Skirball Cultural Center offers a double dose of intrigue on the big screen this Sunday

The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir series at the Skirball Cultural Center continues at 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 25, with an excellent double feature.

Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott face Raymond Burr in “Pitfall.”

Dick Powell and Lizabeth Scott face Raymond Burr in “Pitfall.”

The first film is “Pitfall” (1948, André de Toth), featuring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Jane Wyatt in a classic noir love triangle. Just a few years before, Powell, a song and dance man, reinvented his screen persona when he played detective Philip Marlowe in “Murder, My Sweet” (1944, Edward Dmytryk). Powell then became a regular on the film noir slate.

In “Pitfall,” he plays John Forbes, a happily married husband and father with a good job. Problem is, John is bored and it’s not long before he risks everything by getting tangled up with an irresistible femme fatale named Mona Stevens (Scott).

Further complicating the situation is Raymond Burr as a private investigator who also covets Ms. Stevens. Powell and Wyatt are spot-on, Scott lends humanity to what could be a two-dimensional role and this is one of Burr’s best performances.

You can read the full FNB review here.

Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster can’t stay away from each other in “Criss Cross.”

Yvonne De Carlo and Burt Lancaster can’t stay away from each other in “Criss Cross.”

Next up: “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak) is a spare, chilling story that zooms along at breakneck speed with characters you’ll never forget.

Here, the stunning Yvonne De Carlo (whom you might remember from TV’s “The Munsters”) lures her ex-husband Burt Lancaster into a high-stakes heist. The sleazy bad guy is played perfectly by Dan Duryea.

Lancaster’s Steve is essentially a good guy who just can’t get his ex-wife out of his system. Some would call him crazy. The French would term it “amour fou.” But what would film noir be without obsessive love? This somewhat neglected movie completely holds its own with any other title from the film noir canon. “Criss Cross” plays particularly well on the big screen and it’s great fun to see the Los Angeles locales. The opening shot is tremendous and look out for a young Tony Curtis.

You can read the full FNB review here.

Admission is $10 general; $7 seniors and full-time students; $5 members.

The exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect will remain open until 8 p.m.

The File on Thelma Jordon posterThe Intriguante series concludes on Feb. 12 with “The File on Thelma Jordon” (1950, Robert Siodmak), a crime drama starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck.

Additionally, there are two more free Tuesday matinees at the Skirball Cultural Center. On Feb. 3 is 1939’s “Confessions of a Nazi Spy,” directed by Anatole Litvak and starring Edward G. Robinson as an FBI investigator. On Feb. 10, “Act of Violence” (1948, Fred Zinnemann) looks at the plight of returning World War II vets in a captivating film noir brimming with dark secrets, betrayal and revenge. Van Heflin, Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh lead the cast.

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The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir series starts Thursday at the Skirball Cultural Center

If you’re feeling slightly sluggish after a whirlwind of holiday activity, remember that watching a feisty femme fatale on the big screen might be just what you need to feel newly energized and thoroughly entertained.

Alice (Joan Bennett) has Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) wrapped around her little finger in “The Woman in the Window.”

Alice (Joan Bennett) has Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) wrapped around her little finger in “The Woman in the Window.”

You can start this Thursday, Jan. 8, at 8 p.m., when the Skirball Cultural Center in West Los Angeles starts its four-film series, The Intriguante—Women of Intrigue in Film Noir. As the organizers note: “During World War II, many women took up jobs in previously male-dominated industries, which imbued them with a new sense of independence. These four movies – all made by émigré directors and featuring strong female leads – widely appealed to this newly empowered audience, as well as soldiers abroad.”

The series starts with 1944’s “The Woman in the Window,” directed by Fritz Lang. When you least expect your life to unravel is exactly when your life will unravel, at least in a Lang film. That’s the lesson Professor Richard Wanley (Edward G. Robinson) learns the hard way after he’s lured into the depraved world of street hustlers Joan Bennett and Dan Duryea. “Woman” is an excellent film and well worth seeing. You can read the full FNB review here.

