Friday, July 8, 2011

Kansas City Confidential (1952)

This MGM Noir Both Entertains And Disappoints
- The framed set out to get even with the framers in the 1952 MGM noir Kansas City Confidential....

World War II vet and ex-con Joe Rolfe (John Payne) has been trying live the straight-and-narrow life, reduced to working as a floral delivery man (I know what you are thinking: what better symbolism is there for a nice guy than delivering flowers for a living?). Trouble manages to find Joe anyway when he is framed for what appears to be a perfect crime carried out by four masked cons. In his attempt to clear his name, one long-shot lead brings Joe to a resort in Mexico where he finds himself in the company of criminals who pulled off the heist, of whom only one knows all of their identities....

The first of three noirish crime thrillers from director Phil Karlson and star John Payne, Kansas City Confidential is entertaining regardless of how much it also disappoints at the same time. The film's style works despite of the fact that it certainly could have been more "noir" (for a so-called "MGM noir," the film is light on the shadows compared to others in the genre). The script, while including some nice zingers in more than a few scenes, really should have gone through a couple of re-writes since much of the dialogue is either lackluster or just odd (I especially rose my eyebrow at the line, "I know a sure cure for a nosebleed: a cold knife in the middle of the back" .... Wait, what?). Also the story manages to be engrossing regardless of how poorly it ends (hopping over a couple of plot holes to a cherry-on-top cheery close) and how pointless its romantic B-story is (though Coleen Gray is certainly not tough on the eyes).

The cast is OK but no one is particularly special. John Payne is kind of a poor-man's noir hero, lacking the presence and charisma of noir greats Mitchum, Robinson, Bogart, Ryan, and others in his portrayal of the film's protagonist. But while Payne's performance is far from bad he does not impress all that much. Instead, it is the supporting performances from a young Lee Van Cleef (who would later be famous for his roles in Spaghetti westerns) and workhorse character actor Jack Elam who give the most impressive performances in the film, rather than its star.

The viewer sort of has to both take and leave certain elements in the enjoyment of this film but for all of the film's disappointments Kansas City Confidential certainly has some admirable aspects and is an entertaining crime thriller overall.

CBC Rating: 7/10

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