Kansas City Confidential Phil Karlson

Kansas City Confidential Phil Karlson
You don’t have to stretch much to imagine Tarantino taking a page from this deliciously bizarre crime drama for his Reservoir Dogs. Still, the tale of a heist carried out by men who don’t know each other (sound familiar?) has less pretension and more narrative zest than the younger director’s whole output. The film begins with a mysterious masked man assembling a trio of desperate criminals (veteran character actors Jack Elam, Neville Brand and Lee van Cleef) to commit a daring million-dollar bank robbery. The gang then parts ways and waits to divvy up the loot, leaving a hapless flower deliveryman (John Payne) to take the fall. But Payne, who winds up disgraced and fired from his job, is not going to take it lying down, and relentlessly pursues his framers all the way to Mexico. The first 45 minutes of this movie are stellar — we aren’t even introduced to the protagonist until the crime goes down, and the rest of it mires him in a tawdry world of thugs and cheats that’s pretty impressive to watch. The robbers are a carefully selected bunch: Elam is especially memorable as a pathetic killer, with a look of panic and a film of sweat, while van Cleef wears the appropriate evil smirk of a sociopath. The film suffers somewhat once it gets to Mexico and we’re introduced to apparently virtuous cop Preston Foster and his perky daughter Coleen Gray, but the beam of sunshine never quite dispels the dank atmosphere and flailing desperation. Though there’s a little too much redemption at the end, this is a smashingly distinctive noir film that’s worth a look, or even a blind purchase. (MGM / Fox)