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Laramie Movie Scope:
Kansas City Confidential

Engaging story from the golden age of film noir

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 8, 2011 -- I missed this when I did a survey of film noir titles a couple of years back, but it is a dandy, with some familiar faces that are still recognizable from other famous films of the last century, and a convoluted, but engaging story with some interesting twists.

Probably the most famous face in “Kansas City Confidential” (1952) is John Payne, who plays the main character, Joe Rolfe. Payne's best known performance is that of the lawyer Fred Gailey in “The Miracle on 34th Street” (1947) who proves in court that a department store Santa is the real Santa Claus. Here, Payne plays a tough ex-con war veteran wrongly accused of a bank robbery. After suffering a beating at the hands of the cops, he is released for lack of evidence. He starts his own investigation to find the real bank robbers who set him up. He plans to clear his name, but as events unfold, he considers trying for a share of the robbery money when he finds out when and where the crooks are going to split the loot in a remote Mexican village.

In a parallel storyline another man seeking to clear his own name in a very unusual way shows up at the same remote Mexican village with two of the bank robbers to split the loot. Both of these bank robbers have very recognizable faces, Tony Romano (Lee Van Cleef) and Boyd Kane (Neville Brand). Van Cleef, whose sharp, hawkish features made him a successful movie villain, is best known for playing the character Angel Eyes in what is considered by many to be the best Western movie of all time, “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.” He also starred in another Spaghetti Western with Clint Eastwood, “For a Few Dollars More,” and with John Wayne in another Western classic, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.” Brand also played heavies and was in a number of westerns and some war films, like “Stalag 17.” He also appeared in many TV shows. Another familiar face is that of Jack Elam, who plays a heavy in this film, but also played comic characters in a number of films and TV shows over a long career, including such films as the film noir classic “Kiss Me Deadly,” the western comedy “Support Your Local Sheriff” and the car race comedy “The Cannonball Run.”

Also arriving at the same Mexican village at the same time is Helen Foster (played by Coleen Gray) who becomes friends with Joe Rolfe. This friendship, however, threatens the plans of some people who want to split up about $1 million stolen from a bank in Kansas City. Further complicating matters are some crooks who would like a bigger portion of the loot than they originally agreed to. This leads to some fights, shootings and some nasty beatings before all is said and done. While the ending is improbable, it is entertaining, and there is plenty of drama and suspense along the way. This film rates a B.

The print transfer on the blu-ray disk (a standard DVD is included in this new Film Chest/Virgil Films combo-pack, released on Feb. 15, 2011) I reviewed looks clean and it has a Dolby Digital® 5.1 surround soundtrack, as well as Dolby 2.0 (the original soundtrack would have been monaural). There are Spanish subtitles, but no English subtitles for the hearing impaired. Extras include a side-by-side comparison of the original transfer (transferred from “original 35mm elements”) to the digital restoration and a movie trailer. A postcard-sized poster with movie art is included. This film is in black and white and the aspect ratio is 4:3 (full screen) which is the original aspect ratio of this film. I watched this on a home theater setup with a high-def projector, a six-foot-wide screen and 5.1 surround sound system. The surround and low frequency effects are minimal, as you would expect with this kind of digital remaster from an old mono soundtrack. The sound design of these old films did not envision modern sound systems. The music, dialog and ambient sounds are quite clear, however.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2011 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)