Does any plan ever go according to the details, or is just for movie gangsters that everything will end jumbled? Even with the perfect crime, hidden identities, a fall guy, and escaping to another country, the bank robbers of Kansas City Confidential still manage to blow it, each step becoming increasingly complex and convoluted.
It’s the job of classic noire to ratchet up the tension, in this case Joe Rolfe (John Payne) mixing in with the criminals who framed him. Without anyone knowing his identity and one of the thieves killed by police, he slides into the fold, his true motives never completely clear. Joe has a free ride to $300,000, or maybe he’s there in Tijuana for clean revenge against the men who set him up.
Gambling becomes the centerpiece to each encounter, Joe meeting up with the first robber at an underground casino. Each exchange looks at one another, uneasy stares from one paranoid man and another who is sure he’s on the right path. Payne has a look here in close-up that could rattle anybody, and with punches tossed into the mix, intimidation only grows.
Confidential leads to a poker game, the remaining criminals suddenly out in the open as they wait for a letter that will tell them where to get their cut of the stash. Cue a light conversation with enormity, dark undertones considering the actions to come. Dialogue builds Joe as a war hero with a mild criminal record, hardly the (excuse the pun) average Joe who can throw a punch. He saved lives at Iwo Jima, putting his skills to work against the multiple men staring him down at a poker table.
The film tosses in a romance, Joe falling for Helen Foster (Coleen Gray), her father the ringleader of the whole scheme. It’s another kink in the plan, Helen joining her father for a week of peaceful study while falling for what Tim Foster (Preston Foster) believes is one of his own men. No one can reveal who they are in public, not even to their own family.
Confidential opens with a fantastic pacing, Tim keeping careful watch on the daily armored car pick-ups at the bank while plotting the heist to the minute. That tension loses its luster once south of the border, scenes breaking up into individual pieces of overwhelming drama split between the budding romance. The mixture is somewhat disjointed, Helen becoming more a crutch or a last second save until her actual purpose to the script comes into play. Still, Confidential has the genre staples, from those deep shadows and rich lighting that make even those pace-breaking sequences something to look at.
The hi-def debut for Kansas City Confidential is a funny thing. On the disc is a restoration comparison, their typical purpose to show viewers how spectacular this latest edition looks. This might be one of the first to do the exact opposite, as the bungled restoration has only eliminated the spotty damage… and the grain.
Looking at the unrestored footage shows sharpness, tighter detail, and a natural layer of aged 35 mm grain. The version presented in full with an AVC encode doesn’t have any of that. While the level of noise reduction applied to every frame isn’t appalling, there is unquestionably a level of manipulation at work here. The few extreme close-ups that do resolve the finest of facial details still carry a muddy, indistinct quality that is hardly the typical nature of film stocks from the period.
There is still some grain left, mostly left to the backgrounds, and entirely unnatural. It looks artificial, as if it were added later digitally while the AVC codec tries its best to resolve it. Needless to say the end result doesn’t work out too well. There is evidence of smearing with some subtle motions, either the encode or DNR failing to keep the image in check. Also, there are spots on the screen where the grain was seemingly missed, the casino dealer’s face at 29:42 still exhibiting a mild layer of grain.
Furthermore, the contrast has been boosted, obviously at its worst before the film moves into darker interiors. The opening heist in broad daylight is overbearing, the sidewalk one streak of white, faces devoid of texture or separation. Although dark, shadow detail is routinely lackluster, an attempt to likely add depth where there wasn’t any.
Despite the removal of damage, some still remains in spots. What’s here is perfectly acceptable, some light blotches within the frame, and some dirt wagging around the bottom of the screen at 1:19:45 that stands out further because of the diffused lighting used for close-ups of Coleen Gray. The print itself is stable, and flicker has been managed to perfection. In the early days of Blu-ray, this might have stood out, but the format has been elevated thanks to studios like Warner and Paramount treating their classics with respect. Film Chest Inc. obviously had a fine source to work with, making this presentation all the more inexcusable.
Manipulation continues with the audio, a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that gets more wrong than it does right. Most of the surround work is either artificially added in after the fact (birds chirping) or nonsensically placed. Listen at 6:12 when a car passes by someone on the phone. It tracks to the right, which is fine, and then into the surround right, and for whatever reason, all the way back around to the left. Did it perform an unseen U-turn?
Other effects are elevated, such as a phone ringing in every channel until a character gets closer to it when it settles down into the center. If that was an echo effect, it shouldn’t just disappear. The same thing happens inside a car at 1:28:20, the whole conversation leaving the center for a hollow surround effect that is wholly unnecessary.
Film Chest also produces a 2.0 mix, compressed as well, that has dialogue problems. Despite the meager attempts to pump up the atmosphere in 5.1, the dialogue typically fares much better. What it lacks in range it makes up for with cleaner fidelity, even over moments of hefty static or popping.
Aside from the above-mentioned one minute restoration comparison, the theatrical trailer is also included. A region free DVD (the Blu-ray is locked, Region A) is inside the packaging, along with a postcard that just barely doesn’t fit causing it to dent towards the top.
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