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Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #25: Time for a Heist (Opening Scene of Kansas City Confidential)

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I love this course, and one of my favorite things about it is these Daily Doses of Darkness. It's really sad this course is coming to an end in a few days, but till then we have plenty to discuss about.

 

As I have always preferred realistic cinematic style to formalistic, I like semi-documentary noirs like The Naked City or T-Men very much. I'm also fascinated from heist films noir such as The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing, and Kansas City Confidential is a film that combines both elements. Although it's not a masterpiece, I hold it in high esteem for its twisting and unpredictable plot and its realistic description of the heist perpetrators, their motives, weaknesses and ultimate fate.

 

In this scene we are informed about the mystery covering the case we're about to examine in the film, billed as "Kansas City Confidential", then we see a man observing people moving around a bank and taking some notes about a schedule. That leaves us no doubt that he must be the one who organizes the heist we're about to watch, masterminding the entire operation. As in almost every "heist" film noir, the exact heist is never depicted, only its careful planning, aftermath and ultimate fate of the perpetrators. Time is an important factor, too, another similarity with other heist films of the 50's.

 

It has been noticed in a lecture that the ideal film noir set is a Midwestern city. K.C. fits that description perfectly, thus the title of the film features the name of the city despite the largest part of it takes place in Mexico. The film is an archetypal heist film, borrowing elements and techniques in depicting the heist from earlier films like The Asphalt Jungle and Armored Car Robbery and making itself a way for later, even more professional films of the genre. The opening scene, as every noir opening scene should do, gives us a hint about what's going on in this movie. In my opinion, both the film itself and its legacy are highly underrated. 

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I think the heist is a good subject for film noir to tackle, because the planning and execution of a heist is perfect for a character study and gets into the psychology of the perpetrators. The motivations for the heist, the group dynamics, and even their individual styles in carrying out crime make for a great noir. Even in more contemporary films like Reservoir Dogs and The Town, you can see the influence of noir storytelling.

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This was a good movie...I'm not used to seeing John Payne in such a dark, helpless role.

 

He was great in "Miracle on 34th Street" and has made musicals with Betty Grable and light romantic movies.  He was so handsome.

 

Preston Foster as well, I mean, he's been "bad" like in "The Harvey Girls", but in this he was cold and calculating.  It all came together once I realized he had been a police officer...the maps, schedules, address book.  He was so organized and kept everything and everyone at bay, only telling each a piece of the puzzle.  This was clearly the left hand NOT telling the right hand.

 

There had to be a way out for John Payne since he was the poor sap in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Enter the "good girl", but, with a twist, a thorn in Preston Foster's side, his daughter.  Now his daughter was mixed up in his shenanigans.

 

I had never seen this movie before.  Neville Brand, always so barbaric.  I read his biography recently and he was an amazing war hero.  Who knew?

 

I will enjoy discussing this movie this week!

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Phil Karlson’s Kansas City Confidential (Associated Players and Producers, 1952) isn’t the first nor will it probably be the last heist film to depict meticulous planning, stopwatches, rehearsals and neatly diagrammed maps and diaries of the criminals casing the joint before knocking it over.  Asphalt Jungle, Rififi, The Street With No Name, Bob le Flambeur and Criss Cross come to mind.

 

Common to the heist movie is the notion that no amount of planning can predict the future and this lesson plays out time and time again.  There’s an almost mathematical formula between the degree of planning relative to the accidental slip up or minute, unintended action.

 

I’ll try not to wander to far from the clip, but in a general way, John Payne’s character will embody the uncontrollable and unpredictable “X” factor as the plot plays out.  Payne’s character is also remarkably close to various historical and society shifts seen in post 1950 America that writer Drew Caspar identifies in last week’s assigned reading (see Payne’s comment at the 18:50 mark of the film).

 

What I find interesting about heist movies, and this is a testament to the power of point of view in storytelling, is how sympathetic the viewer can become with the people setting out to rob the bank, jewelry store or armored car.  People will bond with criminals in a movie in ways they’d never do in real life.

 

Today’s clip establishes the meticulous, silent film planning at the opening of the film.  However, what is darker and even more sinister is accusation by the filmmakers that the crime, committed by an ex-cop, was completely concealed from the public in what was an attempt to shield the police force from embarrassment.

