Classic Cinema #43: Kansas City Confidential (1952) – By Jason S. Lockard

He is known for playing the role of attorney Fred Gailey in the 1947 Christmas classic Miracle on 34th Street. Our Classic Cinema Star of the Month is John Payne.

John Howard Payne was born on May 23, 1912 in Roanoke, Va. to Ida Hope, a singer, graduated from the Virginia Seminary in Roanoke and married George Washington Payne, a developer in Roanoke.

John attended prep school in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania and then went to Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia. He then transferred to Columbia University in New York City in the fall of 1930. He studied drama at Columbia and voice at Juilliard School. To support himself, he took on a variety of odd jobs, including wrestling and singing in vaudeville.

In 1934, a talent scout for the Shubert theaters spotted Payne and gave him a job as a stock player. He traveled with the show for 2 years and in 1936 he landed a contract at Samuel Goldwyn, and he left New York for Hollywood. He worked for various studios until 1940, when he signed with 20th Century Fox. Fox made him a star, in 1940s musicals. Than in 1947 Payne’s most popular role may be his final film for Fox, that of attorney Fred Gailey in Miracle on 34th Street. Later in his career Payne changed his image and began playing tough-guy roles in film noir and Westerns and one of his film noir’s is our feature of the month, Kansas City Confidential.

Kansas City Confidential follows Joe Rolfe (Payne) an ex-con who’s trying to go straight with a job as a deliveryman for a florist company. A Criminal master mind has been watching him and he and his gang of thugs have arranged a bank robbery using a van that looks just like the one driven by Rolfe. So Rolfe himself takes the fall for the heist. When Rolfe is taken in by the police and accused and subsequently released for lack of evidence; he sets out to find the ones that set him up. His search leads him to Mexico and a love affair with the gang leader’s daughter. Will John clear his name and live happily ever after or will he be done in by the bad guys? You’ll have to watch the film to find out.

This film features a great supporting cast featuring Lee Van Cleef, Preston Foster, Colleen Gray and a very young and thin Jack Elam. The gangsters are rough and play rough. While there is no blood the violence is more than you would expect from a 50s film noir.

John Payne was a contract star with Pine-Thomas Productions where he shrewdly insisted that the films he appeared in be filmed in color and that the rights to the films revert to him after several years, making him wealthy when he rented them to television. Payne went on to star as Vint Bonner, an educated, commonsense gunfighter, in the tv western series The Restless Gun.

In March 1961, Payne suffered extensive, life-threatening injuries when struck by a car in New York City. His recovery took two years. In his later roles, facial scars from the accident can be detected in close-ups.

Later in life, Payne, became wealthy through real estate investments in Southern California. Payne was married 3 times and had three children… John Payne died on December 6, 1989 in Malibu, California, of congestive heart failure , he was 77.

So uncover some of John Paynes work did much more than just Miracle on 34th street. Until next time this is Jason Lockard reminding you if you want to see a good movie check out a classic.

Moral Rating: Violence
Audience: Teen and Adults
Genre: Film Noir
Length: 99 min.
Released: 1952
Our Rating: A