Worth a 2nd Look: Kansas City

Though it wasn’t met with much commercial nor critical success when first released in 1996, producer and director, Robert Altman’s, Kansas City is definitely worth a second look now.  ​

(Taken from Google Images)

Over 20 years later, this film touches on the timeless themes America as a society frequently tolerates throughout our history like; open misogyny, political corruption, vices and racial inequalities.

Though we’re never given a definitive date for the film, the snappy costumes and fast paced dialogue (as well as set cues) lets us know it’s probably set in the early 30s during the Depression.

To be honest, there’s a whole lot going on with this period piece; a hapdash kidnapping, a crooked election, a bumbling robbery, several gun murders, and the end of an ill-fated romance between love struck Blondie (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and her dim witted, smooth talking Johnny (played by Dermot Mulroney).

     (Taken from Google Images)

With a story line ripped from the pages of the old serial publication True Detective, the movie opens with mousy haired, fast talking little spitfire Blondie, driving up to the mansion of Caroline Stilton (played masterfully by Miranda Richardson) to “pinch” her nail appointment for older sister Babe (played by Silence of the Lambs alum Brooke Smith).  ​

(Taken from Google Images)

Right off the bat, nothing is as it seems and plans go awry as instead of giving her a manicure, desperate Blondie kidnaps the laudanum addled wife of the only man she thinks will be able to save her Johnny from the clutches of “colored gangsters”, the advisor to President Roosevelt himself, Henry Stilton (played by Michael Murphy).

​(Taken from Google Images)

Why does her Johnny need saving from “colored gangsters” run by cocaine toking, Monarch cab company owner/murderer/gambler/jazz lover Seldom Seen (played by honoray Oscar winner, Harry Belafonte)? Well, remember that bumbling robbery, I mentioned?

Johnny, (who was more set dressing as a character than anything else), gets caught IMMEDIATELY after the successful hold up! Fresh off the train, the mark, “good loser” gambler Sheepshan (played by A.C. Tony Smith) has Seldom Seen uncover the identity of Johnny with the help of accomplice, Blue Green (played by Martin Martin), “the worst driver”  the Monarch cab company happens to employ. He doesn’t even have time to finish cleaning off the blackface (yea) before Seldom’s crew arrives to take him back to the Hey Hey Club, where his buddy, Blue Green is being kept.

All this stupidity unfolds during a stressful election, while Babe’s jerky, bar owner/racist/husband (played by Steve Buscemi) makes sure the fix is in for the Democratic ticket. So, maybe, Johnny thought his little Amos and Andy act would go unnoticed? Maybe he even hoped his antics would impress his brother-in-law or the “Italians” he briefly mentions to make a name for himself?After all, this baseball weilding, head cracking psychopath, (also named Johnny) has his hands in a little bit of everything around town and (somehow) knows exactly what’s going on through his seedy, underworld connections but never lifts a finger to help Blondie, Babe or Jonny after the mess they create. ​

(Taken from Google Images)​

This apathy and acquiescence to “what will” appears to be one of the recurring plot cues throughout the film. Through the graphic violence, changing time sequences and foul language; everyone is connected, nothing is as it seems, but that’s just the way it is in Kansas City.

(Taken from Google Images)

​(Taken from Google Images)

Thinking they can talk their way out of anything, Jean Harlow fanatic Blondie and her Johnny (like her very own Clark Gable), can’t seem to touch down from their Hollywood fantasy playing out on the mean Missouri streets. Their antics overshadow the true love story of Mr. and Mrs. Stilton, the political advisor and his “dope head” wife.

(Taken from Google Images)

“Hinny” would have moved heaven and Earth to get back his lil “Pussy” meanwhile, Johnny couldn’t even hold down a steady job for poor Blondie, who went to desperate lengths to holdfast to her Johnny once more.

Want more insights on this piece? Check out my original copy in the link below!

Source: Worth a 2nd Look: Kansas City


Author: awesomesauceryness

Life is pain, but still there is beauty to seen. An "awesomesauceryness" to the jagged edges, perhaps?

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