 

There are a number of nice, semi-documentary style shots of average citizens going about their business on the sidewalk outside the bank.  Payne carries the picture with admirable help from the talented trio of Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef and Jack Elam.

 

-Mark

You mention two of my favorite heist movies: Rififi and The Asphalt Jungle. I was on the edge of my seat while watching both films. Particularly, Rififi with the completely silent safe-cracking scene. No music. Sometimes less is more. Lasted a half-hour.  A very tense moment. I have to admit that I did find myself rooting for the crooks in both movies. I have not yet seen Kansas City Confidential  but hope it lives up to these two films.

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It’s pretty well lit for a noir film.  However, the shifting camera angles, with the center of attention, are off center of the screen, falls in the noir style.  And if I didn’t know better, the music sounds like it inspires the music for Dragnet (Gasp!  Television, I know).  I do like when the armor car arrives, the audience watches along with Tim, a nice angle shot over his shoulder; dynamic camera angles make me think noir.

 

Tim has the perfect vantage point to see the comings and goings at the Southwest Bank (though I am guessing The Baker below his window plays some small part later on).  At one minute to ten, he stands at the window, watching customers wait for the bank to open.  It is the same time that the Western Florist delivery truck arrives outside the shop next to the bank (that driver just threw his hand-rolled cigarette into the street.  How rude!). 

 

Tim watches as the “armored car” (at least, I think that’s what it is.  It doesn’t look armored) arrives thirty seconds later.  It parks in front of the Wester Florist Delivery truck outside the bank’s entrance.  Two armed guards climb out of the truck and follow the customers into the bank at ten.

 

On his wrist, Tim starts a stopwatch.  Sixty seconds pass before the florist delivery truck drives away.  Tim turns to his map and plans, where the audience can see how many times he has checked the routine the audience witnessed along with Tim.  Whatever is going to happen, it has to happen after the florist delivery truck leaves and the armored car leaves two to four minutes later.

 

Showing such a routine, almost boring, turn of daily events is made much more interesting by the music, the unique camera angles and the map with plans.  And by showing such precise and details events had to **** against the Motion Picture Production Code.  Theft, robbery, and safe-cracking required that special care be exercised.   Most studios avoided it, but since I’m sure Tim will fail and go to jail at the end of the movie, it was allowed in this film.

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As much as I appreciate smart, snappy patter in noir, openings to films like Kansas City Confidential remind us just how much information can be conveyed on the screen without it.   

 

We start with an establishing shot of Kansas City focusing on its iconic Union Station.   A man in a suit looks out at the front entrance of a bank from across the street.   The clock atop the entrance reads a minute or two before ten in the morning.   People are already lined up waiting for the bank to open.   

 

Cut to a delivery man (John Payne) pulling up in a van next to the bank on the same street.   He checks his schedule and delivers flowers.   Cut back to the man in the window, who watches as an armored van pulls up in front of the bank entrance, in front of the florist's van.   Two guards get out and follow the people streaming into the bank.   It must be ten o'clock, and the man keeping vigil confirms as much on his watch, and starts the stop-watch feature.     

 

Payne exits the florist and gets back in truck, driving off.   The stop-watch is clicked again, at one minute.  The vigilant man turns and confirms a series of events at specific times with check marks: passing squad cars, florist delivery, armored car arrival and departure.   He's been tracking the schedule for at least five days to make sure it's accurate and consistent.  

 

The man glances over his shoulder, out through the window, and smiles.  Cut to another panning shot of the clock, it's 10:01, as the armed guards,exit the bank, with canvas satchels in hand, guns drawn, and return to the armored car.    The vigilant man seems almost pleased; certain he's got the schedule down and ready to move to the next phase of his plan...which is obviously a heist. The vigilant man is the 'mastermind' of the heist, and he reaches inside his suit jacket for his phone book and thumbs to a name and number: Pete Harris staying at a hotel.  

 

We learn all this without a single word of dialogue!    Very nicely done, and the use of time in this opening carries a certain connotation of predictability.   This is not the same use of time as in Ministry of Fear, where Ray Milland stares at a clock before his release, or the same clock that dominates The Set Up, or even the ticking clock we hear in the trunk of the convertible in Touch of Evil.    Rather, it implies a set routine of specific comings and goings at this location at a specific time, as well as conveying the precision with which the heist has been planned. 

