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Criss Cross (1949)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Criss Cross (1949)

This under-rated, fatalistic romantic film noir from director Robert Siodmak featured unreliable characters, tenuous relationships, a diabolical and fatal love triangle marked by obsessive and doomed love, betrayal, unreliable alliances, and twisting plots. The B-film served as a prototypical (or archetypal) model for other "heist" or "caper" films in its time period, including John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and Stanley Kubrick's The Killing (1956). The noir was also created to capitalize on the effective elements within director Siodmak's previous film The Killers (1946) - also starring a young Burt Lancaster (with Ava Gardner). The expressionistic cinematography by Franz Planer added dark, ominous shadows and texturing.

The script by novelist Daniel Fuchs was based upon Don Tracy's 1936 novel Criss Cross, that also formed the basis for the crime drama remake adaptation by director Stephen Soderbergh titled The Underneath (1995), starring Peter Gallagher (as the hunky Burt Lancaster character), Alison Elliot (as the two-timing, femme fatale Yvonne DeCarlo character), and William Fichtner (as the serpentine, smarmy gangsterish Dan Duryea character).

It was told with one major flashback and a self-deluding (voice-over) narrated monologue. Its tagline referred to the film's double double-cross:

"When you Double-Cross a Double-Crosser...IT'S A CRISS-CROSS!"

  • under the title credits, the film opened with a striking aerial panoramic view of nighttime Los Angeles before the camera swooped down to a parking lot in the northern part of downtown LA; it captured a doomed couple's trysting embrace that was revealed by glaring headlights between parked cars near the Round-Up Bar
  • the two were speaking about meeting up at a Palos Verdes cottage after a daring, unspecified plot that would unfold the next day; she promised him that they would finally be together again and could make a new start after forgetting their past: "All those things that happened to us - everything that went before, you'll forget it. You'll see. I'll make you forget it. After it's done, after it's all over and we're safe, it'll be just you and me. You and me, the way it should've been all along from the start"
  • the love-sick, still-obsessed and infatuated ex-husband Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) was hooking up and plotting with his calculating, trampish femme fatale Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo) - she was Steve's ex-wife after a 7-month marriage, followed by divorce, and now, she was newly-married to someone else; the impulsive ex-couple were conspiring to again be together after a planned heist
  • after their clandestine rendezvous, Steve stealthily entered the Round-Up nightclub-bar separately from Anna; a going-away party was being planned for Anna's abusive, bickering, crooked gangster husband Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea) - he owned the nightclub; he was leaving the next day for Detroit. Predictably, Steve engaged in a brief fist-fight in a back-room with Slim - broken up by Steve's old friend, LAPD Lt. Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally) after Slim pulled out a knife
  • it was revealed that the brawl ("a friendly argument") was staged for the officer, to have him believe that they were antagonistic towards each other; the two rivals were actually part of a criminal conspiracy, and were in the midst of coordinating an armored truck robbery together, to occur the next morning, that was expected to net "six figures"
  • the working-class Steve, who was employed by the Horton's armored car company, was the inside driver who had instigated the heist with Slim (and Anna). He had arranged it so there was only one other partner in the truck - his co-worker and family friend Pop (Griff Barnett); they would be taking a 40 minute drive to San Rafelo with the Bliss Company payroll; as he drove on, he recalled Anna's promising words to him in the parking lot


  • before the climactic robbery, the film flashbacked to 8 months earlier - with Steve's voice-over: "From the start. The beginning. It all happened so fast. It was only eight months ago that I came back. I came home"
  • Steve had initially returned home to LA to see his family, after being a drifter for two years. He jumped off a trolley-streetcar and walked up a hill to his mother's (Edna Holland) house (in the Bunker Hill neighborhood); the love-lorn drifter, still carrying a torch for Anna but believing that she was out of his system, didn't expect to become ensnared again into her manipulative web, but he was fated to do so: (voice-over) "I didn't come back on account of her. It had nothing to do with it. I wasn't gonna 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. But then 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 - but right from the start...."
  • on Steve's first day back home, he hoped to run into his divorced ex-wife Anna in his old "hang-out," the Round-Up dance-hall, but no luck. That evening in his home, he fatefully brooded about her (in voice-over): "Anna. We were married. About two years ago. It lasted seven months. A man eats an apple. He gets a piece of the core stuck between his teeth, you know. He tries to work it out with some cellophane off a cigarette pack. What happens? The cellophane gets stuck in there, too. Anna. What was the use? I knew one way or the other somehow I'd wind up seeing her that night"
  • Steve returned to the Round-Up later that evening and was mesmerized when he happened to see Anna vigorously dancing the rhumba (to the Afro-Cuban Jazz song tune "Jungle Fantasy") with an unnamed gigolo partner (an unbilled Tony Curtis in his screen debut); when Anna was surprised to see Steve and asked why he didn't respond to her letter, he non-chalantly lied to her about being back for a week, and was just "passing by"

