Home Video Hovel: Kansas City Confidential, by David Bax
Concerned as it is with the tale of a so-called “perfect crime,” Phil Karlson’s Kansas City Confidential is, as a matter of necessity, a meticulously plotted movie. Each twist and reveal clicks rewardingly into place because they have all been carefully seeded at some point earlier in the screenplay (written by George Bruce and Harry Essex from a story by Harold Greene and Rowland Brown). Still, Karlson finds some room, nested inside this rigorous structure, to include the shadings of moral gray that are crucial to good noir.
In the first act, Kansas City Confidential details the planning and execution of an armored truck robbery in which none of the masked participants knows who the other is, save for the job’s mastermind. After the successful heist, the crime’s architect gives each man instructions to split up as well as a time and place to meet and divide the money once the heat has died down. In the interim, the poor flower delivery driver who got framed for the crime tracks down one of the participants, learning just enough of the particulars to attempt to take his place and claim his portion when the guy is gunned down by the cops.
There’s even more to the story than all that but Karlson takes pains to make it clear without making it dry and boring. In the first half or so, Kansas City Confidential adopts an episodic form. Karlson and cinematographer George E. Diskant use clear and informative medium shots, which editor Buddy Small keeps at a patient cadence, occasionally inserting a well-timed close up for effect. This makes the effect all the more powerful when Karlson switches to closer, wider-angled, moving, subjective shots during, say, a three man brawl in a hotel room.
Claustrophobic spaces like the aforementioned hotel room are balanced nicely with outdoor, location photography. The latter lends the former a sense of reality and the former lends the latter a bit of seediness, so that even in a poolside scene at a beautiful resort, grime and danger lurks. Assisting in the squalid air is the film’s mostly tropical setting (alas, only the beginning takes place in Kansas City), which gives Karlson an excuse to cover his actors in a perpetual sheet of sweat. Kansas City Confidential is painstaking in both its construction and its aesthetic. The result is a film that anyone even halfway interested in noir would do well to have on their shelf.
Film Detective has come up with a sharp and clear transfer from 35mm assets that does justice to this public domain film that has been available in ugly and dilapidated cheapo versions for way too long.