 

This foreshadows what will follow.   It's all about precision, planning, beating one routine by adhering to another.   The question usually is: will it succeed or exactly how will it go wrong, but we've already been told that it's the 'perfect crime', so the question rather becomes, if that's so, how do we know about it?  

 

In ways, this scene reminds me very much of the opening of the original Thomas Crown Affair, as Steve MacQueen watches the bank from across the street, tracking the time and setting the robbery in motion.   

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The opening scene of Kansas City Confidential has many examples of the style and substance of a noir film such as a man looking at his watch and the bank's clock marking the passage of time.  The close-up shots of the same man watching all that goes on around the bank.  The way the camera moves at an angle up to the sign on the bank.  I also like how so much information is given to us without having to say a single word, now that is a true master of making a film to get the point across to the audience without having to say anything.  I guess that means that old saying is true "That actions speak louder than words".

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People, for the most part, are oriented toward the clock.  They arrive on time and depart on time.  In the opening of "Kansas City Confidential," the unidentified man watches from his window as people queue up in line before the bank opens at 10am.  He watches the florist arrive and depart, using a stopwatch to time the event.  He notes in his book the arrivals and departures, including that of the armored car with fresh money.  We assume from these elements of time and timing that the man is casing the bank and planning to rob it.

 

The film opens with a more realist tone and less of a formalist one.  The scene is in daylight as opposed to night.  The streets are clean.  People are well-lighted and come and go ordinarily in their ordinary world.  The unidentified man makes notes with a pencil and map.  Cars come and go like the people.  I'm always struck by the use of technology and industry in film noir.  In "Le Bete Humaine," the scene opens with the industry of railroad transportation--a train steaming toward its destination.  In "Kansas City Confidential," the film opens with delivery trucks, cars of all kinds, money-exchanging, a stopwatch and the ritual of a bank opening its doors for the morning customers--all elements of industry and technology.

 

A heist is an action of who we believe to be an "underworld" character.  "Underworld" involves elements of hiding uncer the cover of a secret window, nighttime and shadows.  A heist is, as we have come to accept, committed by a "criminal"--one who doesn't follow the rules of ordinary life.  Even though this film begins in a realist way, without nighttime or shadows, the unidentified man, we assume, is a criminal, and we can expect his actions to lead us deeper into his underworld.

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Heist films are a perfect subject for film noir for a variety of reasons.  Even though they revolve around theft, most of us can identify with a desire to be wealthy and live comfortable, leisurely lives, so we can empathize with the characters’ motives.  This is as true today as it was back in 1952 when Kansas City Confidential was made, with the rising consumer culture in the U.S. and the emphasis on comfort and security, as well as the elegance of Madison Avenue.  A heist film relies on timing and organization, and so heightens our anticipation as we wait and watch, wanting the protagonists to get away with their crime and wondering if anything is going to go wrong.  Kansas City Confidential did this perfectly with its many shots of clocks and the timetable.  Of course something will go wrong, and this heightens the tension even greater because we want to see how things turn out for the protagonists.  Even if the protagonists stole for a justifiable reason, the moral rules of the day would not let them get away with it.  The protagonists will have to pay for their crimes, whether through jail or their lives, emphasizing how capricious fate can be in an unforgiving world.

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I love this course, and one of my favorite things about it is these Daily Doses of Darkness. It's really sad this course is coming to an end in a few days, but till then we have plenty to discuss about.

 

As I have always preferred realistic cinematic style to formalistic, I like semi-documentary noirs like The Naked City or T-Men very much. I'm also fascinated from heist films noir such as The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing, and Kansas City Confidential is a film that combines both elements. Although it's not a masterpiece, I hold it in high esteem for its twisting and unpredictable plot and its realistic description of the heist perpetrators, their motives, weaknesses and ultimate fate.

 

In this scene we are informed about the mystery covering the case we're about to examine in the film, billed as "Kansas City Confidential", then we see a man observing people moving around a bank and taking some notes about a schedule. That leaves us no doubt that he must be the one who organizes the heist we're about to watch, masterminding the entire operation. As in almost every "heist" film noir, the exact heist is never depicted, only its careful planning, aftermath and ultimate fate of the perpetrators. Time is an important factor, too, another similarity with other heist films of the 50's.

