Cast & Crew
In 1935, French diplomat David Talbot's happiness over his recent marriage to the beautiful Lucienne and his impending appointment as ambassador to Brazil, is dampened when he receives a strange, unsigned letter. Addressed to "Jean," the letter asks for one million francs to satisfy an old debt. David later leaves a package at the suggested drop-off point, but when the man who sent the letter, Carlos Le Duc, retrieves it, he is immediately arrested. At his trial for extortion, Le Duc testifies that the letter was merely an honest request for repayment and claims that he knew David from 1919 to 1922, when David was known as Jean Pelletier, a notorious criminal. The case becomes a news sensation, and the next day it is revealed by David's friend, Dr. Andre Tessier, that David had been in a train wreck in 1922 and suffers from amnesia. Tessier's theory of amnesia is challenged by Dr. Alex Dubroc, then a mystery witness, singer Michele Allaine, corroborates Le Duc's story and identifies David as Pelletier. Just then, wine salesman Henri Sarrou presents himself to the court and says that he knew Pelletier, who died years before. Some time after De Luc's conviction, Sarrou comes to see David and demands one million francs. Sarrou says that he and Pelletier had been cohorts in a two million franc robbery, in which Pelletier killed a man, then disapppeared with the money. David orders him out, but before leaving, Sarrou says that Pelletier suffered a powder burn on his hand when he committed the murder. David sees a scar on his left hand and begins to suspect that he is Pelletier. The next day, Michele comes to see David at his office and, talking to him as if he were Pelletier, begs for forgiveness and warns him about Sarrou. As she leaves, she shows David a locket with a picture of the two of them together. Later, Michele comes to see David and Lucienne at their home and tries to show Lucienne the locket, but David intervenes and tells his worried wife that Michele had merely come to apologize for her "mistake" at the trial. Soon David receives a 1922 newspaper headline reporting the robbery of which Sarrou spoke. David then goes to see Michele and confronts her, saying that he does not believe Sarrou's story, but she angrily suggests that he go to a certain address and see Pelletier's impoverished mother. David goes to the old woman, who says he is not her son, but her affectionate demeanour deeply moves David, who now ponders the fact that he could have been a thief and murderer in his former life. The next day, Lucienne visits Tessier and voices her concern for David, but says that if David were Pelletier, she would still love him. Suspecting that Sarrou is a blackmailer, she considers using her own jewels and money to buy him off. The next day, Sarrou shows up at David's club, and reveals that Tessier came to see him. Sarrou then demands his money and says that David must bring it that night or the police will be contacted. David goes to Tessier, who reassures him that who he is now is only thing that matters. After wandering the streets, David goes into a travel agency and buys a single ticket to Saigon. That evening, David sends Lucienne alone to a party at the home of his superior, Deval, saying that he has to help a colleague. After she leaves, David gets a call from Sarrou, who knows about the Saigon ticket, and threatens him. Meanwhile, at Michele's place, it is revealed that "Mme. Pelletier" is really De Luc's wife and a former actress. She leaves before the arrival of David, who protests to Sarrou that he does not have one million francs. Then, after David says that it is difficult for him to handle large sums of money at the office, but not be able to use it, Sarrou suggests that they get the money from the office safe and make it look like a robbery. Meanwhile, at Deval's, Lucienne sees the colleague with whom David was supposed to be working and realizes that he has lied. She leaves, and noticing David and Sarrou on the street, follows them to the office. After David tampers with the buildings lights, Sarrou is able to sneak past the guard and takes the money when David opens the safe. Lucienne then arrives and begs David not to go through with the plan, but Sarrou threatens them and suggests that she help him tie David up to make the robbery appear more realistic. Just then, the police arrive and arrest them. At police headquarters, David admits that he is Pelletier and, when Michele is brought in, he begs her and Sarrou to join him in confessing their past crimes. Now faced with being charged as an accomplice to murder, Michele confesses that the real Pelletier died in the train wreck and that she and Sarrou had waited for years to blackmail David, knowing of his amnesia. David then reveals to Lucienne that he finally deduced that the story was a lie when he studied the picture in the locket and realized that it showed his hair as he combed it after the train wreck, parted to cover up a scar. When Deval, who, like the police, was in on David's ruse, reveals that David has just gotten his ambassadorship, David and Lucienne happily embrace.
H. B. Warner
Guy Bates Post
Jean Del Val
John St. Polis
Christian J. Frank
Anna Q. Nilsson
Jo Jo Lasavio
John S. Detlie
Howard Emmett Rogers
Edwin B. Willis
Ambiguity kicks in as soon as Crossroads starts. Rising young diplomat David Talbot, played by William Powell with his usual unflappable charm, walks out of a posh Paris soirée, slides into a car already occupied by a beautiful woman, and joins her in a volley of slyly salacious banter. Not to worry, though, lovely Lucienne turns out to be none other than Mrs. Talbot, his mischievous and adoring spouse, played by Hedy Lamarr with excellent comic-dramatic timing. They've been married a mere three months, and David is on a fast track to the French ambassadorship in Brazil, as long as no unexpected obstacles arise. So imagine their chagrin when an anonymous message comes to them, demanding a million francs in return for keeping David's criminal past a secret from the authorities. This comes as quite a surprise to David, who insists with complete sincerity, it seems that he has no criminal past. But one thing leads to another, and David lands in court, charged with participating in a robbery and murder thirteen years earlier. The best witness on his behalf is his friend Dr. Tessier, a slightly nutty psychiatrist who testifies that a head injury gave David permanent amnesia right around that time, leaving him unable to remember anything that had happened to him before. The prosecution comes on strong, however, asserting that before his disappearance thirteen years ago David Talbot was in reality Jean Pelletier, an all-around crook and scoundrel and this could be true, despite David's honest denials, since he doesn't know what he may have done before suffering his fateful injury. It appears that all is lost, until one Henri Sarrou arrives at the courthouse, swearing that the crimes were committed by a completely different man who then died in Henri's presence some time later.