Pitfall posterAdmission is $10 general; $7 seniors and full-time students; $5 members. The exhibitions Light & Noir: Exiles and Émigrés in Hollywood, 1933–1950 and The Noir Effect will remain open until 8 p.m.

The Intriguante series continues on Jan. 25 with an afternoon double-feature: “Pitfall” (1948, André de Toth), featuring Dick Powell, Lizabeth Scott and Jane Wyatt in a classic noir love triangle, and the taut thriller “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak), in which a temptress (Yvonne De Carlo) leads her ex (Burt Lancaster) to his doom.  The series concludes on Feb. 12 with “The File on Thelma Jordon” (1950, Robert Siodmak), a crime drama starring the inimitable Barbara Stanwyck.

Additionally, the Skirball Cultural Center is hosting a series of free film-noir matinees on Tuesday afternoons, starting Jan. 6 with “Somewhere in the Night” (1946, Joseph L. Mankiewicz), starring John Hodiak as an amnesic World War II soldier.

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Happy New Year, everyone!

Hope you had a decadent time bidding farewell to 2014 and that 2015 will be darkly delightful.

We took a little time off over the holidays to unplug and reconnect with family and friends. Now we’re back and looking forward to a new slate of noir news and events.

First up:  Wednesday, Jan. 7, is Fyodor Dostoyevsky night on TCM, featuring film versions of four dark Russian classics and the talents of film noir stalwart Robert Siodmak among many others.

Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner star in 1949’s “The Great Sinner,” directed by Robert Siodmak.

Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner star in 1949’s “The Great Sinner,” directed by Robert Siodmak.

(8 p.m. EST and 5 p.m. PST): “The Brothers Karamazov” (1958, Richard Brooks). An ultimate dysfunctional family – as portrayed by evil dad Lee J. Cobb and warring brothers Yul Brynner, Richard Basehart, William Shatner and Albert Salmi – clash in Brooks’ adaptation of what may be Dostoyevsky’s masterpiece. The beautiful Grushenka, the part that Marilyn Monroe (a big reader) called her dream role, is played here by Maria Schell.

10:45 p.m. (7:45 p.m.): “Crime and Punishment” (1935, Josef von Sternberg). With Peter Lorre, Edward Arnold and Marian Marsh. Reviewed in FNB on April 9, 2013.

12:30 a.m. (9:30 p.m.): “The Great Sinner” (1949, Robert Siodmak). In real life, Dostoyevsky was a compulsive gambler and this version of his tense short novel “The Gambler,” scripted by novelist Christopher Isherwood, stars Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Melvyn Douglas, Ethel Barrymore and Walter Huston. Reviewed in FNB on Sept. 11, 2014.

2:30 a.m. (11:30 p.m.): “The Idiot”/ “Hakuchi” (1951, Akira Kurosawa). Kurosawa lovingly adapts his favorite writer’s famed novel, with a brilliant Japanese cast that includes Toshiro Mifune, Masayuki Mori (as Prince Myshkin, the “idiot”), Setsuko Hara and Takashi Shimura. (In Japanese, with subtitles.)

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The Noir File: Burt Lancaster Wednesdays in November

By Film Noir Blonde and Mike Wilmington

The Noir File is FNB’s guide to classic film noir, neo-noir and pre-noir from the schedule of Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which broadcasts them uncut and uninterrupted. The times are Eastern Standard and (Pacific Standard).

Note: The Noir File has been on temporary hiatus recently while one of its co-authors, Mike Wilmington, moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. Now, with Mike ensconced in Hollywood, in the neighborhood where Philip Marlowe once roamed (in spirit), we’re happy to welcome the File back to Film Noir Blonde.

The Killers posterPICK OF THE WEEK

“The Killers”

(1946, Robert Siodmak). With Burt Lancaster, Ava Gardner and Edmond O’Brien. Wednesday, Nov. 6, 8 p.m. (5 p.m.).