Steve's First Conversation with Anna After His Return
Anna - Glimpsed Vigorously Dancing A Frenzied Rhumba at the Round-Up Nightclub
  • the two spoke briefly about the good ol' times when they were young and in love and how they frequently fought ("like cats and dogs"), but then "we'd make up" - referring to post-brawling sex: "Those were times, weren't they, Steve? That was the best part, I think. The making up part." Steve also met Anna's current slick boyfriend, Slim Dundee
  • he took his old job back - driving for Horten's Armored Car Service; the company boasted its recent stellar record of protecting its cash transports: "Nobody ever got away with a heist on an armored truck in 28 years. As a matter of fact, they don't even try anymore"; Anna called Steve from a nearby drugstore counter to become reacquainted and "get together again" (with the possibility of maybe even getting married again), but during their verbal give-and-take conversation, he was "sore" that she was dating the brutish Slim; they partially agreed that their relationship wouldn't work: "Every time we get together, there's nothin' but trouble"; however, they made a date to take an early Saturday morning swim at Zuma Beach (past Malibu)
  • Steve was warned to stay away from the temptress by his mother: ("Out of all the girls in Los Angeles, why did you have to pick on her?"); she thought Anna was quite manipulative: "Some ways she knows more than Einstein"
  • shortly later, when Steve went to the club to meet Anna for a date, he was told that she suddenly eloped to Yuma, AZ, to marry Slim. At first, he dismissed the news: "Of course. He had all the dough, and that's all she ever wanted," and felt it might be a good thing, but then admitted he was hopelessly addicted to her: (voice-over) "Probably the best thing that ever happened to me. I told myself that someday I'd look back and realize it. But I was wrong. It was in the cards, and there was no way of stopping it. A month went by, a second, a fourth. It was all finished. Done with. Water over the dam. Only it wasn't. You know how it is. You don't know what to do with yourself. You want to travel, get away, anywhere. Every place you go, you see her face. Half the girls you pass are her. Did it ever happen to you?"
  • Steve happened to meet up with Anna at Union Station, and they continued to engage in a clandestine affair, although he was very bitter about her marriage to Slim who persistently lavished her with diamonds; he degraded Anna with names: "Tramp. Cheap, little no-good tramp!" Steve learned that she felt his family was against her, and that LAPD Lt. Ramirez had pressured Anna to leave town and not see Steve: ("He was afraid I was poison"); he threatened to frame her with trumped-up charges and send her to Tehachapi Prison for Women if she didn't cooperate; and then she shockingly admitted that the controlling and abusive Slim and his gang were ominously threatening: "I'm scared. They'd kill us. Kill us!" - she showed him bruises on her back where Slim had abusively beaten her
  • caught in a dilemma, Steve began to drink heavily; Lt. Ramirez confirmed to Steve that he had put a scare into Anna (due to a request from Steve's mother), and he warned that Steve was asking for trouble from Slim: "You saw her. You're going to keep on seeing her....I tell ya, I know it when I see a bad one....But leave that girl alone.... Dundee. He'll get ya. He'll throw a knife into you"; after seeing Anna's bruises, the obstinate Steve insisted on continuing to see her: ("I'm gonna do anything I please, and you and Dundee and nobody else is gonna tell me what to do").
  • after being seen together, Anna rushed to Steve's side at his mother's house to warn him that Slim knew of their affair: ("He found out. He must've. The crazy chances we took being seen together") - and Slim was planning on retaliation; although she wasn't worried about her own safety, she knew Steve was in jeopardy: "You don't know him the way I do. You don't know the people he's got around him. He'll kill you. He's got ways." As they contemplated running away together, they were caught alone; Steve and Anna were surprised and confronted by Slim and his thug-gang members who were downstairs drinking beers
  • Slim was obviously suspicious of Anna's presence with Steve and asked: "Hello, baby. You know, uh, it don't look right. You can't exactly say it looks right now, can you?"; Slim didn't believe Steve's first flimsy excuse: "So it's not the way it looks, is it, baby?"
  • Steve cleverly tried to deflect attention regarding their relationship; ad-libbing with a hastily thought-up excuse, he claimed that he and Anna were working on a plan (or "job") to share with Slim and his "crooks"; it was a daytime payroll heist plan of his own armored car service where he worked; at first, Slim was disbelieving: ("You can't hijack an armored truck! It can't be done") - Steve explained how it would presumably be easy to accomplish because he was an "inside man" driving the armored car ("If you have an inside man")
  • Slim and his crooked friends were convinced to participate in the robbery; in his upstairs apartment room, chess-playing gentleman-crook Finchley (Alan Napier) was pressured to act as a consultant or expert ("top-man") to help with the meticulous planning for the heist; he was bribed by being offered "a month's credit for you at Conrad's Liquor Store on Hill St."; he joined a gathering of the crooks meeting downstairs in the building, to plan the heist's details, including the use of smoke bombs (SiCl4 - or Silicon Tetrachloride), a slow-moving ice-cream wagon-truck for the getaway to avoid suspicion, and a large oil truck that was to be stalled to block the bridge; Slim called Steve the "boss man" and agreed to a 50/50 split of the payoff money (to be handled by Anna)
  • part of the plan was to let everyone know that Slim was leaving for Detroit on the same day as the proposed robbery, and that he would celebrate with a going-away party at the Round-Up the night before
  • in private, Steve was continuing to conspire with Anna to meet him at the Palos Verdes house after the heist, to double-cross Slim and run off together with the stolen money, but she was highly skeptical: "I wish we'd never met...I wish you'd never seen me"; he ignored her fears and ordered: "Go up to the house and wait for me....You'll stay there. You'll wait for me"


