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Customer Review

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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4.6 out of 5 stars
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4.6 out of 5 stars
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