“Kansas City Confidential” (1952) starring John Payne & Coleen Gray

Detective: … left school to enlist with the engineers. Pretty good soldier too! Bronze Star, Purple Heart!

Joe: Try and buy a cup of coffee with them!

A WWII vet working as a flower deliveryman, Joe Rolfe (John Payne- best known as the lawyer/neighbor in Miracle on 34th Street), becomes the fall guy for an armored car robbery worth $1.2M. Payne is very tall (6’4″), w/ an athletic body, and large/expressive brown eyes. When Joe is released for lack of evidence, after being roughly interrogated by the cops, he’s determined to discover who set him up and why. After 6 mos, he gets info which leads down to Tijuana, Mexico. There he meets a nervous ex-con, Pete Harris (Jack Elam), at a gambling house. Pete doesn’t have his share of the robbery money, but is flying to Barrados (a fishing village) to pick it up. He doesn’t know who planned it, or the other criminals (character actors Neville Brand and Lee Van Cleef). They all had to wear full face masks during the robbery!

[1] …Payne started off as a crooner and hoofer, a light leading man… he ended up one of the most convincing ordinary-guy protagonists in the noir cycle. He’s tough, all right, but still shows the flop-sweat of fear; and he’s smart, too, but because he’s forced to be what he’s trying to hang onto is all he’s got.

[2] The suspense in Kansas City Confidential is not about who did it. The three robbers are… three of the nastiest dudes in film history. The suspense lies whether Payne can put it all together. As he says to one of them, he’s flying blind in this one.

John Payne gives a riveting performance of a desperate man and one you don’t leave holding the bag without consequences. This is one of the best noir films ever done, not to be missed.

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

Quentin Tarantino said that Reservoir Dogs (1992) was inspired by this film noir. Kansas City Confidential was directed by Phil Karson (who also made Scandal Sheet); he worked steadily in small budget pictures. This film doesn’t shy away from violence (punching, kicking, and gunplay). The fights happen fast and don’t look slick; they’re a fact of life for shady men. Joe spent a year in jail, too; he can handle himself in rough situations. His love interest is pretty, but also smart (a law student); Helen (Coleen Gray) surprises her father (Preston Foster) by arriving at the resort for a vacation. Gray is perhaps best known as Fay, the loyal girlfriend to Sterling Hayden (another handsome tall drink of water) in Kubrick’s The Killing (1956). The romantic scenes were few, but played well; Payne and Gray became a real-life couple for some time. I noticed (on second viewing) that the editing is tight and well-done. Check out this film for free (since it’s in the public domain) on Amazon or YouTube!

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