Kansas City Confidential: The 1952 Noir Film Said to Inspire Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs

I saw a screen­ing of Quentin Taran­ti­no’s Djan­go Unchained at the New Bev­er­ly Cin­e­ma, the Los Ange­les the­ater he owns. It was pre­ced­ed by a sol­id half-hour of trail­ers for the var­i­ous west­ern and exploita­tion pic­tures that inspired it, from Take a Hard Ride to Mandin­go. Even if you’ve only seen two or three Quentin Taran­ti­no movies, you know that he not only uses cin­e­ma as his medi­um, but as his con­tent as well. Any inter­view with the man — espe­cial­ly his first appear­ance on Char­lie Rose in 1994, or for that mat­ter, his most recent appear­ance last Decem­ber — reveals that no liv­ing direc­tor has a more enthu­si­as­tic obses­sion with film itself. This gets him adapt­ing, reimag­in­ing, trans­pos­ing, pay­ing all kinds of homage, and (alas, the inevitable term) remix­ing when­ev­er he gets cre­at­ing.

He makes his movies, in oth­er words, by draw­ing upon his vast expe­ri­ence of watch­ing movies — usu­al­ly lurid genre pic­tures, from the beloved to the obscure, the in-their-way-mas­ter­ful to the bor­der­line incom­pe­tent. What a fun les­son in film his­to­ry it would make to watch a sim­i­lar series of source-mate­r­i­al trail­ers before every Taran­ti­no movie.

Most fans would expect such a pre-show for Reser­voir Dogs, his 1992 heist-gone-wrong debut fea­ture, to include Ringo Lam’s City on Fire, which stars Chow Yun-fat as an under­cov­er cop embed­ded in a gang of thieves. It would also have Stan­ley Kubrick­’s The Killing, since Taran­ti­no has said of Reser­voir Dogs, “I did think of it as my Killing, my take on that kind of heist movie.” Should Phil Karl­son’s Kansas City Con­fi­den­tial also make it in? You can watch the com­plete 1952 noir crime pic­ture, now in the pub­lic domain, and decide for your­self. Fol­low­ing the after­math of a gang’s armored-truck heist, the film has received atten­tion as a pos­si­ble influ­ence on Reser­voir Dogs. “Mr. Karlson’s film­mak­ing has few of the stan­dard noir flour­ish­es: the dark and brood­ing shad­ows, the bizarrely cant­ed cam­era angles,” writes New York Times crit­ic Dave Kehr. “Instead he works through gigan­tic close-ups and an unusu­al­ly vis­cer­al treat­ment of bare-knuck­le vio­lence. With refine­ments, he would con­tin­ue to pur­sue this theme (revenge) and this style, right up through his cre­ative resur­gence in the ’70s: Ben (1972), Walk­ing Tall (1973) and Framed (1975).” From fifties revenge crime noir to sev­en­ties revenge exploita­tion: talk about Taran­ti­no’s kind of film­mak­er.

Kansas City Con­fi­den­tial appears in our col­lec­tion of 500 Free Movies Online.

Relat­ed con­tent

Free Film Noir Movies

Quentin Taran­ti­no Lists His Favorite Films Since 1992

Quentin Tarantino’s 75 Minute Inter­view with Howard Stern

Quentin Taran­ti­no Gives Sneak Peek of Pulp Fic­tion to Jon Stew­art (1994)

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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