Crossroads (1942) with William Powell and Hedy Lamarr

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Where women wait to seal your fate!

One of the great treats of the studio system is not only the breadth in terms of sheer volume of product but also the depth of talent which even today reveals little lost treasures. Such is the case for 1942’s Crossroads. Although at the time a purely formulaic MGM drama – or perhaps even a light thriller, today it must surely play better than when released.

Although featuring William Powell as a rising French diplomat (David Talbot) and Hedy Lamarr as his doting wife (Lucienne Talbot), for my money the film is stolen by Basil Rathbone in his role as Henri Sarrou. Clair Trevor joins as Sarrou’s accomplice Michelle Allaine. Accomplice?  What’s the deal De Welles?

Well, Mr. Talbot was in a fairly severe train accident some time prior to the film, the most significant impact of which is that he has no memory of any events prior to the accident. Sarrou and Allaine are unreformed thieves who, after a big take, lost their third gang member, one Jean Pelletier, in the same train accident which caused Talbot’s amnesia.

Sadly, from the perspective of Sarrou and Allaine, Pelletier died still owing them their share of the take, roughly 1M francs. Over time Sarrou and Allaine reengage with Talbot, placing doubt in his mind that he in fact, may be Pelletier. In turn they begin blackmailing him for the missing 1M francs.

Through a curious set of circumstances and a photograph in a locket Talbot slowly begins to believe that he is, in fact, the robber (and murderer, in fact) Pelletier. After first opting to leave the country, Talbot/Pelletier decides instead to give the $1M franc (courtesy of the French government) in order to stay with his wife. As usual, we have a few other twists which I won’t share.

William Powell and Hedy Lamarr in CrossroadsTruly not a classically great film, but much better than you may first think. Powell is quite good and Lamarr is easy on the eyes and not bad as Talbot’s dutiful wife, even if she is a bit slow on the uptake. Basil Rathbone is wonderfully deceitful and it is nice to see him as the evil ringleader as opposed to, at least for this time period, the all-knowing Sherlock Holmes.

And, although Hedy Lamarr has been historically been classified as a beauty with little personality that actually works to her advantage here, surprisingly so. For much of the film she is simply the trophy wife but she does come up for air via several unique plot points which do keep the story, such as it is, moving.

And as an aside Lamarr, who died in Orlando in 2000, was an inventor as well. Per her Wikipedia page “This early version [WW2 era] of frequency hopping used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam. The idea was not implemented in the USA until 1962, when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba after the patent had expired. Perhaps owing to this lag in development, the patent was little-known until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr an award for this contribution. Lamarr’s and [co-inventor] Antheil’s frequency-hopping idea serves as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology, such as COFDM used in Wi-Fi network connections and CDMA used in some cordless and wireless telephones.” Strange world indeed.

But back to Crossroads.

As a viewer you have to buy in to what at best is a ludicrous plot which is chock full of holes and implausibility. And there isn’t much time for any great development with a brief 84 minute run time. The cast and to a lesser extent director Jack Conway perform admirably and make this a tight and enjoyable experience. Although an unheralded product of the studio system it’s a much better film that you’d expect.

Also worthy of mention is the score by Bronislau Kaper, which is sweeping in surging in all the right spots, increasing the tension and anticipation throughout. Kaper is a composer most don’t follow closely, and most who do not much more than Mutiny on the Bounty, (the lagging Brando version) to their loss.
Crossroads on rare occasion does appear on TCM and is currently no available on Netflix either, BUT you can get from Warner Archives either directly or through amazon at the link provided.

Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

1 comment… add one

  • Grand Old Movies August 20, 2011, 10:24 pm

    Haven’t seen this one but this film, by my count, is the *2nd* time in which William Powell played am amnesiac – was there a pattern going on here? The 1st time was in the 1940 MGM comedy I LOVE YOU AGAIN, w/Myrna Loy, and he actually WAS a conman and thief before a bump on the head made him forget who he was and start a new life; and he also meets up w/members of his old gang. Many of the Hollywood studios were known for recycling their plots, so maybe that’s what MGM was doing, partially, here. Enjoyed your post!

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