Kansas City Confidential (1952)

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Peter Harris (the amazing and underrated Jack Elam), Boyd Kane (Neville Brand) and Tony Romano (Lee Van Cleef) are criminals at work in Kansas City.

A stranger hires them to rob a bank next door to a flower shop, using one of the florist’s vans as the getaway car and stealing over a million dollars. Each man wears a mask so they can’t recognize each other (and can’t be recognized by anyone who sees them during the crime).

The mastermind of the robbery (Preston Foster) gives each man a ticket to travel abroad, saying that they’ll all meet up once the hype over the crime calms down in order to split the money.

Meanwhile, they’re all headed off to exotic locations, leaving the florist’s actual driver Joe Rolfe (John Payne) to be pinned with the crime.

Rolfe is arrested and loses his job immediately, but is released when police realize they’ve made a mistake. Rolfe soon discovers that one of the real robbers went to Tijuana and sets off to hunt down the criminals and carry out revenge on them, getting himself a fifth of the money in the process.

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Phil Karlson (1966’s The Silencers, 1962’s Kid Galahad) directs Kansas City Confidential. This 1952 crime drama was written by George Bruce and Harry Essex, inspired by a story from Harold Greene and Rowland Brown.

Kansas City Confidential builds tension straight from the beginning and maintains it throughout the entire film. It isn’t full of surprises, but it isn’t predictable either. The plot is solid, and that great tension does an amazing job of keeping the viewer’s interest. There are some scenes that have a calm (or calm-ish) mood, but even then the drama surrounding the crime weighs heavily on the viewer’s mind.

It can be a bit frustrating to watch as the audience sees an innocent man get accused of and arrested for the crime. The cops just won’t believe that he’s innocent, which makes the viewer want to slap them a little bit (or a lot). It’s certainly an effective way to get the audience invested in the film.

The sympathy for his character does fade a bit as it becomes clear that he’s just as scheme-y and unlikable as the true criminals. The audience still wants the other men to get what’s coming to them since Joe was wrongly accused, but he’s no sympathetic figure on his own.

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The best character in the film is also the worst character: Tim Foster, the mastermind.  Everything he does is so deliberate. *HEY, IT’S A SPOILER* Even at the end of the film when he knows he’s going to die, his decisions are calculated. *END SPOILER* He’s nowhere near an upstanding citizen, but that’s what makes his character so interesting to watch.

Another intriguing character is Foster’s daughter, Helen (Coleen Gray). She’s completely oblivious. She has no clue that her father, an ex-cop, has been involved in a crime. Then she meets Joe (who has come to Mexico under an assumed name) and has very few suspicions of him even when she discovers that he carries a gun. Gray is great in this role, but it’s hard to believe that her character would be so blind to the entire situation when she’s an intelligent law student.

Kansas City Confidential is a gripping crime drama that leaves the viewer guessing throughout its entire duration. It ends up a bit too pleasantly for my taste (since I love a bleak crime drama, and since Joe didn’t really deserve such a happy ending after his own wrong-doing), but it’s still a great way to spend a little over an hour and a half and includes a few very unique characters. The score: 4/5

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7 thoughts on “Kansas City Confidential (1952)

  1. Todd B says:

    Hey Lindsey, I really like the site! I love old movies, too, especially film noir, so I’m glad to see that you’re watching (and liking) those as well. Keep up the good work…I’ll keep checking back!

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  2. Natalie says:

    I’ve actually been meaning to watch this movie for the past several weeks, so I’m glad to hear that it’s worth a look. You’ve piqued my curiosity about the characters – thanks for the review!

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    • Lindsey says:

      The characters in this film are definitely intriguing. In some ways they’re typical of the genre, but they definitely aren’t carbon copies. You’ll have to let me know what you think of it when you get around to watching!

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      • Natalie says:

        I got to watch this a few days ago, so I can now better respond to your review. I think that its strongest point is the opening sequence, which I found a lot more tense than the rest of the film. But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it – it’s a movie I’d love to watch again. Joe and Foster are worthy film noir characters with, as you noted, refreshing twists. I thought, however, that Helen felt a bit tacked on, though Gray (alongside the rest of the cast, actually) did a fine job.

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  3. Susie says:

    John Payne plays one of the best noir characters ever (ambiguous enough to keep you guessing, sometimes bordering on the same sociopathic mode than the bad guys), he deserves all these noir gems rescued!

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