on 22 November 2008
"The Asphalt Jungle" is one of the few Hollywood films to follow the Russian tradition of picture-making; for the film does not include actors who are "stars" in the accepted sense of the word, but people who have been encouraged to "sink" their characters fully into the roles they are playing. Even Marilyn Monroe - in one of her first film parts - is not listed in the opening credit titles.
The movie captures perfectly the weaknesses of human nature that comes from greed & the wish to have more than one`s "fair share" . The contrast in the characters is notable: for example, the coolness of the German "Doctor" and the nervousness of the bookmaker.
The black & white photography is gritty & helps create the sombre atmosphere of the film. The use of music too, is restrained: only in the first & last scenes of the picture is there any "soundtrack" background music. Otherwise the music emanates from "natural" sources i.e. radio, jukebox etc., altogether an absorbing film, well worth seeing; a classic of its kind.
on 24 November 2007
Claims that this film 'invented' the caper movie may seem excessive, since this wasn't the first time a heist had been depicted from the crooks' point of view. But what made The Asphalt Jungle so fresh was the sympathy and sensitivity with which it characterised its 'crooked' heroes.
One of the studio heads (Louis B. Mayer, I think) famously said he 'wouldn't cross the road to see that Asphalt Pavement thing' because it was about 'ugly people doing ugly things'. In fact, the criminals in John Huston's film are far less 'ugly' than the ones contemporary audiences were used to, and this may in fact have been what Mayer found so discomfiting about the experience.
As Louis Calhern's crooked banker says when trying to soothe his wife's fears about the criminals with whom he associates, 'they're not so different really - after all, crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavour'. The moment sums up the film's outlook, and Huston delights in juxtaposing the single-minded prejudice and condemnation of the 'good citizens' in the film with the essential decentness of his three-dimensional protagonists.
Huston is sometimes credited with making the first 'true' film noir, The Maltese Falcon. With The Asphalt Jungle, he gave the Noir genre more depth and sophistication and sheer human feeling than had even its greatest exponents (Wilder, Tourneur, Huston himself, etc) during the 1940s. And the impression stuck: The Killing and Rififi spring most readily to mind as direct imitations of The Asphalt Jungle.
This is as beautifully photographed, written, acted and directed a crime film as you will ever see, and why there aren't already a hundred gushing reviews for it on this page I really don't know. You need to see it.
on 29 December 2007
This is a bit of a gem in terms of heist films. Whether or not it really invented the genre is not important. What is worth considering is that it has a really good set of characters that intertwine fabulously in a rather good plot. Rather than spoil the film by explaining everyone and thing, lets just say that the heist itself is nearly flawless. Then there is the inevitable double cross - but by whom you ask? Lets say its very much a source of the Ocean's 12 type of game. Nevertheless, the acting underpins a good old-fashioned storyline, where you actually have to watch and listen (and not switch off!)
Film noir, not in its truest sense, but yes its nearly there - certainly adding more to it than just tension.
I stumbled on this, didn't know much about it, but ended up liking it. It only gets 4 stars, because the transfer to DVD is a bit shoddy. Worth watching though.
on 24 April 2001
It is a curious fact that despite the an ever-increasing modern infatuation with the criminal perspective of life, "The Asphalt Jungle", the first heist film from such a view, has languished in obscurity. It represents a major break from the traditional thriller and a key achievement of 50s film-making.
Deliberately episodic in form, the film takes us through the careful planning for the job, the botched attempt, and the frantic getaway. In generating believable and sympathetic criminals, John Huston's confident direction does the difficult job of showing how the violence of these character has not robbed them of their humanity.
Of course, unlike the Westerns, where the dark heroes could ride off into the sunset, this film aimed for the gritty realism of its day and so there could be no rosy future for its villians. Thus the film bears the classic elements of tragedy whereby the protagonists' own shortcomings prompt their fall. And as with all great tragedy, inevitability does not betray the climax of its power.
In many ways, it is a pity that this film featured the debut of Marilyn Munroe. Her patent beauty is only on the screen for a few minutes and yet has stolen much of the attention that the rest of this film so richly deserved.
Out of MGM, The Asphalt Jungle is directed by John Huston and based on the novel of the same name by W.R. Burnett. It stars Sterling Hayden, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, Louis Calhern, James Whitmore, Teresa Celli, and in a minor but important role, Marilyn Monroe. Miklós Rózsa scores the music and Harold Rosson photographs it in black & white. Plot sees Erwin "Doc" Riedenschneider (Jaffe) leave prison and quickly assemble a gang to execute a long in gestation jewellery heist. However, with suspicion rife and fate waiting to take a hand, the carefully constructed caper starts to come apart at the seams.
