Famous Couples of Noir: Anna and Steve in Criss Cross (1949)
When I’m asked about my favorite films noirs, Criss Cross is always included in the list. One of the highlights is the relationship between two of the film’s central characters – Anna and Steve, played by Yvonne DeCarlo and Burt Lancaster. Theirs is a classic noir coupling – a basically good guy falls for the wrong woman . . . and things will never be the same.
When we first see Anna and Steve, they are sharing a furtive kiss in a parking lot. Looking deep into Steve’s eyes, Anna assures him, “All those things that happened to us – everything that went before – we’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 have been from the start.”
At first, we don’t understand the meaning behind Anna’s declaration, but in a lengthy flashback, we learn that Steve and Anna had been married for less than a year, and after they broke up, Steve left town in an effort to get her “out of [his] system.” After eight months of working odd jobs all over the country, Steve returned to his home in L.A., convinced that he had succeeded in his efforts. It doesn’t take long for us to see that he hasn’t, despite his constant attempts to assure himself that he has.
When he first arrives in L.A., he goes to his mother’s house, recalling that he “didn’t come back on account of her. It had nothing to do with her. I wasn’t going to go looking for her. I didn’t particularly want to see her. I was as sure of that if I was sure of anything.” Methinks Steve protested a bit too much. Sure enough, when he finds no one at home, he soon wanders over to his old hangout with Anna, the Round-Up. When he runs into his old friend, police detective Pete Ramirez (Stephen McNally) there, Steve denies that he came back to town because of Anna. And later, at home, he assures his family that he returned home only to care for his mother. Even when his soon-to-be sister-in-law notices that his gaze keeps returning to the telephone, Steve denies that he wants to make a call. But he can’t stop thinking of Anna: “A man eats an apple. He gets a piece of the core stuck between his teeth. He tries to work it out with some cellophane off a cigarette pack. The cellophane gets stuck in there, too. Anna. What was the use? I knew one way or the other I’d wind up seeing her that night.”
He was right. Steve returns to the Round-Up, where he sees Anna dancing on the crowded dance floor (with a young Tony Curtis, no less) and can’t take his eyes off of her. When the dance is over, Anna spots him and Steve turns to leave, but all Anna has to do is call his name, and he doesn’t hesitate to turn back. It’s a sign of things to come. Although their marriage had been a rocky one, the two are soon dating again, despite warnings from both Pete Ramirez and Steve’s mother, who tells him, “I understand. A girl puts on a piece of silk and the next thing that happens, a young fella like you is sure he knows exactly what he’s doing . . . you had trouble with her once, didn’t you?” (Steve obviously doesn’t subscribe to the adage that mother knows best.)
The warnings are borne out one night when Steve shows up at the Round-Up for a date with Anna, only to find out that she won’t be meeting him after all – she has married local gangster Slim Dundee (Dan Duryea, in another of his great performances). Months go by without Steve spotting a sign of Anna, but a chance meeting throws the couple together again – Steve is initially bitter and contemptuous, calling Anna a “cheap, no-good tramp,” but as always, it doesn’t take long for him to change his mind. Anna tells him that she got married after Pete Ramirez visited her and said he’d arrest her if she didn’t stay away from Steve: “He said he’d frame me – send me up to the women’s prison at Tehachapi. He wanted me up there with the rest of them – my hair cut short, wearing striped cotton. Digging potatoes and working in the factories.” Anna’s anger soon turns to despair – she confesses that she is afraid of Slim and shows Steve the bruises on her back administered by her husband. It’s all Steve needs to hear, but when Steve proposes that they run away together, Anna doesn’t exactly jump at the chance – always the practical gal, she responds: “Where? How? Where can we go? Don’t you understand? We haven’t got a cent.”
Through a series of events, Steve suggests to Slim that they team up to rob the armored car company where Steve works. But Steve’s real motivation, as with all of his actions, is Anna – he plans to double-cross Slim and run off with the money, and Anna. In typical noir fashion, the best-laid plans don’t quite pan out, and in the end, knowing that Slim is hot on their trail, Anna reveals that she is leaving Steve and taking the cash with her. “What do you want me to do – throw away all this money? You always have to do what’s best for yourself. That’s the trouble with you – it always was. You just don’t know what kind of a world it is.” Didn’t I say she was practical?
Unfortunately for Anna, Slim arrives on the scene before she can make her getaway: “You always wanted her, didn’t you, Thompson?” Slim asks. “You really loved her. You know, I did, too? But you won out, Thompson. You’ve got her. She’s all yours now. Hold her. Hold her tight.” Just before Slim riddles them both with bullets, Anna and Steve utter their last words.
Steve’s last word is “Anna.”
Anna’s last word is “Steve.”