Kansas City Confidential 1952 United Artist American Film Noir Crime Film



Kansas City Confidential is a 1952 American film noir and crime film directed by Phil Karlson starring John Payne and Coleen Gray. The film was released in the United Kingdom as The Secret Four. Karlson and Payne teamed a year later for 99 River Street, another film noir, followed by Hell’s Island, a film noir in color.

Plot:
The ruthless Mr. Big is timing the arrival of an armored car picking up money from a bank and a delivery truck. He plans to rob the armored car with three men. A gambler, Peter Harris wanted for murder, Boyd Kane, and Tony Romano. When interviewing them, he wears a mask so they cannot identify him. They were selected because each has a reason for fleeing the US.

The plan includes using the delivery truck driver, ex-con Joe Rolfe, as a police distraction. The robbery and pursuit go as planned. With each crook wearing a mask so none can identify each other. The gang arrives in a look-alike floral truck as Rolfe, unaware, drives away. The gang subdues the armored car guards, grabs the money and flees. Mr. Big gives each gang member a torn king playing card. He telling them to hang on to them. That in case something goes wrong, and Mr. Big cannot make it, the cards will serve to identify them to whoever he sends. The other members await the payment in other countries.

The police arrest Rolfe who maintains his innocence. He gets released when his alibi checks out and the real truck is found. Rolfe loses his job and decides to find the criminals and clear his name. He finds out Harris fled the city. Believing he must be one of the robbers, Rolfe pursues him to Tijuana and looks for him.

He finds and beats him into revealing the gang’s meeting place. At the airport the police recognize Harris and kill him. Rolfe realizes he can impersonate Harris. In Harris’ luggage, he finds the mask and playing card.

In Barados, Rolfe meets Kane and Romano. Unknown to Rolfe, Mr. Big is there, too. His name is Tim Foster, and a conversation reveals his reason for the robbery. Foster never intended for the three goons to split the money and get away. He planned to spring a trap as though he had solved the robbery and reclaim his job with the Kansas City police.

Foster’s plan is skewed when his daughter Helen arrives. She tells her father, she spoke to Kansas City’s mayor who agreed to rehire Foster. Foster tells Helen he doesn’t want to return. She tells she met Rolfe and likes him. That night Rolfe shows them the card. Kane and Romano react, but Foster does not, because only he knows he is not Harris. Rolfe catches Romano searching his room and beats him. Romano submits and they agree to cooperate until the money is split. Returning to his room, Rolfe is beaten by Romano and Kane. Kane knows Rolfe is an impostor because he was in prison with Harris. Helen knocks on the door and saves Rolfe.

Foster writes individual notes to Rolfe, Kane, and Romano to meet him on his boat. Before it can happen, Kane and Romano try to ambush Rolfe, who gets the drop on them, admits he is Rolfe, not Harris, and tells them he is after Harris’ share.

Kane and Romano waylay Rolfe and discover he’s going to the boat. All three are driven there by Foster, who they still don’t know is Mr. Big. On board, Rolfe escapes and finds the money. Romano, gun in hand, confronts him. Rolfe shows him where the money is. Romano kills Kane. Foster slips and reveals he is Mr. Big. In a gun battle, Foster kills Romano but not before Romano shoots him. As Foster is dying, he tells Rolfe his one wish is that Helen doesn’t find out his duplicity. With his dying breath, he tells insurance investigator Scott that Rolfe deserves the 25% reward of $300,000.

Cast:
John Payne as Joe Rolfe
Coleen Gray as Helen Foster
Preston Foster as Tim Foster
Neville Brand as Boyd Kane
Lee Van Cleef as Tony Romano
Jack Elam as Pete Harris
Dona Drake as Teresa
Mario Siletti as Tomaso
Howard Negley as Andrews
Carleton Young as Martin
Don Orlando as Diaz
Ted Ryan as Morelli

The movie originally was called Kansas City 117, the title based on a police code. Small bought the title Kansas City Confidential from John Gait and Lee Montgomery. It was the first contemporary crime drama Small made after a series of swashbucklers.
Filming started June 4, 1952, and was partly shot on Santa Catalina Island, California, which stood in for Mexico.
The plot served as inspiration for Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs.

Public domain note:
This film is now in the public domain in home video and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Sony Pictures for theatrical, TV and Internet.

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