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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Kansas City Confidential
Kansas City Confidential
Image // Unrated // June 4, 2002
List Price: $24.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by D.K. Holm | posted June 22, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

The ironies of fate in film noir are never more intense than in the films of Phil Karlson. Kansas City Confidential, a United Artists release from 1952, may be one of those noirs that falls through the cracks, but thanks to its recent release on DVD, noir buffs have a chance to familiarize themselves with the film.

Kansas City Confidential concerns itself with Joe Rolfe (John Payne, a Karlson regular). He's an ex-con who now delivers flowers. But the truck he uses for his daily route is mimicked by some crooks pulling a hefty bank heist, who use a similar truck for their getaway vehicle. Rolfe is arrested, but released for lack of evidence. Finding himself unemployable, but also filled with a thirst for justice and vengeance, he tries to track down the guys who pulled the job.

The funny thing is, even they don't know each other. The four men hired by a central mastermind all wore masks. Individually, they were Fred Harris (Jack Elam, who gets knocked around like a regular Elisha Cook, Jr.), Kane (Neville Brand), and ladies man Tony (Lee Van Cleef), all blackmailed into participating in the heist by the masked ringleader, who turns out to be—retired cop Tim Foster (Preston Foster, Jack Nicholson's favorite actor when he was a kid). Bitter over his skimpy retirement, he sets up the job, then retires to Mexico to play out the surprising final hands of his game. Little does he suspect that Rolfe might gum up the works. Foster's law student daughter, Helen (Coleen Gray) is also thrown into the mix.

The interesting thing about Kansas City Confidential is that, as Alain Silver points out in the indispensable Film Noir encyclopedia, the hazards of fate and coincidence are doubled. Rolfe is just an accidental bystander, who just happened to be driving the truck the gang needed to mimic. But then, as a free-wheeling unknown agent, he ends up playing a major part in Foster's fate. It's a nice symmetry, thanks to screenwriters Harry Essex and George Bruce, derived from an unpublished story by two other guys.

Karlson wouldn't know how to shoot a daylight scene if he had to, and though some of the film takes place in Mexico, he prefers the night, with its heat, its smoke, its shadows. He is also fond of close ups, for they tend to make us identify with the characters, even the bad guys. The film works numerous changes on its small scale crew of characters and situations, and the whole cast is excellent. Each of the character actors is a perfect embodiment of '50s noir and to have them all in the same film is marvelous.


The DVD

VIDEO: Watching Image Entertainment's disc of Kansas City Confidential, released as part of its Dark City series of films noir, is like being back at grade school looking at a educational documentary shown from that noisy 16mm projector in the back of the room. The film begins rather shakily, as if someone turned on the projector in mid stream. And there are some scratches and other debris on the source print. But after a while, the film settles down, and in other respects the disc is fine, with deep, rich blacks from cinematographer George E. Diskant's black and white photography.

SOUND: Audio is an adequate Dolby Digital mono track that doesn't inhibit the chat and doesn't obscure the music by Paul Sawtell.

MENUS: After a Dark City series promo, a musical menu offers 12 chapters of scene selection for the 98 minute film.

PACKAGING: A keep case contains the disc, bearing the film's title logo on its label, and an enclosed chapter list and production notes on the film, written by Eddie Muller, author of the book Dark City.

EXTRAS: Supplements are stimulating for such an old film (50 years). There is cast and crew info, three screens each on Payne, Gray, Van Cleef, Brand, Elam, Foster, and Karlson, and about 16 black and white stills and color lobby cards. The biggest supplement is a nine minute interview with Collen Gray, conducted in a book store with a touchy, feely Eddie Muller. Gray alludes to the fact that she had an affair with Payne, one more person connected with a minor actress with a racy private life. Finally, there is a trailer for Karlson's equally exciting Five Against the House.


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