  • on the day of the robbery, Steve (with Pop as his partner) was driving the Horton's Armored truck on its normal 40-minute run to deliver the payroll money bags to the plant; right on time, he crossed the bridge and passed the ice-cream wagon just before pulling into the entrance gates of the Bliss Company plant in San Rafelo; a very vertiginous overhead camera angle filmed the armored truck's entry into the plant; after passing an open manhole (where two gang members, fake employees, were having lunch), the truck was parked
  • as Steve and Pop loaded up money bags from the truck onto their shoulders (3 for Steve and 2 for Pop) to carry inside, a major explosion within the manhole caused chaos, plus other chemical bombs were thrown; all of the inside-men from the gang donned gas masks; Pop was struck to the ground and kicked (3 bags, not 2, were stolen from him as he attempted to fire back); Slim double-crossed Steve by killing his partner Pop with three close-range gunshots; Steve (now with 2 bags) retaliated by shooting one gang member and lethally beating up a second thug, before returning to the truck; after trying to shoot at Steve, Slim attacked Steve and the two brawled together; Steve shot Slim in the leg, but then was badly wounded himself as he fought off and killed another attacker; the gang fled with half of the money bags in a pre-arranged getaway car
The Robbery Sequence

Overhead View of Armored Vehicle Pulling Into the Plant

A View of the Parked Truck and Manhole

Steve and Pop Taking Payroll Money Bags From Truck

After Explosions, Steve Covering His Mouth From Poisonous Gases

Pop Struck Down and Kicked - His Money Bags Were Stolen

Gas-Masked Slim Firing at Pop on the Ground and Killing Him

Slim Also Aimed at Steve Behind the Truck But Missed

After Brawling with Slim, Steve Shot Slim in the Leg

Steve Was Shot and Seriously Wounded in the Arm, After Saving Half of the Money Bags
  • afterwards while he recovered in a hospital, Steve was viewed as a hero: ("You fought them off, you saved half the payroll. Look. It's in the papers. "QUARTER MILLION ARMORED CAR HOLDUP" And here's your picture. You're a hero. "Steve Thompson, now in the Angel of Mercy Hospital, saves half of payroll, foils perfect crime"); in total, three gang members were dead, while guard Pop was killed
Hospitalized and Wounded, Steve Was Regarded as a Hero After the Heist - But He Was Also Visited by a Suspicious Lt. Ramirez ("They used you") with Prophetic Warnings
  • Steve was visited by Lt. Ramirez who was suspicious: ("You were in with them. You were part of it"); he was certain that Steve was the "inside man" and had been used by Slim and Anna: ("They used you...You were the inside man") to hijack the armored truck: ("How did they ever get you in on this deal? What did she do, make you promises? Were you gonna run away together?...Didn't they work you for the prize sucker of all time?"); Ramirez hypothesized that if the double-crossing Anna was now with Slim (who had survived the holdup), then Steve was in the clear: ("If she double-crossed you, if she's with Slim now, then you're all right"); however, he also warned that if Steve was conspiring with Anna to run away, Slim would naturally retaliate: ("But if she's on the level with you, if she double-crossed Slim, if she's really waiting for you somewhere, then he'll get you")
