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Kansas City Confidential
IMDB Rating: 7.4/10 from votes
Release: 11 November 1952 (USA) /

Kansas City Confidential

Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir, Thriller
Director: George Bruce,
Stars: , , , , , , , , , , ,
Synopsis: A down-on-his-luck ex-GI finds himself framed for an armored car robbery. When he's finally released for lack of evidence--after having been beaten up and tortured by the police--he sets out to discover who set him up, and why. The trail leads him into Mexico and a web of hired killers and corrupt cops. Written by [email protected]

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Critic Reviews


Driving a truckful of posies for a florist seems about as safe an occupation an ex-con could hope for. But for John Payne in Phil Karlson's Kansas City Confidential, it gets him framed for a million-two robbery. His trouble is that you can set a clock by his punctual rounds, and that one of his deliveries coincides with the arrival of the armored car at the bank next door. His comings and goings have been meticulously stop-watched by the mastermind of the heist (Preston Foster), a disgruntled policeman forced into retirement who seeks his weird sort of revenge.

Foster's plan assembles a gang who wear masks during the plotting so they can't recognize one another, or him. Payne's just the innocent fall guy who's thrown to the cops. Those cops try to beat a confession out of him, but it won't stick. He nonetheless loses his job and ends up on the front pages as the prime suspect. So he goes on the earie and follows the robbers (Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef and Neville Brand) down to Mexico, where they're to meet with `Mr. Big' again and divvy up the take.

The spanner in the works proves to be Foster's daughter (Coleen Gray), striking sparks with Payne as he poses as one of the conspirators killed in Tijuana en route to the rendezvous. Gray's an aspiring lawyer in ignorance of daddy's scheme – which is to turn over the robbers, thus rehabilitating himself with the force, and to collect the insurers' reward of $300-large.

Those south-of-the-border resort bungalows, during the noir cycle at any rate, were hotbeds of passion and gunplay. Karlson gives us a little of the former (not his long suit) but plenty of the latter. Over cardgames in the lobby and chance meetings amid the subtropical foliage at night, the unknown players try to sniff one another out and gain whatever edge they can. Their final gathering, aboard a boat called the Manana, shakes out as a crashing intersection of cross-purposes.

Like Dick Powell, Payne started off as a crooner and hoofer, a light leading man (his best remembered role is as Maureen O'Hara's fiancé in Miracle on 34th Street). But in three films under Phil Karlson's direction (plus Robert Florey's in The Crooked Way and Allan Dwan's in Slightly Scarlet), he ended up one of the most convincing ordinary-guy protagonists in the noir cycle. He's tough, all right, but still shows the flop-sweat of fear; and he's smart, too, but because he's forced to be – what he's trying to hang onto is all he's got.

Off-screen, he was even smarter, seeing the potential revenue in color films (like Hell's Island and Slightly Scarlet) when selling to television was at most a pipe dream. But as an actor in the ambiguous world of film noir, he's seldom given the credit he deserves. He's every bit as good as Powell or Glenn Ford, if not quite so emblematic as Humphrey Bogart or Robert Mitchum or Burt Lancaster. Karlson's brutal, accomplished works late in the noir cycle gave Payne his place in the dark sun.

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