Saturday, April 14, 2018

Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Mr. Big carefully plans a bank heist, recruiting three desperate criminals (Jack Elam, Neville Brand, and Lee Van Cleef) to do the heavy lifting. They all wear masks so that no one can rat out the others. They each carry a torn King playing card as identification. Things go well except that an ex-con (John Payne) takes the fall and his life is in tatters. He goes looking for the men who set him up.

Film-Noir of the 50’s was much grittier than the more stylistic films of the 40’s. Here no femme fatal, no European director, and no Bogart-esque dialog. Not as much, anyhow. Jack Elam is the crazy-eyed character actor from so many westerns. Here as a young man he was quirky and amusing. Lee Van Cleef is best remembered as the Bad, with his buddies Good and Ugly. Still have to see that film. Our hunky hero Payne was the romantic lead in Miracle on 34th Street. He eked out a better than fair career with such roles.

With the exception of the heist and immediate aftermath, very little of the film is set in Kansas City. In fact with the exception of the opening establishing shot of the city (likely taken from stock footage) not a single frame was shot there.

Clearly not a high budget production. In one scene our hero is walking near some fake shrubbery when it moves before he reaches it. I backed up the film and rewatched and realized that the camera man must have brushed by them. This happened a second time later in the film. The filmmakers failed to renew the copyright and it lapsed into the public domain. Lucky for me because my DVR choked for three minutes and I missed a critical scene. I paused, jumped into YouTube, and watched the section before continuing. Ah, technology.

Maybe not very high on my favorites for Noir but Kansas City Confidential is still quite enjoyable. The end provided a nice twist and it will withstand rewatching. AMRU 3.5.
“It don't take no big thinking to figure a couple of guys like us ain't in this bananaville on a vacation!”