Kansas City Confidential (1952)
Phil Karlson directed Kansas City Confidential, a 1952 film noir crime film, starring John Payne and Coleen Gray. It was released in the United Kingdom under the title The Secret Four. Another film noir, 99 River Street, which was directed by Phil Karlson and starred Payne the following year, was followed by Hell’s Island, a film noir in colour.
Mr. Big (John Payne) is timing the arrival of the armored car, which picks up cash from a bank and a flower delivery van. Boyd Kane (a cop-killer), Peter Harris (a gambler wanted for murder), and Tony Romano (a womanizing getaway driver) are all ready to rob the armoured car as soon as it arrives. A mask is used to conceal his identity as he interviews them, as each has a reason to flee the country.
The heist goes as planned, with each crook wearing a mask to prevent identification. Rolfe unknowingly drives away as the gang arrives in a lookalike floral van. The gang subdues the armored car guards, grabs the money, and escapes. Mr. Big gives each gang member a torn King card. He tells them to keep the cards and that, if something goes wrong and Mr. Big cannot make it, they will be able to identify them to whoever he sends. His other associates await the payment in Mexico.
Rolfe’s alibi checks out, and the real robbery vehicle is discovered. Because he maintains his innocence, the police arrest Rolfe and try to beat a confession out of him. Rolfe loses his job and decides to find the criminals and clear his name. Harris has fled the city, so Rolfe tails him to Tijuana. Rolfe correctly believes he is one of the robbers, so he pursues Harris.
Rolfe discovers and brutalizes Harris into divulging the gang’s meeting place. At the airport, police shoot dead Harris. Rolfe realises he can impersonate Harris by wearing the mask and holding the torn playing card.
Rolfe meets Kane and Romano in Borados, unaware that Tim Foster (Mr. Big) is also present. Scott, an insurance investigator from Kansas City, is amazed to discover that Foster has summoned him to Barados. Foster’s plan is exposed when he talks to Scott: he had no intention of allowing the three thugs to get away with the money. He will pretend to have solved the robbery and take the reward for doing so, thus regaining his position as a Kansas City police officer.
When Foster’s daughter, Helen, a law student, arrives, his plan is thrown off. She tells him that Kansas City’s mayor agreed to look into the scandal that cost him his job and cost him his job. Helen tells Foster that she likes Rolfe. That night, Rolfe shows the gang members the torn card as part of a poker game. Kane and Romano react, but Foster does not. He realizes that Rolfe is not Harris. Rolfe catches Romano searching his room and beats him up. After Romano submits, they agree to cooperate until he receives his money.
Foster, as Mr. Big, writes individual notes to Rolfe, Kane, and Romano to meet him on his boat. Before it can happen, Kane and Romano try to ambush Rolfe, who gets the drop on them. He admits he is Rolfe, not Harris, and tells them he insists on getting Harris’s share.
Kane and Romano waylay Rolfe and discover he’s going to the boat. All three are driven there by Foster, pretending to be going out fishing. They still do not know he is Mr. Big. On board, Rolfe escapes and comes across the money that Foster had made easy to spot. Romano, gun in hand, confronts him. To buy time, Rolfe shows him the money. Romano, planning to keep it all, kills Kane. Foster arrives on the scene, but says too much. Rolfe deduces he is Mr. Big and says so out loud. In the gun battle that follows, Foster kills Romano, but not before Romano fatally shoots him. As Foster is dying he tells Rolfe his one wish is that Helen doesn’t find out his duplicity. With his dying breath, he tells the insurance investigator that Rolfe was his source and deserves the $300,000 reward for having helped recover the stolen money from the robbery.
Directed by Phil Karlson
Screenplay by George Bruce and Harry Essex
Story by Rowland Brown and Harold Greene
Produced by Edward Small
Restored and upscaled by moonflix, LLC
John Payne as Joe Rolfe
Coleen Gray as Helen Foster
Preston Foster as Tim Foster
Neville Brand as Boyd Kane
Lee Van Cleef as Tony Romano
Jack Elam as Pete Harris
Dona Drake as Teresa
Mario Siletti as Tomaso
Howard Negley as Andrews
Carleton Young as Martin
Don Orlando as Diaz
Ted Ryan as Morelli
Original release date:
November 11, 1952