In Kansas City Confidential (1952), a master criminal plans an armored car bank robbery down to the minute.
He wears a mask so that even his partners in crime don't know who he is. He hires only desparate criminals, makes them all wear masks in each others' presence, so no one knows who anyone is. The brilliantly staged heist goes off exactly as planned.
Joe Rolf (John Payne), the florist's truck driver set up as a patsy, is arrested because the truck he drove was duplicated by the robbers. He's an ex-con now living on the straight & narrow, but his past makes him look all the more likely to be guilty.
After a night of trying to beat a false confession out of him, the cops finally figure out he's innocent, but are unapologetic.
Just that quickly he has lost his job. His face has been on the front page under every headline tagging him as an ex-con & suspect. And he very angrily wants to know who set him up.
His friend Eddie (Paul Dubov) has gangland connections, but all Eddie knows of the heist is it was an out of town job, & that Pete Harris (Jack Elam), thug & gambler, made a hasty trip to Tijuana the day after the hold-up.
Joe's soon off to Tiajuana, tracking down Joe by searching through underground gambling joints.
Each of the gang members wait in a different country to hear from the boss, to find out where to meet for a split of laundered cash.
Jack Elam's character, the drug addict Pete, is killed at the Tijuana airport before he can get on the plane to Barbados. So Joe takes his place on the plane for a meeting with he knows not who.
The robbers gather for the split in Barbados, where Joe manages to pass himself off for a while, until Tony (Lee Van Cleef) figures out he's an imposter.
They don't realize that police detective Scott Andrews (Howard Negley) & ex-cop Tim Foster (Preston Foster) are nearby hot on the trail.
[SPOILER ALERT!] The twist in the tail, however, is that Tim is the secret mastermind, & he's had the loot all along. He's setting up his partners in crime, plus innocent Joe, to be killed by his police buddy Scott.
"Punkin" is crooked cop Tim's daughter, & she's a law student. When she falls for Joe (who is pretending to be "Pete" while in Barbados) it throws a ringer into Tim's plans.
Tim's a criminal but he loves his daughter. Can he still detroy an innocent man he himself framed if it means agony for Punkin? Chances are he is exactly that bad a seed. [END SPOILER ALERT]
In this tale police are thugs, just as thugs are thugs, whereas the righteous are beaten black & blue. This film creates one of the grimmest of film noir worlds, from a story by Rowland Brown, who also came up with the story for the Academy Award winning Angels with Dirty Faces (1938).
We get a superb array of character actors pumping up the tale. Side-characters like the flirtatious Mexican vendor of souvenirs (Dona Drake) are assets. This is one of the great film noirs on the second tier just below Bogart classics. It has so much darkness of the soul that the partially happy ending comes in as a relief, even if a more cynical ending would've been more in keeping with the world we witnessed.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl