Noir-vember Day 22: Kansas City Confidential (1952) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
21Nov/100

Noir-vember Day 22: Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Danny LIKEKansas City Confidential is a smart film that unfolds delicately and neatly. Being a detective story is always fun, but being a detective story with layers upon layers of complications and implications, moreso.

It begins with a steely eyed man making careful note of when the armored truck makes its pickup at the local bank. He's then quick to assemble a team of lowlifes, but wears a disguise as he confronts each one individually. Pete is a holed up gambler fretting after a job gone awry, Tony is a ladies man looking for a quick score, and an angry punk named Kane rounds out the bunch. All of them are told to wear masks to the robbery-- if none of them know each other's identities, no one can rat the other out.

The shadows are rather sinister here.

It sounds like the perfect plan (in fact, a text prologue asserts that it actually is), but things go wrong when a man driving an identical delivery van as the getaway car is fingered by the cops. His name is Joe, and he'd just finished serving a year behind bars for gambling; the police don't buy the story that he's reformed.

I should take a minute to note that the cops in this film are assholes. They get him fired, lock him up for weeks, and generally wreck his life. This is compounded by the fact that we soon find out the man behind the robbery plot, Tim Foster, was a cop who got forced out his long time career because of political squabbles.

If he was a cop, did he rob the bank to revenge himself on the police? Nothing so mundane, man. His plan is to double cross the robbers, turn them in, get the reward, and get reinstated into the police force. Now that is a pretty sweet windfall.

But things don't go so easy, as Joe tracks down one of the robbers and takes his place. Now Joe fumbles through the pre-arranged meeting in Mexico with the other two crooks (the movie wisely got out of Kansas City as soon as it could), and Tom, knowing that Joe doesn't belong, has to be careful not to reveal himself or his plan while watching this strange newcomer enter the equation. Each man has a delicate balancing act that will end at dawn with gunshots and $150,000 in someone's grubby paws.

Poor Joe is just having a bad week.

Usually this is the point where I try and point out the flaws of the film. It will remain respectfully open if one occurs to me.

Kansas City Confidential knows how to create tension and to keep its hooks in. The plot oscillates wildly but is manned to the hilt by old pros; actors like Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam, John Payne, and Coleen Gray inhabit this film and give it an energy that is palpable. I can dutifully say I've seen some pretty dull films wrapped in the noir banner this month, but this ain't one of 'em.

Posted by Danny

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