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Kansas City Confidential (1952): A Movie Review

Updated on September 9, 2019
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The first step is to know what you do not know. The second step is to ask the right questions. I reserve the right to lean on my ignorance.

Source

Once again I seem to be having trouble finding appropriately formatted pictures.

Oh well...

We're looking at the 1952 film noir, Kansas City Confidential.

Here's the story:

A man plans a bank robbery. More specifically, he plans to rob the armored car transport, thus intercepting the appropriate movement of the bank's funds.

He recruits three hardened criminals, all men who face hard, long time if they get another conviction. The man (let's call him mastermind from now on) meets each felon wearing a mask.

Mastermind makes his pitch and explains that each man is to wear a mask during the entirety of the operation; they are even required to wear their masks when they meet at the hide out to split take, which is to be well over one million dollars.

Now, a man making deliveries for a floral shop is inadvertently framed for the heist job. I want to stress that: a man is inadvertently framed for the holdup. Let this be the first red flag.

Why?

Because as I was watching this, I saw a platoon of cops swarm this floral delivery driver and I said to myself: Where on Earth is this coming from? It feels like we, the viewing audience, were simply hoodwinked here.

In other words, we are asked to accept that what we are watching is happening just because the movie's plot says it is happening. What I'm saying is that this part of the story was crammed and shoehorned in: square peg steam shoveled into a round hole, which is two sizes two small to boot.

Anyway...

Anyway, the cops arrest the floral delivery driver (let's call him Mr. Indignant from now on) and the "sweat him," if I have the vernacular of the time right.

They ask him this, they ask him that. Blah, blah, blah...

Oh yeah, Mr. Indignant has a --- wait for it --- RECORD! That's right, three years ago, Mr. Indignant got "in a jam over a gambling thing," so to speak. This revelation only increases the suspicion of the "coppers" against him.

However, new evidence comes to light which clears Mr. Indignant. So, the fuzz, against their better judgment have to let the flower man go.

Whew! Close call! Mr. Indignant might have caught twenty years... uh... up in the "joint."

Not really.

Anyway, Mr. Indignant traces the group to Mexico City. That is where they will split the loot, in, what they hope is complete anonymity and security.

Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men... blah, blah, blah...

There is a twist in this story that I shan't expose here. I'll let you discover it for yourself, dear reader, should you choose to watch this film --- which I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that you do.

Suffice it to say, here, that Mr. Indignant, as the hero, comes out alright in the end and "gets the girl," as it were, to boot.


Final Verdict

I can only give this film a 4 out of 10.

Why?

Sometimes, as I watch a film, that was originally released in theaters, I find myself thinking: You know, this story would easily fit into an episode of (insert name of episodic television series here).

When I find myself thinking that, this tells me that the story, in this movie, is not big enough to justify a big screen presence.

Stay with me.

I found myself thinking that the entire plot of Kansas City Confidential could have been covered in a few sentences of dialogue delivered by, say, Jessica Fletcher (Murder, She Wrote), as she exposed the true motive behind the murder(s), as well as the true murderer (always someone other than the incompetent police have arrested initially).

Think of it this way. You may recall that there are a series of vampire v. werewolf ("lycan") movies of the Underworld series, starring Kate Beckingsale as the "death-dealer" vampire, Selene.

Now, I thought the first film was good. I continue to think it is a complete story in and of itself, with no follow-up necessary.

Blah, blah, blah...

A subsequent movie was called Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. I continue to feel that this film is entirely superfluous because the entire plot of the film had been entirely covered by Lucian, the chief werewolf, in a few lines of dialogue, in the first Underworld film.

This film did not advance the narrative in any way.

Anyway, I basically believe that the entire plot of "Kansas City Confidential" can be covered by any one of a series of crime detection television shows. It could easily be a series of conclusions and revelations that Columbo comes to before Peter Falk (the titular Columbo) plants the final nail in the coffin of the true killer.

The entire plot of Kansas City Confidential could easily be covered by Perry Mason, as the defense attorney cleverly sorts out the real murderer in order to free his innocent client.

Radio

I can think of a number of old-time radio series half-hour programs that the entire plot of this film could have easily been fit into. The most notable of these being a program called The Whistler.

This film's story is particularly well-suited to The Whistler, a program in which the narrator, "The Whistler" himself, speaks from the point of view of the murderer.

Finally...

The conclusion I have reached seems to be borne out by the tired, bored, perfunctory acting performances, on display, up and down the roster of this movie.

Friends, Lee Van Cleef is in this movie. Thank Goodness he eventually found his true calling in Westerns.

The only player I will single out with distinction is Coleen Gray, who was one of this film's rare rays of light. She was both spunky and charming as a law student called Helen Foster.

Well, I suppose John Payne was okay as the protagonist Joe Rolfe, giving a performance full of bravado.

Neville Brand (as Boyd Kane).

Friends, if you have any familiarity with American film noir, you may not know the name, but you certainly know the face of Lawrence Neville Brand. He portrays a special kind of simmering brutality. Whenever he shows up on screen, you just know that he's about to do something bad! One gets the feeling not that there is an angel sitting on one shoulder, and a devil on the other; but a demon on one shoulder and a worse demon on the other.

He makes the blood run cold, he does.

Jack Elam (as Pete Harris)

Jack Elam is another one. If you are familiar with American film noir, you may not know the name, but you most certainly know the face.

His is the quintessential slimy, cunning, weasel-like, and thoroughly cowardly petty criminal element of American film noir.

Anyway, thank you very much for reading!


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