Kansas City Confidential

Year 1952

John Payne as  Joe Rolfe
Preston S. Foster   as Timothy Foster
Lee Van Cleef as Tony
Jack Elam as Harris
Coleen Gray as Helen Foster
Director - Phil Karlson
Screenwriters - Rowland Brown  
  - George Bruce
  - Harry J. Essex

Entertaining but not convincing is how I'd summarize it.

Flower distributor delivery man Joe Rolfe (John Payne) keeps a weekly schedule that crook mastermind Timothy Foster (Preston S. Foster) can use to his advantage. The robbery is choreographed to make it look like poor Joe Rolfe was involved. As the main suspect, Joe is forced to clear his name and taking the investigation into his own hands eventually tracks the real criminals to Mexican hotel where they're meeting to split up the loot.

The gimmick is that none of the gang ever saw any other gang member without a mask, so no one except the mastermind knows who is really involved. That way, Joe can pretend that was part of the gang when the robbery took place.

So far, so good. Really.

Most of the acting is top notch. Did you see the list of bit players? There's Jack Elam and Lee Van Cleef. Sergio Léone should have directed this.

No one did a wimpy tough guy like Jack Elam. Even when he seemed conquered, there was a glare in his eye, ironically usually his dead eye, that told you that he wasn't completely beaten.

Lee Van Cleef is always in control whether dealing with Eastwood in For a Few Dollars More or with Kurt Russell in Escape from New York. This time, sans moustaches, he's a criminal and a womanizer.

John Payne, the leading man, is a well grounded Dean Martin look alike. He does a good job of showing that he knows he's in over his head but has no choice but to keep on going.

There are one or two decent supporting actors like Teresa (Dona Drake) as the flirtatious souvenir shop proprietress at the Mexican hotel where most of the action takes place. As the hotel owner says, "At first I didn't like splitting the commission with her 50-50. But that's the sixth time she's sold that same bottle of perfume."

Helen Foster (Coleen Gray) is an attempt to have a strong indepedent woman in the film who's also alluring and feminine. The writers didn't quite know how to do this, the director didn't know how to have her present herself, and Coleen Gray isn't really convincing in any capacity except as that of a doting daughter. Granted, it's a lot to ask one person to be ground breaking in a film that primarily deals with fairly stereotypical hoodlums. Gray doesn't fail at the challenge, she just doesn't rise to it consistently.

Here's an example of how the writers muffed the strong female character thing. Helen meets Joe at the pool for a swim. When Joe leaves her, a pistol drops out of his bathrobe pocket. She picks it up and, after a while returns it to Joe. In the nick of time, it so happens because she does this at just the moment when Joe's cover is blown.

Let's remove some cobwebs from Helen's brain and try and divine her thoughts at the time Joe's pistol dropped out his pocket for her. "Oh, a pistol. Joe's pistol." That's it? What she should have thought if she were more than just another stereotype, "This guy's got a pistol? He'd better explain this one before he gets it back. In fact, I think I'll keep the gun."

I can buy her as a love interest. I can buy her as an attorney. I can buy her as a concerned daughter. I can't buy her as a stoic been-there-done-that broad.

Then there's the ending. Rather than bash Joe on the head, the others take him to the final rendezvous just so he can kill them and redeem his besmirched reputation in the presence of a Kansas City police officer who flew down just for the event.

I'd seen this one before from the middle. It wasn't that bad then and it's not that bad now in its entirety. But, it just doesn't gel.

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