Day 29 of Noirvember: Joe Rolfe in Kansas City Confidential (1952)

Today’s Noirvember post shines the spotlight on a stand-up guy on a mission: Joe Rolfe in Kansas City Confidential (1952).

Joe is on a mission.


Flower deliveryman Joe Rolfe (John Payne) is framed for a million dollar heist and determines to find the men responsible. Simple, right? Don’t forget that this is noir . . .


We meet Joe on a city street when his florist truck is stopped by a horde of police cars and he’s confronted by cops with their guns drawn. He’s naturally bewildered and a little heated, but he wisely keeps his anger banked down as they start shoving him around and tearing through his boxes of flowers. We next see him when he’s being questioned in a room that includes detectives and his boss at the flower shop, where we learn that (1) Joe spent a year in the pen over a gambling debt, (2) he left college to serve in the war, and (3) he went back to school after he was released from service. Despite Joe’s insistence that he’s innocent, his boss reluctantly fires him (“Nothing personal, you understand . . .”) and the cops continue to hammer at him and – off-screen – try to beat a confession out of him. It’s not looking good for Joe.


And he ain’t playing with you.

He grabs your sympathy from the start – we can feel his growing fear and sense of helplessness as the police insist that he was responsible for the heist. We also feel his fury when the cops realize they’ve got the wrong man and release him with a simple, “Sorry we had to detain you. These things happen.” And we certainly feel the frustration that drives his quest to find the men who framed him. There are many things he could have done – turned to crime, moved to another town, or even given up on life, but he didn’t. And we’re with him every step of the way.


“Look, you’re a nice girl, but in case you’re thinking of mothering me, forget it! I’m no stray dog you can pick up, and I like my neck without a collar. Now get lost!”


John Payne was born on May 23, 1912, in Roanoke, Virginia, one of three boys; his father was a real estate and construction mogul and his mother once sang minor roles with the Metropolitan Opera. Payne grew up in a life of ease, but the family’s fortunes changed with the stock market crash of 1929, and he was forced to suspend his studies at Roanoke University in order to help support his family. He took on a variety of jobs – including singing at local radio stations – and within a few years, he was able to enroll at the Pulitzer School of Journalism at Columbia University, paying his way by working as a pulp story writer. He also earned money as a boxer and, later, a wrestler – billed as Alexei Petroff, the Savage of the Steppes. He later got a job on radio and was offered a job in the road company of a play produced by the famed Shuberts. He next landed a part as understudy for actor Reginald Gardiner in a popular musical At Home Abroad. According to legend, Payne was spotted in the play by Sam Goldwyn, who signed him to a contract and gave him a bit part in his film debut, Dodsworth (1936), starring Walter Huston. He entered the realm of noir more than a decade later in The Crooked Way (1949).

Join me in the shadows tomorrow for the last day (sniff!) of Noirvember!

~ by shadowsandsatin on November 29, 2021.

4 Responses to “Day 29 of Noirvember: Joe Rolfe in Kansas City Confidential (1952)”

  1. The beatings in this movie are brutal. If I were any of those characters, I would lock the door behind me and become a hermit!

  2. Like you said, John Payne gains your sympathy right away, and this film wouldn’t work without it.

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