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Kansas City Confidential

    Ian Jane

  • Kansas City Confidential

    Released by: Film Detective
    Released on: January 25th, 2016.
    Director: Phil Karlson
    Cast: John Payne, Preston S. Foster, Coleen Gray, Lee Van Cleef, Neville Brand, Jack Elam
    Year: 1952
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    The Movie:

    Phil Karlson's 1952 noir, Kansas City Confidential, stars John Payne as an ex-con named Joe Rolfe who, since getting out, makes ends meet by driving a delivery truck for a florist. He makes his delivery one day, just like any other, unaware that a former Kansas City cop named Tim Foster (Preston Foster) is bitter about being forced to retire and is in the midst of robbing the bank next door. He and his three hoods (Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, and Neville Brand) are all wearing masks and so no one is able to make them (and since they've been wearing them since they met, they're unable to identify one another), and wouldn't you know it, poor Joe gets fingered for the crime. The four bad guys make it to Mexico and plan to meet up six months later to divide the loot.

    Poor Joe, however, gets the crap kicked out of him by the cops who figure him for the bandit in charge. Eventually he gets away from them, and after being pointed at in the paper and losing his job, decides he's going to have to go to Mexico to track down the real bank robbers and clear his name. Complicating this, however, is the presence of Foster's beautiful daughter, Helen (Coleen Gray), who Joe starts falling for.

    The first third of Kansas City Confidential are remarkably tense, full of dark drama and seemingly setting everything up to explode, but once the set up is out of the way, Karlson slows things down for the middle act to pull us in for the big finale. This deliberate pacing might put some off, as it's tough for the film to live up to its fantastic opening sequence in some ways, but Karlson and company manage to pull it off thanks to a few clever twists, loads of shadowy atmosphere, a gorgeous femme fatale and a great cast of character actors.

    Made on a modest budget, it's obvious at times that most of this picture was shot not in Kansas City or Mexico but on a back lot or a soundstage, the sets still manage to work thanks to clever lighting that lets us see just enough and some evocative camerawork that ensures we focus more on the performers than their surroundings. That's not to say that the movie doesn't look great, because it does, but rather this is more character and performance driven rather than an exercise in flashy visuals or style over substance.

    Front and center in all of this is John Payne, who delivers a strong enough turn here that you can't help but wonder why his career didn't ever take off the way it should have. He had a solid run as a supporting man but is good enough here that he easily could have been leading man material more often than he was. Coleen Gray and Preston Foster are also very good in their supporting efforts, while Brand, Van Cleef and Elam are all excellent as well.


    Kansas City Confidential arrives on Blu-ray (well, technically a BD-R) from The Film Detective in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer framed at 1.33.1 fullframe and it looks quite nice. Transferred from an archival 35mm print the image is free of noise reduction and edge enhancement and while there is minor print damage throughout, it's minor and never particularly upsetting - in fact the majority of the picture is quite clear. Detail and depth are solid throughout and contrast looks just fine. Contrast only rarely blooms but it's not even really that noticeable when it does happen Black levels are solid, there are no compression artifacts and the image is free of any obvious edge enhancement.

    The only audio option for the feature is a DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track, with optional subtitles provided, also in English only. Clarity and balance are pretty solid here and there aren't any major levels spikes in the mix, nor are there any problems with any hiss or distortion. The score in particular has pretty nice range here.

    Aside from static menus and chapter selection there are no extras features on this Blu-ray.

    The Final Word:

    Kansas City Confidential deserves its reputation as a superb example of American film noir at its gritty best and while this Blu-ray from The Film Detective is light on extras, it does at least present the movie in really nice shape with a rock solid transfer and very fine lossless audio.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

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