 

It has been noticed in a lecture that the ideal film noir set is a Midwestern city. K.C. fits that description perfectly, thus the title of the film features the name of the city despite the largest part of it takes place in Mexico. The film is an archetypal heist film, borrowing elements and techniques in depicting the heist from earlier films like The Asphalt Jungle and Armored Car Robbery and making itself a way for later, even more professional films of the genre. The opening scene, as every noir opening scene should do, gives us a hint about what's going on in this movie. In my opinion, both the film itself and its legacy are highly underrated. 

I share your same sentiment about this course ending. I've enjoyed every bit of it and I'm glad I had the opportunity to devout so much time to reading and watching the films. I will never look at these films the same way. I enjoyed your post too!

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This is extremely important because when planning a heist, patterns are necessary. There are events that go on daily and in order to address all moving parts. Each detail must be planned down to the smallest detail. This planning cuts down on the mistakes and possible unforeseen  variables (people getting in the way, the guards having time to react, etc.) The florist arrives at 9:58 and leaves at 10:01, the armored car always arrive at 10:00 sharp and is in the bank from 2-4 minutes. Without planning out all of these details, for example the florist’s truck could block the get away car and prevent them from leaving

 

 

-- What are the film noir elements (style or substance) that you notice in the opening of this film?

 

Tragic or bleak conclusion based on the situations, shot angles, Black and white filming, realistic topics. Having never seen the movie, I am not sure of other elements that would be present.

 

 

-- Why is a heist a good subject for a film noir to tackle? Put another way, how or why might a film that involves a heist affect or change what we think about criminals and/or criminal behavior on screen?

 

What better scenario for something to go wrong than a bank heist. Film noir presents characters that are doomed from the start and random situations bring about your downfall. Those are the random situations that will present the robbers from being successful and bringing about their deaths or capture.

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The viewer is told that what they are about to see is a perfect crime and is to believe it is told in a realistic way. Hmmm, if it is totally realistic and a perfect crime, why do we know about it and in such detail? Ah well, on to the analysis...

 

Something that struck me about this opening clip is that from what we know about noir and it's many twists is that if we knew nothing about the rest of the film other than what we can observe in the clip, it is possible that we are watching the planning of a crime to be executed, the planning of a crime that has been executed and we are about to flash back or perhaps even the perspective of a detective who has been staking out a potential crime that fit the M.O. of a serial bank robber. At this point we don't know and that is what makes it such fun. Critical timing, in the planning and execution of crime has been a running theme and will continue to be so as it infuses the tension and daring into the picture. In most of these films you are also connected to the criminal as this type of daring is exciting and a part of you wants them to get away with it. These themes continue in movies like Heat with expert criminal De Niro openly daring robbery specialist cop Pacino to catch him. This feeling of not being sure who to root for is what made TV shows like the Sopranos so irresistible.

 

The dichotomy of the time factor is that it instills a dual meaning of that perfection in planning and execution may provide the perfect crime, yet the clock is ticking for the life and freedom of the criminal as well.

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Discuss the role of time and timing in this scene.


 


Timing is obviously vital when it comes to a successful robbery: You have to know the movements of the guards, the opening times, the time when there's most money in the bank and least people. Without this information you're basically flying blind, who knows what you'd be up against otherwise? And here it's important because it's letting us know that the crew have done their homework and it's simple fickle fate that's going to (I'm guessing) make that plan fall apart.


 


What are the film noir elements (style or substance) that you notice in the opening of this film?


 


Filmed in a realist style, but we see that we're looking down on the comings and goings of the bank from a second or third floor window, yet most of the cut scenes are shown from low angles - it reminded me of The Lady in Shanghai in that respect: impossible views being observed by the protagonist (I'm thinking of Grisby looking through his binoculars).


 


Why is a heist a good subject for a film noir to tackle? 


 


Because a heist always involves multiple persons, and personalities: there are always differing or conflicting motivations involved and of course that means many more ways the heist can go wrong, for example as seen in The Killers where the Swede was duped into thinking the others had betrayed him. 


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“Kansas City Confidential”

 

Another delicious opening....  LOVE the documentary style. :wub: 

The first thing I’m thinking is that the flower boxes for the florist, "Yvonne," next door could hold rifles to hold up the bank.  Three (3) boxes easily going into the florist; two (2) guards going in and out of the bank. 

 

Is Pete Harris the driver of the Flower Delivery Truck?   Probably not.  I think I saw a hotel address for Pete whoever he is.  

