Right before he directed Kansas City Confidential, director Phil Karlson found his stride with the sensational noir Scandal Sheet. Based on the novel The Dark Page by the mighty Sam Fuller, Scandal Sheet is a lurid tale ripped from the tabloid pages the film’s characters write for. Fuller himself cut his chops in his youth as a copy boy, then as a journalist on the crime beat in his teens, so Scandal Sheet is dripping with notes of authenticity. It portrays the ruthless tricks writers and editors alike utilized to score the scoop, right down to covering up a murder (not sure if any editors ever did that, but shit, it’s in the movie).
After the gut punch of Kansas City Confidential, I figured I’d check out some more of Phil Karlson’s films. Netflix is currently streaming his follow-up, 99 River Street, so I checked it out. This one also starts John Payne, this time as a hard-luck ex-pugilist who has turned to driving a cab to pay the rent. Just another sucker on the vine. It’s a startlingly violent film for the time – I have no clue how some moments got past the censor board. One guy even gives instructions on how to make a girl horny! Regardless of the film’s brutality, 99 River Street is overall an optimistic film that displays Karlson’s macho, acerbic style.
Phil Karlson’s Kansas City Confidential is a two-fisted revenge flick that’s a feast for fans of hardboiled dialogue and an essential in the annals of noir. The film cleverly unravels the “perfect crime” motif – one in which the heist is allegedly snitch-proof because the hoods don’t know the identity of each other or the cat who planned the shindig. Karlson’s sharp directing anchors the film, which features one tough lineup of hoods: Neville Brand, Lee Van Cleef, and Jack Elam. Top it off with John Payne as an embittered fall guy and Kansas City Confidential is a fucking powder keg of a noir (that ironically takes place mainly in Mexico).