  • Ramirez predicted that Steve would be targeted: "He'll send a gunman for you right here in the hospital, right through that door. And he'll get you!"; before leaving, Lt. Ramirez apologized for not acting to better protect and save Steve: "I should've been a better friend. I should've stopped you. I should've grabbed you by the neck; I should've kicked your teeth in"
  • in a highly-suspenseful sequence that evening, the helpless Steve feared that he was going to be executed in his bed; he interpreted moving shadows as ominous, and was relieved when a night nurse appeared with his sleeping pills dosage for the night; he was particularly worried and frightened by the dark silhouette and view (in his dresser's mirror reflection) of a seated visitor in the hallway - a nervous Mr. Nelson (Robert Osterloh); he spoke to the wholesale hardware salesman from Bakersfield, who claimed he was there to be with his seriously-injured wife hurt in an automobile crash; Steve begged for the man to keep him company: ("Would you stay here with me? Would you sit in that chair and watch the door? If anyone comes, don't let 'em in") and alert him if he heard anyone coming; in the middle of the night, it was revealed that the "Mr. Nelson" had been hired by Slim to abduct Steve: ("I waited. I got your clothes. You're comin' with me")
  • in the film's dark, fatalistic and morbid finale, the still-recuperating Steve was kidnapped from his hospital room in the middle of the night and driven to meet with Slim: "Slim wants to see you. Wants to find out where the money is, where Anna is. Come on"
  • for $10,000 ("10 grand"), Steve persuasively bribed the driver Mr. Nelson to take him to Anna's location in Palos Verdes instead (where he was then planning to flee with her) - "You worried about Slim? Don't be a sap. He's a dead man. Cops are after him. Do you hear me? This is a big chance for you. Ten grand. It's a lot of dough, but I got it. You know I got it. Come on. Be smart. Take me where I want to go"
  • Steve was delivered to Palos Verdes and helped to the door by Nelson; he was relieved to see Anna again: ("Anna, you're here. I knew it. I knew all the time everything would be all right"); Steve ordered Anna to give Nelson $10,000 dollars ("Pay him off"); he also described how he suspected and knew all along that he'd be double-crossed during the heist by Slim: "I knew they'd double-cross me, Slim and the rest of them. But I didn't care, Anna. It meant nothing to me so long as I knew I could count on you." He also told her that he had discounted Lt. Ramirez' suspicions that she might be siding with Slim: "Pete said you were part of it, that you were in on it with Slim from the start. That dumb cop"
  • Anna was skeptical about the paid-off driver Nelson, knowing that he would immediately report back to Slim: "Don't you see? Don't you know what's gonna happen? He's on his way back to Slim. He'll tell Slim where I am right this minute." Anna was doubtful about Steve's judgment ("You don't know what you've done bringing him here"); She hurriedly decided to pack and run off - without Steve - when she realized how weak (and stupid) he was: ("How far could I get with you?"), and how he wasn't able or tough enough to stand up to Slim in his disabled condition; Steve was shocked by her rapid disenchantment with him: "You're going away? You're gonna leave me? Here?"

