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music friday: rust never sleeps

kansas city confidential (phil karlson, 1952)

I had downloaded a few movies from various services that I could watch from Europe, assuming those services might not work outside the U.S. But they didn't work as hoped, leaving me with no movies to watch. I finally hit on a solution, and searched YouTube for full-length movies. Kansas City Confidential, a minor cult noir that inspired Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, had long been in the public domain, so there were plenty of copies, and a couple were of decent quality, so I watched it.

It's a tough little thriller, with some brutal action and a tricky plot about a bank heist. Director Phil Karlson keeps things simple ... when the plot drags a bit, he tosses in some beatings to liven it up. Bosley Crowther's New York Times is review is unintentionally hilarious:

[T]he practice of brutality in this unenlightening dossier on crime is not confined to the lawless and shady personalities that almost exclusively people it. There is an obvious and sickening implication that the Kansas City police are not only rough when they capture a suspect, but they exercise a wicked "third degree." There is one character in this little run-down, supposedly a plainclothes cop, who is as nasty and sadistic in behavior as the hero or any of the thugs. This, of course, does not lend a climate of hope or moral uplift to the film.

The film is enlivened by an interesting cast. John Payne had been a star in some musicals, and was most famous for his role in Miracle on 34th Street. He is effective as the guy who is set up to take the blame for the heist. Coleen Gray had been in Nightmare Alley and Red River. The team of thieves includes Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef, and Neville Brand at the beginning of their careers.

There isn't much that stands out, although the connection to Reservoir Dogs is easy to see. The film is marred by a happy ending, but up until that point, it's violent enough to keep your attention, if you like that sort of thing.


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