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"Kansas City Confidential" (1952) and other Phil Karlson films


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The purpose of this thread is two-fold: first, since there appears to be no other thread dedicated to Kansas City Confidential and, secondly, to bring up the small retrospective of Phil Karlson films being organized by UC Berkeley in June.

 

Kansas City Confidential is one of the few Karlson movies to be easily available on DVD; the heist noir has a great cast that includes John Payne, Colleen Gray, Preston Foster, Lee Van Cleef, Jack Elam and Neville Brand.

 

Payne is an ex-con gone straight who is framed by Foster, who sets up three Kansas City criminals (Brand, Van Cleef and Elam) for an armored-truck robbery after which they immediately leave the country, planning to split the $1.2 million loot in some foreign location at a later date.

 

KCC will be shown on Friday, June 5, kicking off the Karlson retrospective at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive:

 

http://www.bampfa.berkeley.edu/filmseries/phil_karlson_2009

 

*Tight Spot: Phil Karlson in the Fifties*

 

June 5, 2009 - June 26, 2009

 

Welcome to Phil Karlson?s fifties America, where corruption and cruelty lurk not just in urban back alleys but in sunny resorts and leafy villages, and injustice is not an abstraction but a visceral blow to the body politic. Karlson is known for a particularly stark and punishing brand of noir, but his visual assaults are based in a brutal morality. Although he objected to screen violence for its own sake, Karlson said, ?when it belongs, you should show it and you shouldn?t pussyfoot around it. You should put it on there the way it happened.? This fidelity to the physical was part of a pulp naturalism that combined authentic locations and downscale details with weird set pieces and startling twists, uncovering the uncanny in the real.

 

Born Philip Karlstein, Karlson (1908?86) came of age in 1920s Chicago and was seasoned in that city?s underworld as well as its high culture: he was a bootlegger?s lookout and witnessed a mob killing before attending the Art Institute. Later, to pay his way through law school at Loyola, he took a job at Universal, ?washing toilets and dishes and whatever the hell they gave me.? He eventually landed a barely more glamorous position as a director at Monogram on Poverty Row, where he compared himself to ?a mechanic that worked on a line??but ?I was experimenting with everything I was making, trying to get my little pieces of truth here and there.? The experiments paid off in the fifties, when Karlson put out the remarkable run of movies we feature here (all but one of which are unavailable on DVD). Join us for four nights of low-budget ingenuity and exhilarating eccentricity, laced with gritty little pieces of truth.

 

Juliet Clark

Editor

 

Friday, June 5, 2009

6:30 p.m. *Kansas City Confidential*

Phil Karlson (U.S., 1952)

 

Friday, June 5, 2009

8:30 p.m. *99 River Street*

Phil Karlson (U.S., 1953)

 

Friday, June 12, 2009

6:30 p.m. *Scandal Sheet*

Phil Karlson (U.S., 1952)

 

Friday, June 12, 2009

8:15 p.m. *Tight Spot*

Phil Karlson (U.S., 1955)

 

Friday, June 19, 2009

6:30 p.m. *5 Against the House*

Phil Karlson (U.S., 1955)

 

Friday, June 19, 2009

8:15 p.m. *The Phenix City Story*

Phil Karlson (U.S., 1955)

 

Friday, June 26, 2009

6:30 p.m. *The Brothers Rico*

Phil Karlson (U.S., 1957)

 

Friday, June 26, 2009

8:30 p.m. *Gunman?s Walk*

Phil Karlson (U.S., 1958)

 

Series curated by Juliet Clark, with thanks to Steve Seid. Presented with support from the Packard Humanities Institute. We are grateful to Sony Pictures for providing vault prints.

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I like Karlson's direction. But _*KCC*_ doesn?t qualify as a noir for me. It?s a crime drama with a lot of smacking around (- the right amount? I can't say.). The photography is not bad but it isn't brilliant either. The actual robbery could have been portrayed with more drama. I give it two stars because it leaves you guessing about who?s going to get killed, but in the end, the holes in the story are deeper than the bullets in [name withheld to avoid spoiler]?s body in Tijuana.

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Well, I consider it primarily a heist movie, and it also seems to have been, quite possibly, somewhat of an inspiration for Quentin Tarantino when he was writing Reservoir Dogs.

 

I guess some people might consider it somewhat noirish, in that it deals with some pretty dark emotions of at least one major character, and the dark journey of Payne's character as he tries to redeem himself in the eyes of society.

 

As I look back on nearly 30 noirs that I've seen in the last 2 weeks, I have come to the conclusion that the most noirish movies to me almost invariably have a much deeper sense of gloom and despair, of existential anguish.

 

I don't think KCC has that element, but aside from that reservation, it's a crime movie that I enjoyed more than I thought I would. And seeing the secret side of that former police captain is definitely quite a contrast to the usually sunny view of authority figures in most 50's movies, so I guess it must have had packed a much greater punch back when it was first released.

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