Of all film noir’s femmes fatales, Ava Gardner as Kitty Collins in “The Killers” ranks as the most devastatingly efficient. She doesn’t waste time chit-chatting or getting to know a guy. Just a glance gets them hooked and firmly planted in the palm of her hand. “Swede” Andreson (Burt Lancaster) takes all of 10 seconds to fall for her and then get lured into “a double-cross to end all double-crosses.”

Based on the famous Ernest Hemingway short story, this 1946 film is the crowning achievement of one of Hollywood’s most prolific noir directors, Robert Siodmak, earning him an Oscar nomination for best director and leaving us with some of the genre’s most memorable characters.

You can read the full review here.

Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster

Kitty (Ava Gardner) has Swede (Burt Lancaster) wrapped around her little finger in no time.

Wednesday, Nov. 6

4:15 p.m. (1:15 p.m.): “Colorado Territory” (1949, Raoul Walsh). One of the peaks of Western noir: Raoul Walsh’s Old West version of his 1941 gangster classic, “High Sierra,” with Joel McCrea and Virginia Mayo filling the Bogart and Lupino roles, and Dorothy Malone and Henry Hull (who was also in the original) in support.

8 p.m. (5 p.m.): “The Killers” (1946, Robert Siodmak). See Pick of the Week.

Friday, Nov. 8
6:30 a.m. (3:30 a.m.): “The Front Page” (1931, Lewis Milestone). First of the three stellar movie versions of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s terrific newspaper comedy “The Front Page.” A wily editor, Walter Burns, (Adolphe Menjou) tries to keep his star reporter Hildy Johnson (Pat O’Brien), from leaving their paper, the Chicago Examiner, on the night before the hanging of hapless radical murderer Earl Williams (George E. Stone). Howard Hawks, who remade “The Front Page” as “His Girl Friday,” said that this play had the best American comedy dialogue ever written and it’s hard to argue.

Cornered posterSaturday, Nov. 9

12 a.m. (9 p.m.): “Cornered” (1945, Edward Dmytryk). Star Dick Powell, director Dmytryk, and writer John Paxton, all of the hit Raymond Chandler adaptation “Murder My Sweet,” reunite for a tough international thriller, with ex-WW2 pilot Powell tracking down his French wife’s fascist murderers. The marvelously slimy or ruthless villains include Walter Slezak and Luther Adler.

Sunday, Nov. 10

4 p.m. (1 p.m.): “Casablanca” (1942, Michael Curtiz). With Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Claude Rains and Paul Henreid. Reviewed in FNB on August 25, 2012.


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Burt Lancaster on the big screen: ‘The Killers’ and ‘Criss Cross’

UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater will present a terrific double bill on Saturday, May 4: two works from film-noir master Robert Siodmak, starring Burt Lancaster.

Burt Lancaster made his screen debut in “The Killers,” co-starring Ava Gardner.

In addition to being handsome and lithe, Lancaster projected intelligence, sensitivity and depth. He made his screen debut in “The Killers” (1946), adapted from an Ernest Hemingway short story and co-starring Ava Gardner. Lancaster can’t break Yvonne De Carlo’s spell in “Criss Cross” (1949), a brooding narrative of betrayal set in the back alleys of post-war downtown Los Angeles.

The evening is part of the Lancaster centennial celebration presented by the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program. The celebration of Lancaster’s movies runs through June 30. The Film Noir Foundation’s Alan K. Rode is the special guest on May 4.

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Film noir titles to release on DVD from TCM and Universal, thriller marathon in January

Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Universal Studios Home Entertainment (USHE) are releasing a terrific three-disc DVD collection on Dec 3. Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers highlights the work of legendary mystery writers Dashiell Hammett, Cornell Woolrich and Raymond Chandler.

