Kansas City Confidential, 1952. 8/10

Very tense film noir. The pacing pushes the action along, highlighted by snappy dialogue and scene changes. The premise is a simple heist, with some clever complications. Joe (John Payne) is a typical noir hero: wrongfully connected with a crime; an ex-con, veteran and war hero, on a quest to ‘square’ himself. That things wrap up tidily at the end doesn’t diminish the film’s impact.

Foster’s (Preston Fister) assembles a nice lot of crooks in Boyd (Neville Brand), Tony (Lee Van Cleef), and, especially, Pete (Jack Elam). Other reviewers are correct that there must be a fourth guy; Foster and all three of the hoods are riding in the back of the van, which presumably doesn’t drive itself. Anyway, Pete is really off-the-chain, so watchable yet so repulsive. One of the more successful devices is Joe assuming Pete’s identity after Pete’s dispatched at the airport. Joe got some good leads on Pete’s whereabouts in Tijuana, but how does he know which hotel he’s staying at? A bunch of questions pop up once everyone reaches ‘Barados.’

Wouldn’t Foster know immediately that Joe isn’t Pete? After all, why would Foster recruit these guys if he didn’t know them? The whole mask thing is kind of ludicrous: Pete figures out in their initial meeting who Foster is, regardless of the mask. More importantly, in Barados, no one uses the masks, which would look slightly inappropriate anyway. So what’s the point of continuing to pretend that the guys don’t know each other? It might make sense if there were tons of people at the resort, but the only other folks are obviously tourists.

On the other hand, Helen’s (Colleen Gray’s) presence does add up; her function is to protect Joe. It’s interesting so see Boyd and Tony sneak around trying to figure out Joe; they play a see-saw battle with him up to the end. Meanwhile, Foster slowly emerges as another wronged-man. In effect, the heist is a set-up, but not quite a hoax: it’s his ploy to ‘square’ himself. This partly explains why he’s ultimately sympathetic to Joe: not only is Joe innocent, he’s been in Foster’s shoes. Still, it more than a little unsavory not only to plan a crime, but to carry it out as well. Foster.can hardly claim the reward for a crime that he masterminded.

Unlike quite a few others, I thought the ending was good. After all the manuvering by the principle characters, they finally get together and have it out. It makes sense that Joe would try to talk Tony into cutting-out Boyd; which makes Tony eager to kill Boyd etc. It’s just this sort of greed and betrayal theme that’s central to noir. The ride down to the boat is the most tense scene of all: none of them knows what’s going to happen, and neither do we. And, just to twist things up a bit, Tony and Boyd realize that it’s Foster who’s betraying them, not Joe/Pete.

Despite the plot holes, Kansas City Confidential is very entertaining. Worth a viewing or two for the noir fan; and pretty good as a straight mystery as well. 8/10.

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