Kansas City Confidential

One man conceives of the perfect crime, then brings three hardened criminals in on it. Everything goes smoothly, with an innocent bystander taking the wrap. But when that bystander is released for lack of evidence, he has business to attend to.

I just watched Kansas City Confidential, at home, on Blu-ray. I found it to be a tight, taut, well-made film noir. It was made in 1952, as the genre was reaching its pre-self-awareness peak.

Great name for a noir, isn’t it: Kansas City Confidential? The problem is that only the first act is set in Kansas City. The bulk of the story takes place in a reasonably nice resort in Borados. That’s a strangely pleasant setting for any noir, let alone one called Kansas City Confidential.

Despite the problems with the localation and name, it’s worth catching. You’ve probably never heard of director Phil Karlson or any of the screenwriters, but they knew their business. The plot starts simple, becomes complex, and resolves well.

The picture contains some well-crafted suspense moments–especially one where a thug has to decide whether he’ll use a gun or throw it away. Editor Buddy Small increases the tension by holding several shots longer than normal. Story construction helps, too. Sure, if the thug doesn’t throw away the gun, his partner will be killed. But how much does this thug care about his partner’s life.

As in all good noirs, the moral issues aren’t always clear. A criminal can be a loving father who wants the best for his daughter. The hero can be a man with record going after stolen loot.

In one sense, the movie is surprisingly ahead of its time. The ingenue, played by Coleen Gray, is in law school, and no one seems to object to her professional ambitions.

As befits a 60-year-old low-budget B noir, the cast lacks star wattage. But the thugs include Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam, two of the best bad guy character actors of the era.

I guess I can’t talk about this movie without referencing Reservoir Dogs. Let me just say that it’s clear that Tarantino knows Kansas City Confidential.

Watch it if you get a chance.