Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Crime Thriller, Caper, Film Noir  |   Release Date - Nov 28, 1952 (USA - Unknown)  |   Run Time - 98 min.  |   Countries - United States   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Kansas City Confidential's B-movie roots are abundantly clear, but that doesn't keep it from being an effective little excursion into the world of film noir. Indeed, in some strange way, its cheapness adds to its effectiveness; its protagonist, after all, is a cheap ex-con who has to get by on his wits and his fists, in the same way that director Phil Karlson had to use his limited resources. And both the protagonist and Karlson are fully committed to getting what they aim for, even when they aren't 100 percent sure what it is. The screenplay has a great heist gimmick, a clever premise that sets everything in motion; but too soon, it starts stretching credibility, and a lot of the twists and doubling back seems to be there because the writers didn't know what else to do rather than because they were what the story specifically needed. Karlson doesn't care, though; if part of the plot is a little contrived, he just employs one of his trademark super close-ups to invest it with supposed meaning. If a confrontation lacks a little sense, he frames those involved in such a way as to emphasize the power struggle and force some sense into the scene. Karlson's cast helps, with great bad guy turns from the likes of Preston S. Foster and Lee Van Cleef and a terribly appealing good girl job from the stunning Coleen Gray. John Payne, in the lead, is the question mark, as he tends toward the bland; but his work here is solid, and the very fact that he has no established screen persona keeps us guessing about what he's up to and whether he'll succeed. Kansas City Confidential's flaws keep it from being a classic, but it's a lot of fun.