The set includes:

“The Glass Key” (1942, Stuart Heisler) – Brian Donlevy, Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake star in this stylish remake of the 1935 film based on Hammett’s popular novel. The story follows a ruthless political boss and his personal adviser, who become entangled in a web of organized crime and murder involving the daughter of a rising gubernatorial candidate. Akira Kurosawa once claimed this film to be the inspiration for his classic samurai flick “Yojimbo” (1961).

“Phantom Lady” (1944, Robert Siodmak) – A man arrested for murdering his wife is unable to produce his only alibi – a mysterious woman he met in a bar – in this adaptation of a Woolrich novel. Now his loyal secretary must go undercover to locate her. Ella Raines, Franchot Tone, Thomas Gomez, Alan Curtis and Elisha Cook Jr. star. A sexually charged drumming scene was reportedly dubbed by legendary musician Buddy Rich.

“The Blue Dahlia” (1946, George Marshall) – A WWII veteran who has been accused of killing his unfaithful wife races against time to find the real murderer with the help of a sympathetic stranger. Alan Ladd, Veronica Lake, William Bendix, Howard da Silva and Hugh Beaumont star in this John Houseman production. Chandler’s original screenplay earned an Oscar nomination.

Veronica Lake and Howard da Silva share a tense moment in “The Blue Dahlia.”

Dark Crimes: Film Noir Thrillers will be available from TCM’s online store, which is currently accepting pre-orders. TCM will show “The Glass Key” on Dec. 2.

Additionally, on Jan. 17, author and noir expert Eddie Muller will join TCM host Robert Osborne to present five memorable thrillers from the 1950s. The lineup is set to feature “Cry Danger” (1951, Robert Parrish) with Dick Powell and Rhonda Fleming; “99 River Street” (1953, Phil Karlson) starring John Payne and Evelyn Keyes; “Tomorrow is Another Day” (1951, Felix E. Feist) with Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran; “The Breaking Point” (1950, Michael Curtiz), starring John Garfield and Patricia Neal; and “The Prowler” (1951, Joseph Losey), starring Van Heflin and Evelyn Keyes.

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Noir City festival returns to Chicago with darkness aplenty

The Music Box Theatre will host Noir City: Chicago.

The Film Noir Foundation’s Noir City festival returns for the fourth time to Chicago’s Music Box Theatre, from Aug. 17-23.

The FNF’s Alan K. Rode and noted writer/historian Foster Hirsch will share hosting duties. All titles are presented on the big screen in glorious 35mm prints.

This year’s lineup looks great! Highlights include:

William Castle’s “Undertow” (1949), which was shot on location in the Windy City.

Alan Ladd x 2: “The Great Gatsby” (1949, Elliot Nugent) and “This Gun for Hire” (1942, Frank Tuttle).

Jean Negulesco’s “Three Strangers” (1946) starring Geraldine Fitzgerald, Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. Screenplay by John Huston and Howard Koch.

Cornell Woolrich x 3: Noir master Robert Siodmak directs Ella Raines and Elisha Cook Jr. in “Phantom Lady” (1944). Based on a Woolrich novel. “Black Angel” (1946, Roy William Neil) More suspense from Woolrich, this time starring Dan Duryea, June Vincent, Broderick Crawford and Peter Lorre. “The Window” (1949) Ted Tetzlaff directs an adaptation of Woolrich’s “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.”

Virginia Mayo and James Cagney star in "White Heat," directed by Raoul Walsh.

Phil Karlson’s “99 River Street” (1953) Evelyn Keyes comes to the rescue when her buddy John Payne, a washed-up boxer, is framed for the murder of his wife.

Robert Ryan x 2: “Caught” (Max Ophuls, 1949) and “On Dangerous Ground” (Nicholas Ray, 1952).

Kiss Me Deadly” (1955, Robert Aldrich) Screenwriter A. I. Bezzerides adapted Mickey Spillane’s detective novel to create this film noir classic. Ralph Meeker stars.

