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4.6 out of 5 stars
32
4.6 out of 5 stars


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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.
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on 5 June 2017
Classic film noir. Sterling Hayden leads as 'the hooligan with a sense of honour" Sam Jaffe as the brains in a doomed attempt to bring off the heist to put them all on easy street. John Huston directs. Look out for an early appearance by Marilyn Monroe. Black & White (1950)
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on 2 October 2005
'The Asphalt Jungle' is a seminal piece of post-war (1950) social realism which harks back to some of the more cosy clichés of the pre-war era. It focuses on the commission of a crime: Doc (Sam Jaffe) is freshly released from prison, a dapper, intelligent, little old bloke, and the man with the plan to carry out an audacious jewel robbery - he needs a team, and he needs finance for the operation. We watch the criminal underworld at work as the plan falls into place, the team assembles, and they set about this major theft, intent on changing their lives.
This is the stuff that dreams are made of - that one, big payday which will change your life. Only the criminal underworld has no honour, and there are double-crosses to worry about, and while get-rich-quick is the objective, the participants all have their own psychological conflicts and contradictions.
John Huston's film presents itself as a naturalistic, almost documentary account. He uses a linear, easy-to-follow narrative - no special effects, no flashbacks, just a simple storyline stripped to the basics. We follow the logic of Doc's plan, enter the lives of the players, understand their hopes and dreams, recognise their flaws. Shot in black and white, Huston employs a film noir style without pushing it to extremes - this is more grimy urban realism than noir. He creates an atmosphere of reality without it ever being truly authentic.
There are plenty of images of bleak, windswept, city streets - some anonymous urban sprawl of concrete and asphalt which contrasts with the dreams of all the participants. They want out, want sun, sea, rural tranquillity, somewhere they are not just rats in the race.
Significantly, there are no moral judgements made in the film. The financier of the scheme, Emmerich (Louis Calhern), is a corrupt lawyer with a sickly wife and an expensive mistress (Marilyn Monroe, making her debut). Dix (Sterling Hayden) is a big farm boy who simply wants enough money to get the family farm out of hock, and he has the muscle and gun to make sure nobody stands in his way. Doc (Jaffe received an Oscar nomination) is a nice little old bloke who surely deserves a quiet retirement because, after all, nobody's really going to get hurt in this caper?
And the policemen, meanwhile, are evidently quite capable of either blatant corruption or instrumental evasion of the law - they'll happily take bribes, they're unselfconsciously brutal and not averse to planting evidence. The audience is left to decide who are the bad guys and who are the good.
There is, however, one major moral question suggested without ever being directly posed. This is 1950, and huge sections of the audience will have been caught up in the war effort, either in uniform, in the factories, or waiting for loved ones to return. While British films of this era can make disparaging allusions to the wartime profiteers and black market criminals, 'The Asphalt Jungle' is coy on the subject. Except that Huston makes clear that all the criminals - and probably all the policemen - evaded wartime service because they were in prison, on the run, or unfit for the military.
Seen at the time as a gritty, 'hard-boiled' epic, it can appear a little coy by today's standards. Nevertheless, it presents an America stripped of glamour - Monroe's cameo role is the exception - a post-war society with no obvious direction or values, a city populated by people with obvious, materialistic concerns. This is a world in which the individual is alienated from society, a world where might is right, a world in which people can be allowed occasional acts of decency or humanity, but a world in which the individual is too flawed and too self-centred ever to be guided by moral principles.
The DVD offers acceptable picture quality - a bit aged and worn in places, a bit dated in others. The soundtrack, while mono, is crisp but unsophisticated. And there are some entertaining extras - a brief piece by Huston, a scholarly commentary, and cast reminiscences.
An entertaining film, a must-watch for students of the cinema or those fascinated by the crime genre, and a film which, though it will continue to date, has a gripping enough storyline to keep you engaged.
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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.
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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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 4 February 2011
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
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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.
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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.
John Harman.
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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.
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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.
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