John Huston liked a tough movie, having given film noir in America a jump start with The Maltese Falcon in 1941, he also that same year adapted W.R. Burnett's novel High Sierra. Burnett also had on his CV crime classic stories Little Caesar & Scarface, so it's no surprise that Huston was drawn to The Asphalt Jungle. As it turned out, it was a match made in gritty urban heaven.
The Asphalt Jungle was one of the first crime film's to break with convention and tell its story from the side of the criminals. Where once the pursuing law officers/private detectives were the heavy part of the plotting, now under Huston's crafty guidance we have a study in crime and a daring for us to empathise with a bunch of criminals/villains/anti-heroes. As a group the gang consists of very differing characters yet they have a common bond, they strive for a better life. Be it Hayden's luggish Dix who dreams of buying back his father's horse ranch back in Kentucky, or Jaffe's Doc who wants to retire to Mexico and surround himself with girls: it's greed and yearning that binds them together. With alienation and bleakness, in true film noir traditions, featuring heavily as the plot (and gang) unravels.
With gritty dialogue and oozing a naturalistic feel, it's also no surprise that Huston's movie would go on to influence a ream of similar type film's. Some good, some bad, but very few of them have been able to capture the suspense that is wrung out for the actual heist sequence here. Fabulous in its authenticity, and with that out of the way, it sets the decaying tone for the rest of the piece. Interesting to note that although we are now firmly in the lives of the "gang," including their respective women (Hagen, Monroe & Celli all shining in what is a very macho movie), we still know that the society outside of their circle is hardly nice either. This is stripped down brutalistic film noir. Merciless to its characters and thriving on ill fate, with a finale that is as perfect as it gets in this most wonderful of film genres. 9.5/10
Once a key part of the mighty battle between Louis B. Mayer and head of production Dore Schary for creative control at MGM, John Huston's classic 1950 heist movie The Asphalt Jungle is good - very good - but at times it feels like it would have benefited from a lower budget and a tighter running time. Even though it was a comparatively low budget picture for the studio there's still a feeling that it's a film about people with no money made by people with rather a lot of it even if it was part of a conscious move by the studio to tackle grittier subject matter to compete with television. But then, with a track record that included Little Caesar, Scarface and High Sierra, the screen rights to W. R. Burnett's novel were never likely to go to one of the more cash-strapped studios that churned out film noir thrillers for their bread-and-butter.
It's that old favorite, the perfect heist that goes wrong, not because of bad luck or any overlooked detail but because of the inherent character flaws of the men carrying it out: for Sam Jaffe's meticulous and brilliant planner Doc Riedenschneider, it's very young girls ("We all work for our vices"), for Louis Calhern's crooked lawyer it's his belief that he can talk his way in and out of anything, for Marc Lawrence's bookie it's his desire to be seen as the equal of more socially `legitimate' criminals and for Sterling Hayden's not-too-bright hooligan it's his exaggerated sense of his own honor. Although executed with skill, most of the film's pleasures come from the performances, not least Jaffe's uncharacteristic Teutonic precision that earned him an Oscar nomination and Louis Calhern's free-spending but bankrupt criminal lawyer who simply regards crime as "a left-handed form of human endeavor" and who gets much of the best dialogue. But the supporting cast is memorable too, from Jean Hagen's hooker in love with Hayden, eager to please but living on her nerves in a performance completely devoid of vanity, Marc Lawrence's sweaty bookie and James Whitmore's cat-loving but tough-as-nails hunchback barkeep to Brad Dexter's unscrupulous private eye trying to cut himself into the deal, while Dorothy Tree's neglected wife puts a lifetime of desperation to recapture old times in her two scenes. Definitely worthwhile, though it doesn't leave as lasting an impression as many a cheaper film noir. Incidentally, someone really should tell whoever wrote the sleeve blurb for WHV's DVD release what `gunsel' really means...
Extras are few on the US NTSC Region 1 DVD - an audio commentary by Drew Casper and James Whitmore, 'virtual' introduction by John Huston constructed from TV archive footage, and original theatrical trailer - but good. Unfortunately, the UK PAL DVD is completely devoid of extras.
on 1 March 2008
The problem with todays crime movies is that so many of them talk the talk but dont walk the walk.
John Houston's 1953 heist movie puts them all to shame, simply because it understands what makes career criminals tick, and it manages to combine street style with character substance. On one level there is the plan, the operation and the betrayal that inevitably follows. But beneath this we are given glimpses into the domestic lives, impossible dreams and personality flaws of the heavy, the safecracker, the mastermind, the getaway driver, the financier- character types transformed into real flesh and blood. Brilliant.
on 29 August 2010
This film is gritty and tense,with screenplay by Ben Maddow and John Huston, and also directed by John Huston.The introspective talk between gangland robbers is engaging and never boring, even though these days it might seem cliched. This is everything one expects from 1950, the styling of cars and clothes and the decor of apartments. Marylin Monroe is first introduced lying sleepily on a couch, looking surprisingly modern in a one piece trouser suit designed to flatter every curve and wiggle. She is Angela the 'sweet kid' plaything to a supposedly wealthy mobster Emmerich (Louis Calhern) installed in a waterside 'cottage' as a diversion from his ailing and neurotic wife. Later in the action Marilyn has her full dramatic moments when called upon to be an alibi after a diamond robbery has taken an unexpected and nasty turn.
