A police lt. is ordered to stop investigating deadly crime boss Mr. Brown, because he hasn't been able to get any hard evidence against him. He then goes after Brown's girlfriend who despises him, for information instead.
A down-on-his-luck ex-GI finds himself framed for an armored car robbery. When he's finally released for lack of evidence--after having been beaten up and tortured by the police--he sets out to discover who set him up, and why. The trail leads him into Mexico and a web of hired killers and corrupt cops. Written by
What a burst of casting inspiration-- three premier baddies, Elam, Brand, and Van Cleef all together in the same film, menacing the heck out of a vengeful John Payne. Elam should have gotten extra pay since everybody and his brother knocks the skinny wild-eyed guy around. Actually, for awhile I thought the movie was one long cigarette commercial or at least a chain-smokers' revival meeting. Speaking of casting, Preston Foster really delivers in a sly role that runs the gamut from tough-talking mastermind to nice-guy fisherman, all in convincing fashion.
"Kansas City" is, I believe, the first and clearly the best of a number of "Confidential" films made during the mid-fifties. For example, note the unusually brutal cop interrogation of fall-guy Payne. Keep in mind, this was during a Cold War time when the TV mega-hit "Dragnet" was professionalizing law enforcement's image nation-wide. Here, however, we get quite a different picture that certainly goes beyond the norm of the day. In fact, director Karlson, like noir filmmaker Anthony Mann, built a reputation for emphasizing the raw nature of thuggish violence, at least as much as the censors would allow. And this is certainly one of the more graphically brutal films of the era.
All in all, it's a fine imaginative script, with a number of unconventional surprises. The robbery is cleverly plotted along with the get-away. I like the way the screenplay parcels out needed information instead of laying it all out at the beginning. That way, viewer interest is kept up since a new wrinkle might pop up at any moment. Even pretty girl Colleen Gray's part is nicely woven in at the end, after I thought she was just a romantic interest. I guess Dona Drake's role was a touch of local color or a favor to somebody since she adds nothing to the plot, but apparently her Mexican girl does sell more than just souvenirs.
There are echoes from this movie in such later caper films as The Killing, Plunder Road, and Mark Steven's underrated Timetable. Some might consider this a noir film since Payne is trapped by unseen forces through no fault of his own. Nonetheless, other traditional noir elements are noticeably absent, such as the angular shadows of expressionist lighting and the lack of a customary spider woman. But it doesn't really matter how the movie's categorized because it remains something of a sleeper with a number of genuine surprises.
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