When a bitter former police captain, Timothy Foster (played by Preston Foster), engineers a bank robbery, he enlists three felons to assist him. The robbery goes according to plan, but an ex-con, Joe Rolfe (John Payne), is picked up as a suspect. Rolfe is eventually cleared, but he decides to track down the actual robbers. The trail leads Rolfe to Guatemala where he learns Foster is behind the robbery and is planning to turn in the other three men to receive the reward money.
Kansas City Confidential (1952) depicts a violent criminal underworld. The New York Times criticized the film for its excess use of violence: "An uncommon lot of face slapping, stomach punching, and kicking in the groin, the standard manifestations of the virulence of mobsters and criminals on the screen." The New York Times also criticized the film for its implication that there are corrupt police officers, a theme that would later become common in motion pictures. Director Phil Karlson says, "This was so far ahead of itself that I say these pictures have been copied and recopied so many times. Unfortunately Phil Karlson never got the credit for it because I've never been a publicity hound. I come from the school where what we want to be judged by is up on the screen, not by how well I know so-and-so or so-and-so."
Karlson filmed Kansas City Confidential in a semi-documentary style and this added a sense of realism and immediacy to the picture. Film critic Leonard Maltin commented, "Looking at Kansas City Confidential, Scandal Sheet (both 1952), and especially the breakneck-paced The Phenix City Story (1955), one gets the impression that Karlson could have been a noir master." Unfortunately, Karlson never graduated to the A-picture level. His biggest commercial success was 1973's Walking Tall.
Jack Elam, Neville Brand, and Lee Van Cleef play the three criminals who take part in the armed robbery in Kansas City Confidential. All three men were well known for playing heavies in films and on television. Lee Van Cleef's career took off in the mid-1960s when he appeared in several "Spaghetti Westerns" with Clint Eastwood, including For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966). --TCM