 

We’ll have to watch and see how the crooks get the flower man.  It's always GREAT to start off a movie with questions....

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In the 1950s, many films dealt with the preparation and perpretacion of a robbery. Rififi, The Asphalt jungle, The Killing, and, although in a tone of parody, I soliti ignoti, are an example.  In this case, the presentation of the film announces it. We see, as from a window it follows a thorough control of the movements at the door of a bank. Weather plays an important role because that is timed to the arrival of the truck of volumes coincides with the prior appearance of a delivery truck and the opening of the Bank. Presumably, by outlets that display watches, and the written record, that every second counts so that theft can perform successfully

Any police action, a crime, is a good element of film noir, is to be assumed that, as in the examples above, here something will be wrong.

 On the other hand, the realism of the story maintains the classic standards common to the police of the 50... the absence of dialogue also helps create a conducive atmosphere, that involves the spectator in the plot

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  • Discuss the role of time and timing in this scene.

As the Daily Dose says, it really is all about timing. Unlike other films, this one keeps things low key. Yes, the atmosphere has certain tension, but it's mostly because we don't really know what's happening yet know something crazy will. The cold and calculated approach of Foster paints a dry picture of what's to come. Time is slow, time is key and time is of the essence.

  • What are the film noir elements (style or substance) that you notice in the opening of this film?

Part of what's been discussed before: the realist/docu style. The music as a great asset to set the mood. The sense of impending doom and of crime.

  • Why is a heist a good subject for a film noir to tackle? Put another way, how or why might a film that involves a heist affect or change what we think about criminals and/or criminal behavior on screen?

I think a heist is a good subject; I think anything that deals with the "underworld" fits the noir style because that's what noir is about. Not the overt, but the hidden. Not the goody two-shoes, but the dark, broken, mysterious, damaged. It would, depending on how the film treats the criminals, romantice them and their antics, just as noir romantices that amoral detective or femme fatale. Nonetheless, it just fits the world of noir to talk about heists and it heightens themes formerly explored in older films (maltese falcon, for example).

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-- Discuss the role of time and timing in this scene.

 

Everything in this “dry run” goes off perfectly and according to schedule. The timing is very tight and crucial.  I immediately noticed the similarities between the Bank truck and the Florist truck – they look almost identical.  Given the “smirk” on Preston Foster’s face, and the fact that the Florist truck’s arrival and departure schedule is included on the list, I assume his character is aware of this as well.   

 

-- What are the film noir elements (style or substance) that you notice in the opening of this film?

 

I think the elements here lean more towards substance than style, since the scene is not for its tension or drama, but for its timing of everyday occurrences.  Even though we don’t see the checklist on the blueprint of the bank until last, it becomes clear the bank and street are being cased by the man watching from across the street.

 

-- Why is a heist a good subject for a film noir to tackle? Put another way, how or why might a film that involves a heist affect or change what we think about criminals and/or criminal behavior on screen?

 

Even criminals have bad days? Things are not always what they seem? Seriously, this story revolves around identity of criminals, including an innocent man being accused of being one of the criminals involved in the heist (I think – I haven’t seen this in awhile so the tie-in for how John Payne’s character gets involved is a little fuzzy – if he’s framed, which is what this scene implies).  

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The 'Heist' film lends itself to noir in numerous ways and on several different levels.   Heist's are by very definition illicit.   Thieves with no rightful claim to something attempt to steal it.   It can be money, jewels, narcotics, art or artefacts or, secrets or increasingly of late, information/data that is potentially the most valuable 'commodity' of all.  

 

Heists, as opposed to muggings and stickups, usually take careful planning and diverse skills.   This invites a diversity of characters, all bringing a certain expertise to the table, from being criminal masterminds to brute muscle and everything in between.   This, in turn invites a diversity of motives and personalities --- from being "Napoleon's of Crime" to paying off bookies, affording medical operations, one last job before retirement or just for the thrill of it all.  

 

Heist's also pit the criminals not only against both the police and those hired to either protect or insure what's about to be stolen, but also against one another; especially if the past and/or a femme fatale is thrown into the mix.   Sprinkle-in a twist of random fate or an innocent slip-up and you really have a combustible brew.  Planning a heist and pulling it off --- even despite random events or slipups, is often only the beginning of the story.       

