Kansas City Confidential


Crime / Drama / Film-Noir / Thriller

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Certified Fresh 83%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Upright 76%
IMDb Rating 7.4 10 4508


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March 05, 2018 at 10:41 PM



Lee Van Cleef as Tony Romano
John Payne as Joe Rolfe
Jack Elam as Pete Harris
Neville Brand as Boyd Kane
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824.3 MB
23.976 fps
1hr 39 min
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1.57 GB
23.976 fps
1hr 39 min
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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by bmacv 8 / 10

The first Payne/Karlson collaboration: Everyman thrown to the wolves

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.

Reviewed by bkoganbing 10 / 10

"All right, so I'm flying blind, but I've got you as a bird dog."

Kansas City Confidential is one of my favorite noir films and films of John Payne. It's one you can watch over and over again and still be entertained.

John Payne is a ex-con who drives a florist truck and one of his usual stops is a delivery next door to a bank. Three masked robbers use the same kind of truck to pull off an armored car heist and Payne is suspected of complicity. It don't help he's an ex-con.

This robbery has been organized a fourth man and the beauty of his scheme is that the robbers all wear masks with him and with each other so that no one can rat anyone out. They're supposed to meet in a small Mexican fishing village for the split.

Payne is freed, but the Kansas City cops are still suspicious. He gets a lead on a possible participant and tracks him down to Mexico. And that's where the fun really starts.

The suspense in Kansas City Confidential is not about who did it. The three robbers are Neville Brand, Jack Elam, and Lee Van Cleef, three of the nastiest dudes in film history. The suspense lies whether Payne can put it all together. As he says to one of them, he's flying blind in this one. After all the men don't even know each other or Mr. Big. The viewer knows all, but I won't say more.

John Payne gives a riveting performance of a desperate man and one you don't leave holding the bag without consequences. This is one of the best noir films ever done, not to be missed.

Reviewed by theowinthrop 9 / 10

Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave....

If you examine any major film or novel or play defects pop up. If the work is worth watching or reading you won't mind them - and if you are considering directing or producing a version of the written work you will find a way to overcome the defect. Most film noir plots do have defects in them. Given how he has romanced his late partner's wife, and how he knows that some of the police (like Barton MacLaine) would like to ruin him, in real life Humphrey Bogart's Sam Spade would fully cooperate with the San Francisco police regarding Jerome Cowan's murder in THE MALTESE FALCON. Given the homicidal nature of Lawrence Tierney in BORN TO KILL, Walter Slezak would probably not try to blackmail him and Claire Trevor. In fact, he might find an excuse to drop Esther Howard as a client.

KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL is a taught and exciting film noir at the tail end of the period when such films were being made. Preston Foster is the former head of detectives for the Kansas City Police, who was forced to leave his post because of a change in city political structures that he did not prepare for. He is bitter about this forced retirement, and so he creates a scheme to commit a major armed robbery of a bank, using three low-lifes (Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, and Nevil Brand) as his bandits. But he arranges for them to wear masks when they all meet (he is wearing one too) so that none of them know each other or him. They are given half a playing card as a key of mutual recognition when they are to reunite for the splitting of the money (some six months after the robbery, in a resort in Mexico).

Now, in real life the three convicts would (of course) be dying to know who their partners and boss were. I can't believe they would not make some effort to find out (compare this to Humphrey Bogart's clever way of tracing down Edward G. Robinson's phone number in THE AMAZING DR. CLITTERHOUSE, to see what is more likely to occur). But as this film is going in a different direction, I am willing to suspend my disbelief and just accept that Elam, Van Cleef, and Brand - despite all being thoroughly dangerous and nasty customers - are willing to go along with this witless demand by Foster.

There have been comments made here (understandably) that Foster's attitude to John Payne, accidentally framed by the scheme as being the thief, are not consistent. Actually they are. Foster never intended for the three goons he used to split the money and get away with their shares. He was planning to spring a trap on them - as though he had solved the robbery himself - and so reclaim his job with the Kansas City police. Precisely how he would do this we never learn (presumably he would have somehow killed them before they could identify him by his voice). But his plot miscarries when he gets involved with Payne, seeking to clear himself. Suddenly, watching Payne's involvement (and realizing that Payne has been romancing his daughter (Colleen Gray) he is conscience-stricken. You see, framing Payne was never part of the scheme.

The scenes with Payne are among the best acting that performer ever made. John Payne, in the 1930s and 1940s, was mostly in comedies or in supporting parts, and in many musicals for 20th Century Fox. It was only in the aftermath of his best recalled role (the attorney for Edmund Gwenn in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET) that he began appearing in off-beat noir regular films or noir westerns. It turned out he was a fully capable performer in negative (or quasi-negative) roles. Here he has the misfortune to be fingered by his ex-convict past, and his chance appearance as the driver of a similar florist van to the one used in the robbery. He gets the third degree from the police, before they find out his alibi is checking out. But the newspapers have plastered his face and history all over the place, so he loses his job and can't get another. He is only able to hang on and locate his first clue with an assist from an old friend who understands what he is going through.

The performance of Foster is good given the odd situation he faces of having set up a scheme to go from a to b to c to d, and finding it is thrown off kilter by something he never intended. I like the performances of Jack Elam, who has a serious drug problem (in the days that drug addiction was rarely discussed in movies - but notice how many "cigarettes" he's smoking, and how he is shaking), and of Lee Van Cleef, as a totally amoral criminal. Elam's death scene (he is unarmed, but by force of habit lunges for a gun that Payne has on his own person, and is shot by the police) is surprisingly sympathetic as he is crying and laughing as he dies. Van Cleef, smart enough to figure out that Payne is not who says he is, is as ready to kill Payne as he might be ready to kill his temporary ally Nevil Brand. Actually, Brand's performance (compared to the others) is not developed. Maybe part was cut. Colleen Gray is wonderfully controlled and sexy as Foster's daughter and Payne's love interest.

For a "B" feature, it gets remarkable strength - comparable to the original THE NARROW MARGIN. I give it a "9" out of a possible "10".

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