The robbery gang is organised by Doc (Sam Jaffe) fresh out of prison, and aided by Gus (James Whitmore) a cafe owner, and Dix (Sterling Hayden)a guy who owes money and just wants to buy a ranch. Jean Hagen-later a co star with Gene Kelly in Singing in the Rain--puts in an emotional and caring performance as Doll,the out of work dancer who loves Dix and eventually helps him to escape, fatally wounded, to die with his beloved horses.
After the gripping intrigues, all the robbers end up dead, or in prison, and producer Arthur Hornblow JR turns the film around with a moralistic appraisal of the Police and Communications, delivered by Commissioner Hardy (John McIntire). As The Movie Guide quoted--this film is often copied but never equalled.
This 1950 archi-classic of film noir is very famous - and every single ounce of this fame is well deserved! Below, more of my impressions, with some very limited SPOILERS.
As probably everybody knows in this film John Huston describes the story of a daring heist and its consequences for all those involved. I will not say anything about the plot, but here is the dramatis personae:
- Dr Erwin Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe): a middle aged genius of crime
- Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden): a stickup man addicted to gambling
- Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern): a rich and influent mob lawyer
- Gus Minissi (James Whitmore): a hunchback, owner of a little bar; also occasionally a wheelman
- Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso): a respectable family man, husband and father, who can open any safe in less than 3 minutes...
- Cobby (Marc Lawrence): a slimy, sleazy, cowardly bookmaker
- Lt. Ditrich (Barry Kelley): a cop - dirty in all meanings of this term
- Doll Conovan (Jean Hagen): an exotic dancer down on her luck
- Bob Brannom (Brad Dexter): a Private Eye moonlighting as repo man, enforcer and occasionally also as hit man
- Angela Phinlay (Marilyn Monroe): a gorgeous, young "trophy mistress" taking good care of her sugar daddy (Emmerich)
- Police Commissioner Hardy (Sam McIntire): a high ranking cop struggling to face an unprecendented crime wave
- May Emmerich (Dorothy Tree): Alonzo Emmerich's wife of many, many years; presently sick, bed-ridden and very unhappy
As we can see the characters are quite stereotyped, but the scenario, the dialogs and the masterful control of the whole film by the director made "Asphalt Jungle" into something REALLY unique! It is clear from the first moment, that all actors were enchanted to play in this film and gave EVERYTHING they had in themselves! The three main actors, Sam Jaffe, Sterling Hayden and Louis Calhern are purely INCREDIBLE! Marilyn Monroe appears here relatively briefly, but she is amazingly sexy and completely unforgettable. This role was a big step towards her legendary destiny with "Niagara" and "How to marry a millionaire" only three years ahead.
The greatness of this film is not only in the scenario but also in the message - we all have weaknesses and if we cannot resist temptation we are all finally doomed by our sins, may it be pride, lust, greed - or cowardice, a sin frequently underestimated, as for some reason it didn't make the famous short list... It also teaches us two well known truths:
1. You never know your own happiness until you wasted what you had and didn't respect
2. Payback is a bitch! And when it is payback time, the wicked are ultimately punished not only proportionally to their crimes, but also appropriately to their sins...
Bottom line, from the first to the last moment, this is a GREAT film, a great masterpiece of world cinema, to discover absolutely! Enjoy!
on 26 March 2010
One of the classic post WW2 films that contains a host of faces that you recognise but can't often name! A quality film that features an up and coming Marilyn Monroe playing a naieve coy type brilliantly for starters.
The hub of the film is about a safe job in the centre of town orgainised by a recently released Draughtsman - one who draws up a crimnal job. He seeks reliable specialist crooks, each wih their own criminal specialism, however the Police decide to trail the Mr Big as they are convinced he might pull something after being away for a long spell.
A crooked lawyer is supposed to put up the money for a cut (but he is in fact almost bankrupt) plays the group of criminals like a violin, offering to fence the stolen goods once they deliver and then paying them off in due course.
It seems too good to be true and the young Monroe charachter is sucked in by the lawyer, and his plan is for them to double cross and abscond with the spoils of the job, leaving the Cons emptyhanded.
The crack team is hired, each for their own particular skills and the job itself seems to go with precision, until the safecracker is shot by a security guard who is in turn shot by another gang member.
Thus the pace is cranked up as the mastermind behind the job is persued, as are the remaining gang members until the final climax of the film.
The film is a moral tale and is well presented, well worth having in your collection.