 

Such starkly competing goals, ambitions and personalities invites a highly stylized treatment where light and dark, brightness and shadow, stilted camera angles and confined spaces are used not simply to help tell a story, but to also establish character, mood and atmosphere and, especially in the Code era, suggest and imply elements and behavior impossible to overtly show on screen.

 

All this is very fertile ground for noir and non-noir alike.  It's no wonder heists keep coming.   Proving they're smarter than everyone else seems an irresistible temptation in films today than it was six decades ago.                

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Time and timing is key to the film Kansas City Confidential. It opens with a titled prologue that implies a documentary about a “perfect crime” then moves to a title “Kansas City” and a large building with a baker's shop, bank and florist.

 

Across the street looking down on the street scene of mostly pedestrians and those waiting to get into the bank is the mastermind Tim Foster viewing and timing everything that goes on below. The camera cuts to a view of the bank “Southwest Bank” then pans up to the clock, almost 10:00 A.M. Since it is bright daylight out. The window with the banks clock shows blinds and bar shadows, that is typical noir style.

 

Then it cuts back to Foster then his gaze down again as a delivery panel truck arrives to deliver boxes to “Yvonne's Florist” shop. The crowd at the bank doors is growing larger, then the armored car arrives and the cut to Foster, looking at his watch and starting the stop watch function at 10:00. Exactly one minute until the delivery truck drives away.

 

Foster then turns moves over his desk, looking at a map of the street below and times of when things occur. He makes another check next to each item, showing that it has been timed five or six times before. Then a final look at the bank's clock and a pan down to the guards leaving the bank with money. Then Foster takes out his address book and opens to Pete Harris and his address and number.

 

Foster has now planned and timed out everything. It is checked, double checked and more. They are ready to move. The times are exact and when he gets his people together, the idea is it will go off like clockwork. The bank's clock, Foster's wrist watch are indicators of the exact timing that will go into effect. Just like a military operation, everything is planned and timed. Though as we know in noir something will go wrong, very wrong.

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"Timing is everything," as the saying goes, especially in this case where Foster is planning a bank heist.  This is no "two bit hood" planning a job.  Foster looks like a well dressed businessman.  He is the mastermind of the crime, looking down from his window, in the shadows, unseen as the boss of a corporation might be, on the top floor in his office.  Unseen but controlling the situation.  This view of the criminal is that of a confident, careful, calculating, methodical man who is determined to pull off the perfect crime.

 

The well lit scene below reflects everyday life in downtown Kansas City.  People are going about their regular daily routines as usual, with no sense that in the shadows above them a crime is being plannned.  Kansas City is going to be turned on its ear, but no one has the slightest inkling of what the future holds!!

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I'm not sure that The Heist is the ideal central focus for a film noir. ...yes, I know that this entire course is framed around the concept of the Heist, and that film noir's relentless focus on underworld activity means that the crimes themselves provide major plot elements. But as I'm formulating my own sense of how to define films noir, I come back to the idea that these films are character driven primarily, and, to use Hitchcock's famous phrase, the Heist is just another MacGuffin, an arbitrary device that moves the plot forward. To get wrapped up in the obsessive details of the Heist is not very interesting in itself (to me). I might identify with the planner of the heist or the various criminals involved, but I am not one of those viewers who romanticizes thievery or law enforcement. This film would only grab me if it does move on from the Heist to some sort of exploration of the characters involved. And what makes it noir (to me) is seeing the characters get sucked into and grappling with the ethical and existential dilemmas of that world of shadows.

 

Btw, where is the femme fatale? As a sideline, do all films noir require one? My tentative answer is "yes," and again, she needs to be central to the plot and motivation. In Heist / Criminal films, women tend to be gangster arm candy, not motivating factors -- in this film, it remains to be seen. And I'm still working on my definition here. The Hitch-Hiker, for example, didn't have a femme fatale (unless you somehow count Ida Lupino the director) but it's so completely character-driven that it's sneaking under the umbrella of the genre. 

 

Of course, the Heist does give this film some noir potential, and from what another commentator said about how this particular "business man" stepped over the line and into illegality sounds potentially interesting. To the extent that seeing the workings of a heist help us see the complex and dark, but understandable and sympathetic motivations of un-social behavior, it's a good start, But so far, this film is a police procedural, in the Crime genre. A Heist film does not equal Film Noir. To me, anyway. ...although I'm sure that many of you, starting with the Professor, will disagree. 

