Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Andrew Sarris’ seminal The American Cinema put director Phil Karlson in the “Expressive Esoterica” category, meaning that his 30 year career ran the gamut from populist sleepers (Walking Tall in 1973), Dean Martin’s Bond knockoffs (the Matt Helm movies), one of the few solid Elvis pics (1962’s Kid Galahad), westerns, war movies, and a few crackling B-movie noirs, including 1952’s Kansas City Confidential(MGM/Fox, $20.00, 98 minutes). The ever-wooden John Payne plays a framed ex-con who follows a dusty and dark trail to Mexico, encountering three of Hollywood’s most archetypal heavies in Jack Elam, Neville Brand, and Lee Van Cleef (that’s character acting nirvana, man!), with ex-cop Preston Foster pulling all the strings. Karlson knew how to make a solid cheapie, and the no-nonsense brutality at the heart of this typical noir search–for-the-truth hints at the sorta deterministic existentialism that film scholars swoon over. One way or the other, it’s the type of self-effacing craftsmanship and basic story-telling ability that most of today’s filmmakers couldn't get a focus on even with a steady-cam.
(Since there is no traditional footage from Kansas City Confidential available, don't hesitate to check out this very strange and disquieting Lynchian video concoction featuring footage from the movie of the one and only Jack Elam.)