Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Border noir II : Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Kansas City Confidential (1952); Associated Players and Producers presents; an Edward Small production; George Bruce, Harry Essex, writers; story by Harold R. Green and Rowland Brown; directed by Phil Karlson. With John Payne, Lee Van Cleef, Coleen Gray, Preston Foster, Neville Brand, Jack Elam, Dona Drake, Mario Siletti. Cinematography by George E. Diskant; art director, Edward L. Ilou; editor, Buddy Small; music, Paul Sawtell. Summary: An armored car robbery is pulled off and four robbers get away clean with 1.2 million in cash. However - a decorated and down on his luck veteran named Joe Rolfe is accused of being involved and is mercilessly grilled by the local police. Released, Joe plots his revenge of the thieves.

Kansas City Confidential
isn't exactly border noir, in fact a lot of it isn’t really very noirish. But it’s a tasty little heist movie, and for me the best scenes, only a few minutes of footage alas, take place in that whipping boy of vice-ridden, danger-infested border towns, "the wickedest city in the world," Tijuana. Not the real Tijuana but a cleverly designed set of the type the studios did so well back in the day. In fact, this Tijuana - an irresistible haze of dimly lit back alleys, gambling parlors, neon lights and unsavory characters - is probably better than the real thing.

Anyway, the most noirish sequence may well be John Payne’s roughing up a sweaty and nervous Jack Elam in the seediest of hotel rooms. The scenes in Tijuana fly by far too fast, and before we know it, the movie changes gears and moves to a (fictitious?) resort setting, where, from a purely noir perspective, it’s far less interesting, though a fair amount of tension in the story is maintained.

KCC is virtually a textbook on how to fashion a classy B noir: cast, music, look, and direction are first-rate. Similar in tone and content to Asphalt Jungle of a couple of years prior, but not quite as good, KCC benefits from a cast of noir mainstays: tough guy hero John Payne; good girl Coleen Gray; and perhaps best of all, quintessential baddies Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam and Neville Brand.  
style ***
substance ***

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