Kansas City Confidential: Good, evil, and Donald Westlake
On the one hand, its plot is as noir as noir gets: Innocent man with a blot on his past gets caught up in a heist, is arrested, is brutalized by police, loses his job, and must fight to restore his reputation. John Payne does decent work as the innocent man, fairly believable when he has to get tough. (And the movie's punch-up scenes are more convincingly tough than corresponding scenes in other movies of the time.)
On the other, the movie's love interest and redemption-soaked ending are so thoroughly unconvincing, so obviously at odds with everything else, that it's easy to disregard them and to enjoy the good stuff. The gulf between the redemption and the evil got me thinking about, and appreciating, the balance that moviemakers of the time must have had to strike between getting their dark visions on the screen, and making them morally acceptable in a conservative age.
Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about Kansas City Confidential for crime fiction readers is spotting the bits that Donald Westlake had to have picked up from the movie: The discord among criminals. The getaway car that drives up inside a tractor-trailer after a heist. The caper masterminded by a disgraced former high-ranking police officer, a device Westlake used to great effect in The Score. The movie's narrative arc is also similar to those of many of the Parker novels Westlake wrote under his Richard Stark name: We see a robbery being planned, but the real action happens after the heist. I wouldn't call Kansas City Confidential a heist film, though, because the pre-heist planning part of the story is given little attention.
(Westlake was a sharp observer of and commentator on popular culture. I don't know if he wrote about Kansas City Confidential, but I do know that the first place I'd look is The Getaway Car, that recent collection of Westlake's nonfiction from the University of Chicago Press.)
© Peter Rozovsky 2015