White Heat” (1949, Raoul Walsh) James Cagney is unforgettable in one of noir’s greatest roles, outlaw and killer Cody Jarrett. The superb cast also includes Edmond O’Brien, Virginia Mayo, Steve Cochran and Margaret Wycherly as the bad-ass mama at the core of it all.

Also, be sure to check out the FNF’s Marsha Hunt interview. The actress joined Eddie Muller and Alan K. Rode at the 14th annual Noir City: Hollywood for a rare screening of “Mary Ryan, Detective” (1950, Abby Berlin). Hunt discussed her work with Fred Zinnemann, Jules Dassin, Orson Welles and others. I watched the event live and it’s terrific – it’s hard to believe she is 94! You can watch the interview at the FNF Video Archives.

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Non-stop film noir on the big screen in Los Angeles

The enduring appeal of film noir shows no signs of waning – there are scads of noir screenings in and around LA over the next several weeks.

Noir City Hollywood continues at the Egyptian Theatre through May 6. Tonight, actress Julie Adams will talk with Alan K. Rode between the films 1957’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” (in which Adams co-stars with Richard Egan, Jan Sterling, Dan Duryea, Walter Matthau and Charles McGraw) and “Edge of the City” (1957).

And a must-see for me: Ida Lupino in “Private Hell 36” (1954) by director Don Siegel. Lupino also co-wrote this flick, which runs on Wednesday, May 2, after “Shield for Murder” (1954), co-directed by Howard Koch and star Edmond O’Brien.

In conjunction with the Herb Ritts: L.A. Style exhibition, running through Aug. 26 at the Getty Museum, a companion (free!) film series starts today. Ritts (1952–2002) was a top 1980s photographer and his preference for outdoor locations such as the desert and the beach helped to distinguish his work from his New York-based peers.

Admittedly, “Gilda” is the only true noir on the roster, but Ritts’ work taps retro Hollywood glamour. As the Getty puts it: “Ritts’ relationship with his subjects echoes certain director-actor relationships dating from the silent era and the eight films in this series showcase this special relationship.”

On Friday, May 4, the New Beverly Cinema is showing John Frankenheimer’s sci-fi neo-noir from 1966 “Seconds,” which stars Rock Hudson; cinematography by James Wong Howe. “Seconds” is paired with 1997’s “Face/Off” by director John Woo starring John Travolta, Nicolas Cage, Joan Allen, Dominique Swain and Nick Cassavetes. Screenwriters Mike Werb and Michael Colleary are scheduled to appear in person.

Also worth a watch: Universal Pictures celebrates its centennial with a series of screenings (“The Black Cat” and “The Birds” caught my eye) at UCLA’s Billy Wilder Theater in Westwood from May 4 to June 24.

You’ll certainly get a full-on noir lineup at the 12th annual Arthur Lyons Film Noir Festival, which runs in Palm Springs from May 10-13.

Van Heflin and Joan Crawford star in “Possessed” from 1947.

Festival programmer and film historian Alan K. Rode has selected a great lineup, including Fritz Lang’s “The Big Heat” (1953), starring Glenn Ford, and “Possessed” (1947) by Curtis Bernhardt.

Ford’s son Peter will attend “The Big Heat” screening. “Possessed” earned Joan Crawford her second Oscar nom (she won for 1945’s “Mildred Pierce”); co-starring are Van Heflin, Raymond Massey and Geraldine Brooks.

Other titles, screened from new 35 mm prints, include: “Shield for Murder” (1954), “I Love Trouble” (1948), “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” (1957) and “The Face Behind the Mask” (1941), starring Peter Lorre.

I’m also very much looking forward to The Sun Sets in the West: Mid-Century California Noir at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), from May 18-26.

Says LACMA: “Experience the dark side of modern living with this series of mid-century film noirs. Shot on location and set amid the bustle of major cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco – as well as their sun-soaked periphery, beach cities, and desert oases – these 10 films inject the Golden State’s benign climate with a heady dose of postwar angst.”

