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Kansas City Confidential

An unnamed man (Preston Foster) planning a bank heist observes that a florist's van arrives at the same time each day as the armored car that picks up the money. So an identical van is used, pulling up right after the real van leaves so that the masked robbers — who are, for safety's sake, unknown to each other except for a torn piece of a playing card — can make off with the cash. But after the police arrest and grill the original delivery man, Joe Rolfe (John Payne) because he's an ex-con, Rolfe decides to seek vengeance, find the crooks and get the sizable reward. Kansas City Confidential (1952) is a muscular, stripped-down noir thriller, with an impressively hard-boiled cast. The first of the thieves that Rolfe tracks down is Pete Harris (Jack Elam), a sweaty, twitchy con who's soon gunned down by the police, allowing Rolfe to assume his identity. Arriving at a Mexican resort hotel to split the loot, Rolfe then meets the other two bank robbers — Boyd Kane (Neville Brand) and Tony Romano (Lee Van Cleef). Neither have seen the face of the heist's mastermind, but Rolfe does encounter the man's pretty daughter (Colleen Gray), a law-school student who doesn't know that her father (an embittered ex-police chief) is a criminal, and who thinks that Rolfe is dreamy. Director Phil Karlson's picture is a great piece of seminal crime-noir, filled with tension and paranoia throughout. No one, save Gray's character, comes off as blameless here — the police interrogation scene is cringingly uncomfortable, Rolfe's motivation is as much a desire for the money as it is revenge, and virtually everyone is corrupt in some fashion. There's also, if you're inclined to look for it, a sadistic man-love that runs insistently throughout the picture, with Karlson's poolside camera lingering on Payne's muscular chest while all but ignoring Gray in her modest bathing costume, and an awful lot of open-handed slapping between the male characters. Taken at face value, though, it's essential 50's pulp, with the streetwise anti-hero, shifty crooks and a well-planned crime gone bad, almost a primer on the form with its streamlined narrative. MGM Home Entertainment's DVD release is a solid, clean full-screen (1.33:1) transfer with excellent contrast and little archiving. The DD monaural sound is also very good. No extras. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor



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