Thursday 4 November 2021

Noir-vember: Kansas City Confidential (1952)

An enjoyable film noir that ensures that every main sequence has at least one or two memorable characters, and maintains an enjoyably wild moral compass needle being spun around.

A group of criminals are gathered together by someone who thinks he has planned a perfect crime. Nobody will know one another, masks are worn at all times whenever the crooks are in the presence of the boss, and they will just meet up some time after the robbery, using a ripped playing card to confirm their right to a share of the spoils. Unfortunately, an ex-con named Joe Rolfe (John Payne) is arrested as a prime suspect for the robbery. Once he eventually regains his freedom, Joe begins his own investigation. If he was, deliberately or otherwise, framed for the crime then he reckons that he should get a share of the money.

Directed by Phil Karlson, a man with a varied and enjoyable filmography (although he gave us the disappointing Willard sequel, Ben), Kansas City Confidential starts off feeling as if it will be a very grounded and believable tale. That carries throughout most of the first half of the movie, only starting to lean more into standard movie moments once Joe gets himself closer to the possible payout. The script is written by George Bruce and Harry Essex, with ideas and input from a number of others, and has the usual tough talk that you’d expect from this kind of thing. The weakest element is a clumsy romantic sub-plot that feeds into the finale, but nothing here is bad enough to really spoil the viewing experience.

Payne is a decent lead, going through the motions of a tough crook looking to get a payday while also benefiting from a lot of ambiguity about his real motive. Preston Foster is very good as the gang leader, someone with a plan that seems too good to be true, and he’s believably cunning and cool in his role. Coleen Gray may be a rather bland potential love interest, let down by the script that needs to have her in place without fully involving her in the main story strand, but more fun is had with the memorable faces of some of the other supporting players, namely Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam, although Neville Brand also does well as a standard threatening heavy.

With it being a crime flick that focuses on the perpetrators gathering together some time after the crime, trying to be patient and trust one another, the influence on certain other films and film-makers is clear to see, but Kansas City Confidential is an unpretentious and low-key little film noir that remains very easy to enjoy. Overshadowed by so many other titles, it is nevertheless one that is well worth your time.


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