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


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Timing is of the essence for the planner of the heist.  He goes so far as to make up an actual blueprint of the operation, including a careful note each day to ensure the armored car delivery time does not vary.  But, the heist mastermind is not the only one concerned with time.  From his shaded window he sees the bank customers, eager to transact their financial business, awaiting the bank clock to signal the bank’s 10:00 opening.  The florist deliveryman seems tied to time, too, making a notation on a clipboard as he makes his delivery.

 

This film uses the more documentary style seen in other noirs of the 1950s; the preamble, the establishing shot of Kansas City’s business district, the dusty dirty delivery truck, all help to give it a more authentic feel.  Letting the visuals carry the action, (no voices, not even street chatter, are heard throughout the short clip), also puts this film in the noir tradition.  The use of shadowing amidst bright sunshine also helps the overall tone of suspicion. 

 

The heist would seem a very good candidate for the film noir treatment, as it certainly relies on a gang of ne’er-do-wells, and usually turns on anxiety, paranoia and double-cross.  Heists also exemplify the Existential philosophy of humans trying to order their lives while trapped in an uncaring world.

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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.

 

Yes--I think that noir does a lot to explore the sympathetic criminal--often via someone who is new to crime, but sometimes like in this movie. There is something about seeing someone plot something like a heist that makes you want to root for them. I think it taps into a very universal anxiety about "I have this plan, and I just want it to work."

 

Heists (especially those in which no one is meant to be harmed) even kind of echo the American dream: you work hard, you're smart, and you get rewarded. As you say, these people are operating outside of the law. But even in the 40s I think that people were starting to get the sense of big banks and corporations not being "real people." And I'd imagine that in a post-war society, the feeling of  "I am owed something" might be very sympathetic for some people.

 

At least as of this opening scene (I have not seen the whole film), the planning is all intellectual: timelines, maps, etc. It would have a very different feeling if we saw him preparing dynamite, or loading a gun. In this opening scene he gives off the vibe of more of a "gentleman criminal". I think it's a fun (if pretty unrealistic) kind of character that you get a lot in the movies. Someone who gets to break the rules without hurting anyone, and gets rich in the process. Now, being a noir I know it won't actually go that smoothly for him, but I can see how an audience would really be on his side (until something goes wrong).

 

To me, the biggest mystery at this point is what kind of problems he'll run into and how it changes my perception of the character. I'm talking the difference between maybe someone accidentally dying (like, I don't know, a guard panicking and shooting a customer by mistake) or the protagonist deliberately hurting someone (like him shooting a guard to get away).

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

 

At the beginning of this film we are watching a carefully crafted heist being planned.  Not just down to hours, but minutes and seconds.  We can also see that he's been timing and planning for a week.  We can tell by his smirk that he's very confident in his plan.  He has it down to a routine at this point.  We can see he thinks it's time to move and operate his plan, but will he succeed?  Or will his timing be all for naught? You can time openings of bank and when deliveries, but can once you involve individuals, who have their own ideas, is any plan "perfect?"

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The Harp Music – Noir foreshadowing.  The use of harp music both frames and foreshadows the key Noir action.  As soon as the clock strikes 10 AM – Foster starts the second hand on his watch, and its runs for one minute.   The harp music commences at 10:00 AM and stops at 10:01 AM.  The use of the Harp brings fluidity, motion, action …. The foreshadowing that some action will take place within the confines of that one minute.  

 

The armored car guard exiting the Bank with gun in hand - open and pointed – also foreshadows that crime is afoot and will take place in the future: within this one momentous minute.

 

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Time here is essencial to set a routine on several actions that happen around a regular bank. Also the time marks the all scene's timing, once is the clock which takes the action to itself. All players are merely pieces of that.

 

Some of the most important elements of film noir include music and some fear from the unknown. And I think that the heist being shown in films noir like this one tend to humanize the thiefs. Once the world was living a convulsing reality filled with pessimism, they looked like the smart guys trying to run after the success. Of course that something always went wrong on that goal, but somehow the audience feel close to these charcaters.

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

 

For this heist to work, timing is everything.  Every second counts in this robbery.  The delivery of the flowers and the arrival of the armored car to the bank is crucial.  What we don't see in this clip is if everything will work as planned.  Remember, sometime time slips away from us due to external or internal forces.

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Here time is of the essence.  If this person doesn't get the timing of people and incidents down right, then when he goes to rob the bank, he can be sure to be caught quickly.  If there is no one else involved in the intended heist, it will only be this man and he has to have every t crossed.  Every move he makes has to be perfect or his robbery won't happen.  He is obviously planning to be something of a "gentleman" thief, meaning he wants to walk in, get his money, and walk out as if nothing happened.  Like it was a normal day at the bank.  If he does that, not drawing any undue attention to himself, then he will accomplish his goal.  No one will be looking at him.  No one will notice him at all except the teller who helps him. 

 

This opening reminds me of the Untouchables film.  You get a bit of law enforcement commentary at the beginning, there is no one reading anything, but you still get some background before the story starts.  Film noir is crime and passion.  Good and bad, all rolled into one.  A heist theme brings in the bad guy and it's up to the detectives to answer the questions, who, what, where, when, why and how.  From there, the mystery is created and its eventual solving brings the story to full light. 

 

I don't know that it changes what the audience thinks of criminal behavior on screen.  A heist can be happen because of greed, or desperation.  Someone wants money for their own reasons and they may need a lot of it quickly.  The only way to do this is to rob a bank or someone who has a lot of money.  A heist can involve one or more hostages, or no one at all.  It depends on the story.  How it's written and what the outcome is to be.  It's a perfect fit for the noir genre as a heist film can be anything at all from start to finish. 

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Discuss the role of time and timing in this scene.

 

Perfect timing is always good for robbers and bad for bankers. Sometimes „routine bites hard” - being predictable makes you a great target. The man is preparing a heist and is very precise. He thinks of everything – every piece of this puzzle must be in the same place. He is a perfectionist, probably cold and calculated. No wonder it was a perfect crime, as the introduction said.

 

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

 

The introduction reminds a documentary – it suggests that this is the story of „the one that got away”.

The man observes the bank from the upper window – low angle shot and a glimpse at the city.

We see clocks and watches and feel the importance of time.

And finally we see a criminal planning a heist. And we are waiting with anticipation for the results.

 

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?

 

We love the ones that got away. We cheer Bonnie and Clyde and others. And if something is perfectly planned we even admire it. As long it does not affects us – we enjoy it.

 

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