Steve Foolishly Meeting Up with Anna at the Palos Verdes Cottage

Anna: "Don't you see? Don't you know what's gonna happen? He's on his way back to Slim..."

Anna's Disenchantment With Steve - and Her Own Self-Interest: "You always have to do what's best for yourself"
  • she was aggravated with Steve for spoiling their getaway: "What do you want me to do? Let him get us both? Would that make you feel happier? Does that make sense to you?...Why did you have to come here in the first place? Why? Why?"; without any conscience, Anna betrayed him and only thought of her own survival - she planned to quickly pack up and abandon Steve, since he was so helpless, misguided and injured; she also dismissed their previous self-less love for each other: "Love, love. You have to watch out for yourself. That's the way it is, I'm sorry. What do you want me to do, throw away all this money? You always have to do what's best for yourself"; she even blamed him for his poor decisions that also included his physical disabilities: ("People get hurt! I can't help it! I can't help it if people don't know how to take care of themselves")
  • Steve was regretful that their relationship never seemed to work out: "I never wanted the money. I just wanted you...I just wanted to hold you in my arms, to take care of you. It could've been wonderful, but it didn't work out. What a pity it didn't work out." She ran out the door with her suitcase, but then fled back inside when she saw headlights and heard a car drive up

Anna and Steve Awaiting Slim's Ominous Arrival Through The Door

Slim's Final Words to the Doomed Couple: ("You've got her. She's all yours now")

Slim - With His Gun Raised ("Hold her. Hold her tight!")

Anna Cowering in Steve's Arms

After Firing Three Shots, Slim Turned to Hear Police Sirens in Distance

Concluding Image of Double-Murder of Steve and Anna - Before Fade to Black
  • Slim had traced them to their seaside Palos Verdes rendezvous; he entered through the dark doorway, limping with a cane. As the couple stood before a window with a backdrop of the ocean, he threatened them: "I figured you'd bribe Nelson to take you to Anna. You always wanted her, didn't you, Thompson? You really loved her. You know, I did too. But you won out, Thompson. You've got her. She's all yours now"
  • he pulled out a gun and ordered: "Hold her. Hold her tight!" Then, he mercilessly gunned down both Anna and Steve with three gunshots, turned, and then heard police sirens in the distance; [Note: Had Nelson double-crossed him and sold him out by betraying him to the authorities?] they died in each other's arms - the last image before a fade to black

Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo) and Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) - Caught in the Glare of Headlights in an LA Nightclub Parking Lot

Anna to Steve: "It'll be just you and me"

Anna's New Husband - Slick Gangster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea)

Lt. Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally) with His Old Friend Steve in Bar

Driver Steve with "Pop" in Armored Truck Just Before Robbery Heist


Steve - Lying in Bed and Brooding About His Ex-Wife Anna (a Reprisal of a Scene with Lancaster in The Killers (1946))

Anna with Steve - At Corner Drugstore

Steve's Stunned Reaction to Anna's Sudden Marriage to Slim

Anna's Fear of Her Own Husband Slim and His Thugs - "They'd kill us!"

Anna Showing the Bruises on Her Back Inflicted by the Domestic Abuser Slim

Anna Warning Steve About Her Husband Slim's Retaliation

Steve and Anna Caught Secretly Meeting Together Upstairs in His Mother's House

Steve and Anna Confronted by Slim and His Gang Downstairs

"Top-Man" Expert Finchley (Alan Napier) to Help In Planning Heist

Steve Conspiring With Anna: "Go up to the house and wait for me"

Anna's Concern About Their Plan to Double-Cross Slim


Robbery Heist Sequence: Steve Driving the Armored Truck With The Payroll Accompanied by His Partner Pop to the San Rafelo Plant

Steve Speaking to Night Nurse - With Fears of Being Murdered in Bed

Hospital Visitor Mr. Nelson (Robert Osterloh)

Nelson Revealed to be Working For Slim !

Steve Abducted From the Hospital and Driven by Nelson to Meet With Slim

Anna - Apologetic, But Ready to Run Out the Door With Her Suitcase Full of Money to Abandon Steve

Steve to Anna: "I just wanted to hold you in my arms..."


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