Kansas City Confidential (1952)

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Phil Karlson’s dark and quaintly dishonest redemption story had me from the beginning, with its hypnagogic scene-setting and its unrelenting pessimism about the kind of thugs who are both gangsters and police.

It is possibly the finest example of film noir never acknowledged as such. How it comes to be that is a story buried deeper than earnest examinations of film techniques and aesthetics, let alone the all too frequent marketing claims made for old stock pitched at new markets.

Reactions to the film by its contemporaries hold some interesting, if speculative clues about both noir and American audience expectations in the 1950s.

In common with many other B-films of the period, no one thought this movie worth enough to note precise details about box office takings, back-stories, or to preserve a better quality print than the one from which the DVD I watched was digitised. That’s almost a signature of film noir from the later 1940s.

It is said to have been a moderate success for a B-grade film, but not everyone was content to let it go at that.

The New York Times has done a great job making available some of its archives electronically. Among these archives are film reviews by its long-time film critic of yesteryear, Bosley Crowther, whose unlikely name is almost fit to grace a noir character.

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