The titles in the series are: “Kiss Me Deadly” (1955, by director Robert Aldrich); “The Crimson Kimono” (1959, Sam Fuller) “Experiment in Terror (1962, Blake Edwards); “Criss Cross” (1949, Robert Siodmak); “M” (1951, Joseph Losey); “The Damned Don’t Cry” (1950, Vincent Sherman); “Slightly Scarlet” (1956, Allan Dwan); “Murder by Contract” (1958, Irving Lerner); “Nightfall” (1957, Jacques Tourneur) and “The Prowler” (1951, Joseph Losey).

The one and only Bogart

Additionally, UCLA’s Film & Television Archive and the Million Dollar Theater are presenting three interesting double bills in downtown Los Angeles:

Brian De Palma in the 1970s (“Sisters,” his first Hitchcockian thriller, and “Phantom of the Paradise”) on Wednesday, May 2.

“The hunted and the hunter” film-noir night, featuring “Mickey One” (1965, Arthur Penn) and “Blast of Silence (1961, Allen Baron) on Wednesday, May 16.

Nicholas Ray directs Humphrey Bogart in “Knock on Any Door” (1949) and “In a Lonely Place” (1950) on Wednesday, May 23.

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Stellar ‘Criss Cross’ tells a riveting story of cursed love

Criss Cross/1949/Universal Pictures/88 min.

What would film noir be without obsessive love? (Or “amour fou” as the French would say.) Just a bunch of caring and sharing among equal partners with no cause for discontent? How frightfully dull.

My favorite example is “Criss Cross” from 1949. Director Robert Siodmak helped define noir style and in this flick you can see what an unerring eye he had.

Anna (Yvonne De Carlo) and Steve (Burt Lancaster) find it impossible to say goodbye.

“Criss Cross” tells the story of a nice guy from a modest background who, try as he might, just cannot break ties with his sexy but venal ex-wife. They are one of noir’s most stunningly gorgeous couples.

Burt Lancaster as Steve Thompson takes your breath away with his arresting features and beautiful build. Equally captivating is exquisite Yvonne De Carlo (Lily Munster on the ’60s TV show, “The Munsters”) as Anna.

Lancaster and De Carlo were also paired in Jules Dassin’s prison film “Brute Force” from 1947. And in 1946, Siodmak helped catapult Lancaster and Ava Gardner to stardom in “The Killers,” another seminal film noir. Miklós Rózsa wrote original music for both Siodmak films.

Back to “Criss Cross.” Having returned to his native Los Angeles after more than a year of roaming around the country, working odd jobs, Steve’s convinced that he’s over Anna and can move on from their failed marriage.

He gets his old job back (as a driver for Horten’s, an armored car service) and reconnects with his family (a very unusual touch – most noir heroes are total loners). There’s Mom (Edna Holland), brother Slade (Richard Long) and his brother’s fiancée Helen (Meg Randall). They’re all anti-Anna, natch, and so is Steve’s childhood friend Det. Lt. Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally).

Anna likes the perks that her sugar daddy Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea) can provide.

It’s only a matter of time (and fate, of course) before Steve sees Anna again, only to learn she has a new love interest, an unctuous gangster and sugar daddy named Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea), whom she abruptly marries.

But Anna can’t quite tear herself away from Steve – he is Burt bloody Lancaster, after all. When Slim catches the pair together, Steve stays calm and says he’s figured out a way to pull a heist – an inside job at Horten’s – but he needs some help to carry it out. Things don’t go quite according to plan, however, and the caper turns into a smoke-filled shootout, which lands Steve in the hospital and launches Slim on the lam.

Noir master Daniel Fuchs adapted “Criss Cross” from a Don Tracy novel. While the script’s references to Steve’s imminent doom are a little over the top, the movie is still an excellent showcase for the talents of German-émigré Siodmak, an auteur largely underrated in postwar Hollywood, as well as for his cast and crew. “Criss Cross” is both a tense, lean crime thriller and a textured, haunting story about relationships and human nature.

