Friday, February 22, 2013


(November 1952, U.S.)

Everybody put your TCM (Turner Classic Movies) hats of appreciation on your heads because the next six (count 'em, SIX) films I discuss will be black and white classics; five of them being of the dark film noir genre.

KANSAS CITY CONFIDENTIAL is a simple enough story of four robbers hold up an armored truck, getting away with over a million dollars in cash. Joe Rolfe (played by John Payne), a down-on-his-luck flower delivery truck driver is accused of being involved simply by being at the wrong place at the wrong time and is roughly interrogated by local police. Released due to lack of evidence, Joe, following the clues to a Mexican resort in Tijuana, decides to look for the men who set him up both to clear his name and to exact revenge. What he doesn’t know is that the heist involves a retired policeman who's also intent on revenge and whose own daughter happens to be Joe's love interest. Simple enough, I suppose, yet complicated. That's what can make great film noir come alive. And yet, if you study certain plot aspects of the story, like the criminals intentionally never knowing each other's name so they can't inform on each other, you'll know where filmmaker Quentin Tarantino got some of his inspiration to make RESERVOIR DOGS (1992). Another source of inspiration for that same film shall be discussed very shortly.

Actor John Payne, who fans of Christmas films will best know for his role as Fred Gailey in MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET (1947), will find this role to be quite the opposite side of the coin in character. Payne delivers an impressive portrayal of an unrelenting outsider who's not afraid to crack the criminal's ring. The film is brutal, hard-edged, and unflinching, but it's also livened by a distinct streak of optimism in that jusitce will be done in the end and the good guy will clear his name and win over the girl. This is also an early film for actor Lee Van Cleef, whom fans will know from spaghetti westerns as FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) and THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (1966), as well as John Carpenter's ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981).

Film noir crime films as this can, admitedly, become rather repetitious after a while, so one finds it necessary to pick and choose carefully which films deliver something, anything that strays aways from the typical cliches of the genre. Yes, you want the dark shadows, the violence and the sexy "dames", but if there's even one strikingly original plot point or event that can separate one (or some) from the rest, then it's a film worth watching...particularly late at night in the dark.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Joe Rolfe: "Look, you're a nice girl, but in case you're thinking of mothering me, forget it! I'm no stray dog you can pick up, and I like my neck without a collar. Now get lost!"
Helen Foster: "Now I'm supposed to be hurt. Maybe even cry. But I won't. I think you're in trouble, and I'm going to help you."

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