Monday, December 21, 2009

Mug Shots #11: John Payne AKA The Ass-Kicker



Payne is maybe the most underrated noir leading man, a gruff everyman with disappointed eyes and a choked voice. He was never anguished, though. He was too busy busting heads. He trained for the hard stuff in Larceny and The Crooked Way, but the real pugilism began when he started making movies with director Phil Karlson. Their terrific Kansas City Confidential features a centerpiece brawl with Payne facing down Lee Van Cleef and Neville Brand. That film's brutality is topped only by the blistering, brilliant 99 River Street, a cornucopia of ass-kicking excitement. Payne's best performance was probably in Byron Haskin's underrated political drama The Boss, a fictionalized account of the rise and fall of Missouri political boss Tom Pendergast.

Essential John Payne:

Kansas City Confidential
99 River Street
The Boss

Best of the Rest:
Larceny
The Crooked Way
Slightly Scarlet

Payne features prominently in my ranking of noir's best brawls.

Ironically enough for noir's preeminent pugilist, Payne got his start as a pretty boy song-and-dance man. Even more ironic: he's best known as the father in Miracle on 34th Street. Read more about him here.

Imdb has both
99 River Street and Kansas City Confidential ready for viewing. Watch them here.

3 comments:

David Cranmer said...

One of my favorite actors from the 1940s.

Paul D. Brazill said...

Don't know his stuff so, again, thanks for this Jake.

Jake Hinkson said...

Payne is great. I just saw Slightly Scarlet, which is a terrific piece of work. And just the other day I saw Hidden Fear--which isn't the greatest thing in the world but a) it's set in Copenhagen and thus constitutes an entry into the little known subgenre 'Denmark Noir', and b) Payne kicks the shit out of about fifty people.