rumba club for his former wife, with whom his obsession persists. He finds her. They start dating again, but before long she turns her back on him in what looks to be a permanent move. Anna's self-serving ways frustrate Steve, but his emotional investment in her never fades for long. He seems all too eager to serve as a scratching post for Anna. Via narration, he reveals awareness for his hopeless addiction, and even pleads for the viewer's empathy:  "Every place you go, you see her face. Half the girls you pass are her. Did it ever happen to you?"

Anna is introduced as an unfaithful wife, and her character does not improve much as the story unspools. Steve's marriage to her yielded seven months of wreckage. His mother openly dislikes Anna, as does his old friend Pete. When she displays evidence of being physically abused, whether one should take her side or not seems open to debate. She is concerned only with taking care of herself. What's good about her? Well, as portrayed by Yvonne De Carlo (yes, Lily Munster), Anna is one of the most luscious-looking film noir femme fatales, especially on the packed dance floor at the rumba club, where her irresistible combination of awkwardness and sex appeal is apparent (notice an uncredited Tony Curtis as her dancing partner in this sequence). The bond between her and Steve is sex, nothing beyond that. Despite all their squabbles, they both enjoyed "the making-up part" as Anna describes it. But in the end, "You always have to do what's best for yourself," she summarizes.






CRISS CROSS opens with Anna's vision of a bright future for her and Steve. Because this is film noir, even the first-time viewer is sure to be suspicious of that prediction. Steve believes her, and thinks he knows Anna better than his family and friends do. Of course he will be dead wrong. Throughout the film, characters read other people with confidence, only to be proven wrong more than right. Steve mistakenly assumes the robbery take will win him Anna for good. A front-page newspaper story christens Steve a hero, which he most certainly is not. Steve thinks Mr. Nelson (Robert Osterloh) has a concealed weapon under his jacket, which he doesn't. That discovery prompts Steve to believe Nelson is on the level, though he isn't. Pete is correct when he assumes Steve has returned home looking for Anna, but later badly misunderstands Steve's level of involvement in the heist attempt. Pete errs again when he envisions Anna and Slim united after the heist. Pop (Griff Barnett) suppresses his better instincts and tragically follows Steve, who leads them into a doomed operation. Steve feels he has assurance Pop will not be hurt, another error in judgment. Bartender Frank (Percy Helton) figures Steve for a "checker" (an investigator for the state liquor board). Barstool babe (Joan Miller, credited as "The Lush") makes the same flawed deduction, and later mistakes Steve for a racetrack loser; she claims she can size up anyone. Like most people in the film, her perceptions prove either misleading or completely inaccurate in an upside-down post-WWII society.

The photoplay is rich with exterior footage around Los Angeles, including Angels Flight Railway, Bunker Hill, Commodore Schuyler F. Heim Bridge and Union Station. Director of photography Franz Planer (credited here as Frank Planer) makes the most of set designs as well, with the scenes at the club among the most atmospheric. I particularly like the use of low camera angles in the club's entrance area, which work well to emphasize a sense of entrapment when Steve returns to his old stomping grounds. Some of the other noir motifs are more subtle. For example, there are multiple instances of men walking with canes, an important component of film noir grammar (compromised masculinity). In terms of dialog, good lines aplenty were baked into the screenplay by Daniel Fuchs, who adapted the 1934 novel of the same title written by Don Tracy. Casting is superb from top to bottom, with Burt Lancaster locked in as Steve, another of his great film noir protagonists along with the characters he portrayed in THE KILLERS (1946), BRUTE FORCE (1947), I WALK ALONE (1947) and the fascinating SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS (1957), in which he portrayed one of the genre's great villains. The always reliable noir icon Dan Duryea (THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW [1944], SCARLET STREET [1945], TOO LATE FOR TEARS [1949]) offers one of his most controlled performances as the story's least admirable male character.





Newly released on dual-layered Blu-ray from Shout! Factory as part of their Shout Select product line, CRISS CROSS is reissued by way of a new 4K scan of the original nitrate negative, framed at 1.35:1 (though the packaging states 1.37:1). The transfer is acceptable, but falls a little short compared to alternate Blu-ray releases of this title, as documented by physical media analyst Gary Tooze [Criss Cross (1949)]. The Shout! Factory incarnation reveals its limitations most obviously during the heist sequence, when protracted instances of tiling and ghosting noticeably corrupt the presentation. The screen captures below compare the surprisingly soft look of this new Blu-ray edition to the Universal Pictures Home Entertainment DVD released in 2004. This Blu-ray disc hardly offers a quantum visual leap. I actually prefer the more textured look of the DVD presentation.

Shout! Factory Blu-ray

Universal DVD

A worthwhile supplement from Shout! Factory is the commentary track by film historian Jim Hemphill, though it too has technical problems. On three separate occasions, Hemphill calls for cuts that for whatever reason did not take place. Those imperfections aside, Hemphill shows a lot of passion for a film noir title he rightly ranks highly. He sees the character Steve as more of a self-destructive personality than a victim of fate; perhaps all of Steve's fatalistic notions are nothing more than convenient excuses. That is a fair reading, though I see Steve's behavior as more of a genetic issue; he is predisposed to follow Anna and there is nothing he can do about it. Another good line of analysis from Hemphill is that Anna does not always look the glamorous noir vixen. When she wears slacks, the wardrobe transition adds a dose of realism to the story. A student of the Robert Siodmak oeuvre, Hemphill correctly notes the filmmaker's work often featured strong women and weak men, i.e. PHANTOM LADY (1944), THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945) and THE KILLERS (1946, Lancaster's debut). Other bonus material includes a theatrical re-release trailer (2m 19s), an immense collection of production stills (14m 8s) and a poster & lobby card still gallery (6m 9s).

The same source novel by Don Tracy was called upon for THE UNDERNEATH (1995), directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Peter Gallagher, Alison Elliott and William Fichtner. As Hemphill mentions, a different director adds new dimensions to the same basic story material, while many similarities to CRISS CROSS remain. I encourage fans of the film noir classic to seek out the Soderbergh interpretation, another classic in its own right.