I recall reading somewhere that Quentin Tarantino’s plot and idea for Reservoir Dogs and the bank heist idea had in some way, shape or form been inspired from Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing, which in fact, was inspired from Phil Karlson’s Kansas City Confidential. Tarantino called Reservoir Dogs his version of Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing and goes on to say:
“[…] didn’t go out of my way to do a rip-off of The Killing, but I did think of it as my Killing, my take on that kind of heist movie”. [source: GEEK TYRANT].
There is even an entry in Wikipedia (although I can never fully trust that website as a valid source of information) stating in its entry on Kansas City Confidential that its plot inspired Tarantino for Reservoir Dogs. I think we all know of the controversy that Reservoir Dogs has concerning Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, a Hong Kong film that has been vaulted into the world of film and given much more exposure than it probably merits due to this massive controversy, much too to the credit of Mike White for editing together a shot-by-shot video comparing the two films and specific scenes that are identical in shots. So, it seems that three films may have been inspired by the crime film-noir classic that Kansas City Confidential is. So many films were inspired by it.
Before writing this review, I had seen this film no less than five times. I still have not yet seen Kubrick’s The Killing and have probably viewed Reservoir Dogs roughly ten times, which right after this review I may go back to revisit once again. I sort of have a soft spot for old black-and-white films, especially the old gangster type ones, such as White Heat and The Public Enemy, both starring James Cagney. Hell, I think one of my favorite black and white films is Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life, as well as many of the films directed by Alfred Hitchcock. There is just something that seeing a film is glorious hues and shades of the colors black and white due to a film where there is no fancy special digital effects, outrageous color schemes, 3D technology, or manipulating the cameras with tricks to add some sort of feeling or ambiance. I think old films in black and white put the focus on the plot of the film and the story, engaging the viewer’s brain and thoughts and reeling him/her in with a well thought out story. Kansas City Confidential is just that smartly written story that is consistently tweaking the curiosity of the viewer.
Director Phil Karlson’s Kansas City Confidential tells the story of an ex-con, Joe Rolfe (John Payne) trying to go straight who is framed for a million dollar armored car robbery. As a result of the frame-up, his credibility and integrity as a man are once again brought into question as the police lock him up based on an eye-witness account and the fact that his is job of delivering flowers and its delivery truck were replicated to use in the robbery. While locked up, hard-nosed cops try to beat the truth out of him, to no avail, and he is set free due to lack of evidence but all the suspicion and accusations, coupled with his prior offenses, have ruined his chances of ever finding another job and living an honest life. Desperate and fueled with anger, Rolfe decides to investigate this crime himself and get down to the bottom of things and in his journey for justice he is taken to Mexico as he tries to discover who set him up and why.
Before Joe Rolfe (Payne) gets released from jail due to lack of evidence, there are several scenes in sequence in which the cops are grilling Rolfe (Payne) in a series of scenes in which viewers are alluded to how the detectives on the case are L”questioning” Rolfe, as each time he is walked back to his cell he looks more exhausted and frail, the guards practically carrying him back to his cell. Those watching realize that Rolfe is getting the snot kicked out of him by the cops, gripping hist intestinal area as he gets to his cell to wash the sweat from his face off. This sequence of events has something to say about the criminal system, as well as society’s views on rehabilitation and giving ex-cons a 2nd chance. Society, in this picture, paints a very bleak picture for those once incarcerated by the law. Rolfe’s only option is to either clear his name himself, or go back to leading a life of crime.
The hired robbers, Peter Harris (Jack Elam), Boyd Kane (Neville Brand) and Tony Romano (Lee Van Cleef) are hired by a masked man whose identity is unknown to all involved so as to ensure no one can rat anyone else out. Everyone is given a nickname, as well as half of a playing cards, so when the crew meets up again in Mexico, they know whom Mr. Big, the leader and brains behind the orchestration of the whole robbery is, thus getting their cut in the heist.
Payne (Rolfe) follows one of the criminals in the heist and witnesses the guy getting nabbed by the police, assumes his identity as one of the players in the robbery, and finds out there is even more trickery and complex events to takes place that only the mastermind of this bank heist is privy to.When Joe falls for a law-student whose father just so happens to be a retired cop, things really start to get hairy and keep viewers glued to the screen because if one misses one minute of the film they might have missed a crucial plot point or major twist.
The screenplay is credited to George Bruce (The Corsican Brothers) and Harry Essex (Creature from the Black Lagoon, Dragnet) and taken from a story by Harold Greene and Rowland Brown. The story, as well as the convincing performances, are the strong points in the film and carry the viewer all the way to its delightfully, twisted end. At no point during the film did I really call who would live, who would die, and who would end up with all the spoils of the robbery. With so many plots and twists in this hard-edged crime thriller, including some scenes fit for a light-hearted romance (such as when Joe Rolfe falls for Helen Foster (Coleen Gray) and a romance sparks up).
Kansas City Confidential continually keeps the viewer guessing who is who, whom will back-stab whom, and who will end up getting the money in the heist. I was not even sure ANY of the robbers involved in the heist would even end up getting to see any of the money due to all the twists and turns rampant throughout the film’s creative plot and story.
With so many crime film-noir films during this period out there, it is nice to see one that gives humanity and the viewer a glimmer of hope instead of being the usual sad, bleak, and dismal affair that many films from this genre are. I also thought the casting of Lee Van Cleef as a hard-edged criminal was a perfect fit. Van Cleef always has a penchant for delivering hard-edged roles and has the look of a fox personified upon his face at all times. I felt that the cast fit the characters they portrayed very well and added to the realistic portrayal that the film’s story called for. I know him from many great performances in western films, some opposite the incredible acting of Clint Eastwood. Solid performances from Preston Foster and Jack Elam add to the authenticity of the story and believing of it.
The HD Cinema Classics release of this incredible classic crime film-noir comes in a BLU-RAY + DVD combo pack, as well as an original movie art postcard inserted with it. The format is B&W with an aspect ratio of 4:3 and is region 0. Bonus features on the disc include 5.1 Surround Sound, Spanish subtitles, a movie trailer, Before & After Restoration Demo, as well as being digitally restored in high definition and being transferred from original 35mm elements.
Kansas City Confidential is a film whose story transcends any generation of viewers because its plot of good vs. evil, added with a twist of love and hope in its dark, bleak, dangerous world of crime make it a classic in my mind, as well as others. Fans of Reservoir Dogs should see this film, a movie that inspired Mr. Tarantino to go out and make his own film of which many elements of Kansas City Confidential and its story were paid homage to. No intended sarcasm there, folks.