Much as I like “The Killers,” I prefer “Criss Cross” and its probing into questions of fate, our inherent human capacity for perversity and self-destruction, our tendencies toward paranoia, greed and guilt, and our willingness to trust, trick and manipulate others and ourselves. Basically, everything we hate to think about and try to repress.

We see romantic relationships that run the gamut from sweet to steamy to sadistic, with Siodmak and Fuchs reminding us of the violence that can lurk just under a tranquil surface. It’s also interesting to speculate, upon repeat viewings, just how far back Steve might have been hatching his plan and to what extent it grew out of Slim’s wider and stickier web of deceit.

When Slim and his gang invade Steve’s place, Steve outlines his plan.

Beginning with a magnificent shot that lands us in the middle of the story, we witness a clandestine meeting, a few minutes in a parking lot, of lovers Steve and Anna.

Then, as Siodmak backtracks to fill us in on their story, it’s one ravishing chiaroscuro composition after another, often shot from high above and suggesting a sense of encroaching peril or shot low to create a feeling of dominance, danger and power. Entrapping shadows abound.

Siodmak and cinematographer Franz Planer were at the top of their game in “Criss Cross. “ It’s hard to beat the panoramic opening scene and the pieta-like closing shot. Another striking scene: when Steve sees Anna dancing the rhumba (with an uncredited Tony Curtis) as Esy Morales’ band gives it their all. I also love the alternating high and low shots as Anna and Steve discover that Slim and his gang have infiltrated Steve’s place, quiet as cats, save for the refrigerator that pounds shut as they help themselves to beers. “You know,” says Dan Duryea’s Slim, in a cool, silky voice, “it don’t look right. You can’t exactly say it looks right now can you?”

Was there anyone better in 1940s than Duryea as the cheap, sleazy, misogynistic gangster-type who never failed to be dressed to the nines in the flashiest and gaudiest of garb?

Steve and Anna hope to reunite after she extricates herself from Slim.

Additionally, it’s a testament to Lancaster’s power of expression – his graceful physicality, measured, calm voice and what seems to be an innate kindness and intelligence – that you continue to root for him knowing that every step he takes is the wrong one.

And you can see how De Carlo as Anna could sear a man’s heart. (De Carlo later starred as the quirky matriarch in TV’s “The Munsters,” 1964-66.) While some would write Anna off as a conniving shrew who causes Steve’s downfall, and it’s pretty hard to argue otherwise, she at least never plays too coy – she wants him, yes, but she wants money too and she’s entirely clear that she’ll get it with or without him. It’s his choice (as much as you have a choice in film noir) to execute a heist to get a bunch of cash. As for the heist, particularly the planning of, I think there is much here that influenced John Huston when he made “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950).

Also memorable in their performances are Percy Helton as the bartender, Alan Napier as Finchley, the stately, dignified crook consultant who works for liquor and Griff Barnett as Pop, the co-worker whom Steve betrays. “Criss Cross” also features Raymond Burr, uncredited, as a gangster.

Steven Soderbergh remade “Criss Cross” as “The Underneath” in 1995 and it’s a good film. But just as Lancaster’s Steve likens his love to getting a bit of apple stuck in his teeth, “Criss Cross” similarly lodges in your psyche. Like a lurking temptation, it’s hard to let go.

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‘Criss Cross’ quick hit

Criss Cross/1949/Universal Pictures/88 min.

Before she was Lily Munster of TV fame, Yvonne De Carlo was a ’40s hottie and the object of Burt Lancaster’s eternal lust in “Criss Cross,” director Robert Siodmak’s and writer Daniel Fuchs’ tale of love, obsession and betrayal. To win her love once and for all, Lancaster cooks up a daring heist with gangster Dan Duryea. What could go wrong? Only everything. Noir filmmaking at its finest.

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