Friday, December 03, 2004

DVD: Criss Cross (1949)

The rest of the Universal noir collection. Armored car driver Burt Lancaster still has it bad for ex-wife Yvonne DeCarlo, now shacked up with local crime boss Dan Duryea. He’s hooked so bad that he hatches a robbery scheme just so he can stay close to her.

The casting doesn’t completely work. It’s tough to buy the ultra-virile Lancaster as this big of a chump, and DeCarlo has a brittle sexuality. But they compensate by pitching their performances at a near-delirious level, matched by Robert Siodmak’s swooning direction. And you have Duryea in what may be his definitive performance ... although now I can’t remember if he slaps any women, which was his trademark. Gimme a break. I’ve got a cold.

Steven Soderbergh remade this as UNDERNEATH (1995), which I’m pretty much alone in liking. It’s a slight but engaging film that I’ll bet Soderbergh did just so he could recreate the original’s best scene. The driver, played in the new version by Peter Gallagher, comes to in a hospital bed after the robbery has gone awry. Another man is in the hallway, waiting for an update on his injured wife. Or is he? Terrific stuff – in both movies.

DVD: The Big Clock (1948)

I’m not sure how noir this adaptation of Kenneth Fearing’s novel is, but there’s no doubt about its entertainment value. Big shot publisher Charles Laughton murders his mistress in a jealous rage and seeks to pin the crime on her mysterious visitor. He puts ace reporter Ray Milland on the case – not knowing that Milland was said visitor.

Jonathan Latimer’s mile-a-minute script tosses you headlong into the action. At first the caustic dialogue moves almost too quickly, but once the plot kicks in the film can’t be stopped. The last forty minutes in particular are a marvel of construction. Laughton is priceless, as is his wife Elsa Lanchester in a small part as a bohemian artist caught up in the manhunt.

Fearing’s novel was revisited forty years later as NO WAY OUT. I haven’t seen the movie in ages, but I remember being impressed by it. Especially by Will Patton, deftly taking over the toady role from GILDA’s George Macready.