Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM for April 2022

It’s TCM Film Festival month! So watch for lots of goodies about this fabulous event, which returns this year to an in-person fest after back-to-back virtual celebrations in 2020 and 2021. Meanwhile, tune in to TCM for these top notch film noir and pre-Code offerings . . .

SHADOWY PICK: Kansas City Confidential (1952)

The schedule for April on TCM is chock full of first-rate noirs, including Out of the Past (1947), Pitfall (1948), Gun Crazy (1950), and The Asphalt Jungle (1950). But my shadowy recommendation for the month is Kansas City Confidential (1952), a hard-hitting feature starring John Payne, Coleen Gray, and Preston Foster.

They couldn’t rat on each other.


Payne plays Joe Rolfe, a flower deliveryman and ex-war hero who finds himself in trouble with the law when he’s accused of knocking off a bank. He’s fingered for the job because eyewitnesses identify his flower van as the getaway vehicle for the heist. Turns out that the robbery was carried out by an embittered former cop, Tim Foster (Foster), who wrangled three low-level hoods into joining him on the job and craftily framed Joe by using a van identical to his. During the planning and execution of the crime, all four of the men involved in the heist were always masked, so that their identifies were kept secret from each other.

Joe Rolfe is surrounded by inquiring cops.

After enduring multiple beatings by an over-zealous cop bent on extracting a confession, Joe’s innocence is proven and he’s released from custody. But now he’s got a chip on his shoulder and he’s determined to find the men responsible for the frame.


The three hoods are played by noir veterans Jack Elam (Kiss Me Deadly, Baby Face Nelson), Neville Brand (D.O.A., The Mob, The Turning Point), and Lee Van Cleef (Vice Squad, The Big Combo). Coleen Gray plays Foster’s daughter, Helen, an aspiring lawyer who catches Joe’s eye.

Joe and Helen grow closer.


Both Jack Elam and Lee Van Cleef were in the well-known 1952 western High Noon, starring Gary Cooper. They both would go on to appear in numerous other westerns.

The film was directed by Phil Karlson, who also helmed Ladies of the Chorus (1948), one of Marilyn Monroe’s first films. He also directed John Payne in two other noirs, 99 River Street (1953) and Hell’s Island (1955).

An uncredited part was played by Helen Kleeb, who had a prolific television career; she is perhaps best known for her role as Mamie Baldwin in TV’s The Waltons. Kansas City Confidential was her big-screen debut.

The plot thickens, the circle tightens.

Director Quentin Tarantino has cited this film as his inspiration for his 1992 film Reservoir Dogs, in which a group of men carry out a heist led by an older criminal, and are known only to each other by “color” names, e.g., Mr. Pink and Mr. White.


“It’s a pat hand only because no one can rat on you. You can’t even rat on each other. ‘Cause you’ve never seen each other without those masks. I made you cop-proof and stool pigeon-proof and it’s gonna stay that way.” – Tim Foster (Preston Foster)

SATINY PICK: A Free Soul (1931)

Jan had a special relationship with her father.

Unlike the film noir offerings, there aren’t many pre-Codes airing on TCM in April, but I was able to identify a real winner to recommend for my satiny pick: A Free Soul (1931), starring Norma Shearer, Clark Gable, and Lionel Barrymore.


Shearer is Jan Ashe, the free-spirited daughter of Stephen Ashe (Barrymore), who is a brilliant, successful defense attorney, but also an alcoholic. The film opens with Stephen’s defense of a local gangster, Ace Wilfong (Gable), on a murder charge. Stephen cleverly secures Wilfong’s release, but before long, Jan is involved in an illicit affair with the dangerous underworld figure. When Stephen finds out about the scandalous relationship, he and Jan enter a bargain – he will stop drinking if she will stop seeing Ace. But things aren’t as simple as they seem.


And a special relationship with Ace.

Leslie Howard plays Dwight Winthrop, Jan’s fiancé, who’s left in the dust when she falls for Ace. Stephen Ashe’s assistant (whose primary job seems to be to tote around his stash of booze) is played by James Gleason.


Clarence Brown directed the film. Brown helmed several Joan Crawford vehicles – Sadie McKee, Letty Lynton, Chained, and The Gorgeous Hussy – as well as numerous films starring Greta Garbo: Anna Christie, Romance, Inspiration, Anna Karenina, and Conquest. He was nominated six times for the Best Director Academy Award, but never won. He holds the record for most director nominations without a win.

Norma Shearer and Clark Gable co-starred in two other films: Strange Interlude and Idiot’s Delight.

Dwight turned out to be more than Jan expected.

A Free Soul was the first film to garner Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Barrymore, who won) and Best Actress (Shearer), but not Best Picture.


“I just don’t want to get married, Dwight. I don’t want life to settle down around me like a pan of sour dough. I don’t want it one little bit.” Jan Ashe (Norma Shearer)

Kansas City Confidential airs on TCM on April 14th and A Free Soul airs on April 28th. Check ‘em out!

You only owe it to yourself.

~ by shadowsandsatin on March 30, 2022.

4 Responses to “Shadowy and Satiny Picks: What to Watch on TCM for April 2022”

  1. Very good post… very interesting and complete– thanks!

  2. I love the quote from the Norma Shearer film, about life settling down around her like a pan of sourdough. I’m using that!

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