Kansas City Confidential (1952): Phil Karlson’s Film Noir

Phil Karlson directed Kansas City Confidential, a tough film noir,  starring John Payne and Coleen Gray.

Kansas City Confidential

Theatrical release poster

Karlson and Payne would team a year later for 99 River Street, also film noir, followed by another collaboration, Hell’s Island, a film noir in color.

A man (Preston Foster) identifying himself as Mr. Big is timing the arrival of two trucks. One is an armored car routinely picking up bags containing money from a bank. The other truck delivers to a flower shop next door. For a few minutes, the trucks would park next to each other.

Needing help to rob the armored car, he selects three men: the addictive gambler Peter Harris (Jack Elam) who’s wanted for murder, gum-chewing thug Boyd Kane (Neville Brand), and the womanizing Tony Romano (Lee Van Cleef). They were selected because each has a reason for fleeing the US.

When interviewing them, he wears a mask so they cannot identify him.  The plan involves making an innocent patsy out of the floral truck driver and ex-con Joe Rolfe (John Payne), a look-alike getaway truck that the police will pursue instead of Mr. Big’s truck, to buy time to successfully escape the country.

Foster’s plan suddenly is skewed when his daughter Helen (Coleen Gray) arrives unexpectedly. She meets Rolfe while registering for a bungalow and takes a liking to him. She’s studying law and ready to pass her attorney’s exam. She tells her father that, like a courtroom argument, she has presented his case of premature retirement to Kansas City’s mayor and the mayor has agreed to reconsider putting Foster back on the force.

In thr end, Rolfe and Helen comfort each other after her father’s death. When Rolfe asks Scott how she’s taking it, Scott gestures at Helen and says, “Why don’t you ask her?” She smiles and they kiss.


Directed by Phil Karlson

Produced by Edward Small

Screenplay by George Bruce, Harry Essex

Story by Rowland Brown
Harold Greene

Music by Paul Sawtell

Cinematography: George E. Diskant

Edited by Buddy Small
Distributed by United Artists
Release date: November 11, 1952
Running time: 99 minutes