Kansas City Confidential (1952):

Deliveryman John Payne does his daily flower haul to the Kansas City bank, and Preston Foster adds him as patsy from across the street, one of the last tabulations to his perfect-crime equation. The goal is one cool mil right out of the armored car, with the rest of the gang picked out of the Grotty Loser Gallery, Phil Karlson's camera emphasizing Jack Elam's stubble and jitters, Lee Van Cleef's dandy beak and bowtie, shades pinned to Neville Brand's slablike visage -- an agile director penciling in details to every sketch. The job, pulled off with Eyes Without a Face masks for maximum "fool proof and stool-pigeon proof," glides like clockwork, and Payne is arrested; beating sessions follow, until his alibi checks out and he's released with a glib apology. "Thanks for nothin'," so it's payback time for Payne, tracking down the guys responsible for the railroading. A tip from a greasy pal directs him to Elam, hiding out in Tijuana; then it's over to the touristic bungalows to take his place at the gang's poker-game rendezvous where Foster, incognito in vacationing khakis and pipe, waits to deal his hand. A Huston noir, virtually, though Karlson channels not so much The Asphalt Jungle as Treasure of the Sierra Madre, that movie's crammed close-up technique expediently clarified and limbered up here, battered facial details writ vividly large and sent out towards Raging Bull. Coleen Gray, Foster's fresh-faced lawyer daughter, is brought in to dilute the cynicism, but romance cannot dispel Karlson's study in grim middle-aged bitterness, with ex-soldier Payne (given Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts, but you "try to buy a cup of coffee with them") and ex-cop Foster (pressed into a "forced retirement" after years in the police force) locating common ground as bullish forgotten men washing their hands of the system. With Dona Drake. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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