Whew! David is vindicated, the false witnesses are routed, the blackmail scheme is sunk. But the movie has a long way to go, so another shoe is bound to drop. Sure enough, Henri shows up at David's house and completely changes his tune. (We should have guessed, since Henri is played by Basil Rathbone, who made even Sherlock Holmes seem sinister at times.) Henri now says his trial testimony was false, David is indeed Jean Pelletier, and the million francs Henri's half of a two-million-franc theft the two of them pulled off must immediately be paid, or else. What's more, Henri and another trial witness named Michelle Allaine have evidence to prove all this: They know that David has a powder burn from a gunshot on his hand, and Michelle has a locket containing a photo of her and David, or rather Jean, in a compromising pose. She also has the address of his lonely old mother, Madame Pelletier, who's been moldering away in poverty and solitude. David pays the old woman a visit, and yes, she is definitely moldering away. By this time David or is it Jean? is at a loss to explain all this away, and so are we. Franz Kafka would have felt right at home with this situation, which is frequently bizarre and sometimes almost nightmarish. That's what makes the story so intriguing, and it stays that way when the truth finally comes clear in a series of last-minute switcheroos, some of which are actually plausible.
Powell is perfect as David and/or Jean, expressing the character's perplexity without sacrificing any of the understated dignity that was his trademark in the lighter roles he was famous for in this phase of his career. Lamarr also earned high marks from critics for her breezy yet earnest portrayal of the diplomat's resourceful wife, and the praise must have been welcome, since according to Powell expert Lawrence J. Quirk, she was at that time "a notoriously weak actress hampered by an Austrian accent," who despite her "reserved, rather wooden" presence became "animated and sparkling" when Powell's poise and fluency rubbed off on her. Be that as it may, Lamarr doesn't seem to have relished Crossroads; in her autobiography she has little to say about it, noting only that "the story was not very strong, though some Basil Rathbone courtroom scenes came off well." Still, she didn't mind teaming with Powell again in The Heavenly Body (1944) the following year.
Claire Trevor makes the most of her supporting role as the mysterious Michelle, and sings "`Til You Return" in a nightclub as a bonus. MGM reportedly offered this part to Marlene Dietrich, who fumed at the idea of playing second banana to Lamarr, growling, "I share my glamour with nobody!" Also in the supporting cast are Felix Bressart as the helpful psychiatrist, Sig Ruman as a less helpful one, Margaret Wycherly as the moldering mom, and some people who, like Powell, started in silent films: Anna Q. Nilsson, Fritz Leiber, and Gibson Gowland in bit parts, plus H.B. Warner in the small but important role of the prosecutor.
John Kafka, an active follower of Sigmund Freud's theories, first used the aristocratic-amnesiac story idea in a novel that was adapted into the French melodrama Carrefour in 1938; it has been seen as an ancestor of The Return of Martin Guerre, a French production with Gérard Depardieu released in 1982, and Sommersby, the French-American remake of Martin Guerre with Richard Gere and Jodie Foster, made in 1993. Crossroads is an overlooked but absorbing treatment of related issues, not always believable but directed and acted with unfailing panache.
Producer: Edwin Knopf
Director: Jack Conway
Screenplay: Guy Trosper
Based on the story by John Kafka and Howard Emmett Rogers Cinematographer: Joseph Ruttenberg
Film Editing: George Boemler
Art Direction: Cedric Gibbons
Music: Bronislau Kaper
With: William Powell (David Talbot and/or Jean Pelletier), Hedy Lamarr (Lucienne Talbot), Claire Trevor (Michelle Allaine), Basil Rathbone (Henri Sarrou), Margaret Wycherly (Madame Pelletier), Felix Bressart (Dr. André Tessier), Sig Ruman (Dr. Alex Dubroc), H.B. Warner (prosecuting attorney), Philip Merivale (commissaire).
by David Sterritt
Working titles of the film were The Man Who Lost His Way, 'Til You Return and The Man from Martinique. Although Ralph Winters was announced as the film's editor in a February 25, 1942 Hollywood Reporter news item, he is not mentioned in any other source. Crossroads was based on the screenplay for a 1938 French film, Carrefour, directed by Curtis Bernhardt and written by John Kafka, who is given an original story credit on the M-G-M film. As Kafka wrote a number of Hollywood films during the 1940s, some of which were produced at M-G-M, it is unclear whether he contributed directly to Crossroads or was credited solely for his work on Carrefour. The French picture was also the basis for the 1939 British film Dead Man's Shoes, directed by Thomas Bentley and starring Leslie Banks. Crossroads was adapted for a Lux Radio Theatre broadcast on March 29, 1943, starring Jean Pierre Aumont and Lana Turner. Crossroads was the first of two films to co-star Hedy Lamarr and William Powell. The second was the 1943 film The Heavenly Body (see below).