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Kansas City Confidential is another film noir that I have yet to see, so I'm glad this course has opened my eyes to many new films. The beginning of the heist  (dry run?) is very methodical. There is a small intensity to this scene, yet at the same time the character observing the scene seems confident, even patient. He is not feeling rushed, but merely checking items off of a list.

 

A heist movie puts us as an audience on the side of the criminal. It's fascinating to observe the planning of the crime and the execution of the crime. It's exciting, thrilling. The criminals become our heroes even though we know they are wrong, while the law and the authority that enforces it are sometimes viewed as the villains. In some ways it allows the audience to live out a darker side of themselves perhaps.

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As most people have mentioned, "timing is everything." In all heist films, time is the key factor in pulling off a successful heist. However, NOTHING ever goes according to plan as is evident not only in heist films but also in life. I teach literature at a local college. I have mapped out everything for myself and students. Of course, there are always changes as the quarter progresses, and I find that my plans are always crossed out, reorganized, rescheduled, etc. So when going into a heist film, expect failure.

 

Someone mentioned that the heist itself is a MacGuffin. I couldn't agree more. It's not so much the time that is important, but human frailties. Usually the most minute act is the one domino that pushes all others and advances the plot into a tailspin. Other times it's just a bad decision.

 

Additionally, it's the planning and the character backgrounds that makes the plot that more interesting. These criminals are not your street thieves; they have families, live normal lives, they're highly intelligent. They just prefer to work outside the scope of the law. They also have a moral code. Generally, they don't take innocent lives. I keep thinking about Resevoir Dogs when Mr. Pink and Mr. White converse about killing people

  • Mr. Pink: Did you kill anybody?
  • Mr. White: A few cops.
  • Mr. Pink: No real people?
  • Mr. White: Just cops.

I also consider Heat when DeNiro and his crew are irate at the one psychopath (Slick) who needlessly killed an armor truck driver.

 

Contrast this with law enforcement, they are usually portrayed as careless with very little moral values. I think most of the time, how films noir negatively portray law enforcement is usually quite accurate.  I may be a little bias here, but I have a high distrust of law enforcement (even my uncles who were corrections officers and a sheriff who lived across the street from me had nothing but disdain for city police). But I digress...

 

Generally, the heist film is more a look at the human condition than the heist act itself. It's also an observation of human response when nothing goes according to plan.

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Daily Dose of Darkness #25: Time for a Heist

(Opening Scene from Kansas City Confidential)

 

• Discuss the role of time and timing in this scene.

Everything about a bank heist relies on timing. The mastermind must know when the bank opens, when the beat cops make their rounds, when the money is picked up and/or delivered. I notice in the clip that Preston Foster, in the role of the mastermind, has checked all of these details several times, I’m assuming over the course of several days. Now that’s attention to detail!

• What are the film noir elements (style or substance) that you notice in the opening of this film?

Someone (Preston Foster) watching in secret from across the street, through the window blinds, is voyeuristic and very noir. None of the customers or the security officers are aware that they are being watched in the planning of a bank heist. Even though there is no dialogue, viewers can discern Foster’s intention from his notes. The opening text lets us know that the story to come is supposedly based on actual events, so we’re getting gritty realism in Kansas City Confidential.

• Why is a heist a good subject for a film noir to tackle? Put another way, how or why might a film that involves a heist affect or change what we think about criminals and/or criminal behavior on screen?

I think a heist is a good way to put viewers in the position of the criminals executing the heist. It allows viewers to empathize with the criminals and even to root for them.

Just wondering: Was this heist from Kansas City Confidential the inspiration for the heist in The Friends of Eddie Coyle? In The Town? Which was based on The Prince of Thieves, by Chuck Hogan? (Such literary and cinematic borrowing is a heist that is in keeping with one of the themes of this course!)

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I think a film about a heist can make us think of criminals differently than we would if we were just watching a regular shoot-em-up gangster film. To successfully pull off a heist, the person has to be calm and very meticulous and go over and over the same procedure multiple times to help ensure everything will run smoothly. It shows us a criminal who has brains and not just brawn, someone who can think fast enough to stay ahead of the cops. If they weren't criminals trying to steal something, they could make a great addition to society by applying their smarts to something worthwhile and good.

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