Program Notes: Kansas City Confidential (1952)
Otherwise this was strictly a made-in-Hollywood effort.
Also, most of the story takes place in Mexico.
Still, this 1952 crime thriller is one of those minor B movie masterpieces, crammed with tough guys, a noirish aura of desperation and greed, and featuring a surprisingly complex script.
Joe (John Payne of Miracle on 34th Street) is an ex-con working as a floral deliveryman when he’s picked up by the Kansas City’s finest. Someone using a flower van like Joe’s has robbed an armored car.
While Joe is being interrogated the police find the real getaway vehicle. Our man is released, but by now Joe has been exposed as a one-time criminal.
Fired from his job and unable to find another, Joe figures that since the robbery ruined his life he might as well profit from it. So he sets out to track down the culprits and lay claim to part of the $1.2 million haul.
The trail takes him to a Mexican fishing resort where a crew of underworld types – and a retired Kansas City police detective played by Preston Foster – have congregated. The ex-cop also has a comely daughter – a law student, no less – played by Coleen Gray; she becomes Joe’s love interest.
Kansas City Confidential was directed by Phil Karlson, who made the great crime thriller The Phenix City Story in 1955 and wrapped up his career with the first Walking Tall in 1973. This guy knew how to throw a punch.
He also knew how to get the most out of a buck. This wasn’t quite a poverty row production, but there wasn’t much extra cash to lavish on the picture.
Karlson also got some terrific performances out of the bad guys: oily Lee Van Cleef (later of spaghetti western fame), cock-eyed Jack Elam (who’s both funny and creepy), and gravel-voiced Neville Brand (stolidly sinister).
Other films in the series “Goin’ to Kansas City”
Mondays at 6:30 p.m.:
- January 7: Mr. & Mrs. Bridge (1990) Rated PG-13
- January 14: Kansas City Confidential (1952) Not Rated
- January 28: Kansas City (1996) Rated
Admission to these films is free.
The series complements Greetings from Kansas City, the current exhibit of vintage post cards now on display at the Central Library.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.