Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Kansas City Confidential (1952) Phil Karlson

A mastermind (Preston Foster) plans and executes a successful bank heist. An ex-con (John Payne) is framed and he takes umbrage. Since he’s fired from his job, he now has nothing but time to solve the crime. The opening, scrolling credits promise the perfect crime, and we are immediately hooked.

The heist scene is awkward as the armored truck cops come out of the bank with guns drawn but yet are stiffly taken unawares when three masked men jump them from a truck pulled up next to their truck.

We know the culprits from the beginning and the movie involves watching the star pigeon, John Payne, unravel the story. Most people will remember him from “Miracle on 34th Street” but Payne had so much more to offer, as you can see here and in 99 River Street

Payne is physically abused for two days in jail by the police looking for a confession but he gets released due to additional evidence (and the lack of Miranda rights).

We are introduced to three criminals, one at a time, whose names and faces are forever etched in bad-guy film history: Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, and Neville Brand. Each of them is under the threat of a life or death sentence and their menacing faces and actions permeate the movie, to great effect. And the mastermind knows just how to handle them.
“I’m giving you one chance to get out from under. Three hundred grand and a clean get-away, out of the country.” How could a bad guy on the lam resist?

“It makes you cop-proof and stool-pigeon proof, and it’s gonna stay that way!” (on wearing masks, and perhaps inspiring Ben Affleck’s “The Town.”)
Payne also encounters the evil ones one at a time as he attempts to sort out the event that sent his life down the tube. “OK, so I’m moving blind but I’ve got you as a bird dog!” 

There’s a lot of heavy slapping, sweating, close-ups, and double-crossing, and 300 grand is always the number: the cut, and the reward.
The dialogue is standard, and wonderfully, film noir:
“You’ve been giving me the fisheye all night.”

“If I can spot you back of those trick cheaters, so can the cops.”

“I know a sure cure for a nose bleed; a cold knife in the middle of the back!”

The film opens in Kansas City but the bulk of it takes place in Mexico with the requisite Tomaso and Teresa. Everything changes when the mastermind’s innocent daughter (and law student) shows up in Mexico and takes a hankering to the patsy.

(Coleen Gray plays the daughter, and although you may not recognize her name, Gray has more than 100 movie and TV credits to her name and is still alive today as of this posting.)
So what’s a father/mastermind to do?  Watch and find out.