The Asphalt Jungle ()

directed by John Huston
featuring Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, James Whitmore, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe

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The Asphalt Jungle is a brilliantly conceived and executed anatomy of a crime -- or, as director John Huston and scripter Ben Maddow put it, "a left-handed form of human endeavor." Recently paroled master criminal Erwin "Doc" Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe), with funding from crooked attorney Emmerich (Louis Calhern), gathers several crooks together in Cincinnati for a Big Caper. Among those involved are Dix (Sterling Hayden), an impoverished hood who sees the upcoming jewel heist as a means to finance his dream of owning a ...

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Jun 29, 2020

The Asphalt Jungle

"The Asphalt Jungle" tells the story of crime and corruption in a large American city while offering a glimmer of humanity and hope. John Huston directed this 1950 film noir and co-authored the screenplay with Ben Maddow.

The plot involves the heist of a large cache of jewelry by an impromptu gathering of criminals each with his own interest in mind. The film focuses on the characters and motivations of each of those involved; it is one of the first film noirs to be told from the perspective of the bad actors.

The film manages to develop several different characters. "Doc" Reidenschneider, (Sam Jaffe) an aging criminal just released from prison masterminds the heist. He hopes to retire to Mexico to pursue young girls, and young girls prove to be his undoing in the film. Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) is a tough petty hooligan who dreams of returning to his childhood home on a Kentucky farm and raising horses. His idyllic vision of Kentucky contrasts with his sleazy life of crime in the city. A lovely young bar girl Doll (Jean Hagen) loves Dix but he is too wrapped up in crime and in his dreams to notice. Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern) is an apparently successful criminal lawyer; he is heavily in debt and becomes involved in the heist to double-cross his companions. Emmerich keeps a young, beautiful mistress stunningly performed by a young Marilyn Monroe. The film also includes other crooks and police, both corrupt and honest.

The film centers on a lengthy eleven minute depiction of the heist, but its real theme lies in its characters and in the city itself. The city is deliberately unnamed, to make it symbolic of the American metropolis. Each of the characters are well differentiated and each of the criminals comes to a different bad end. The hooligan, Dix, bleeding to death from a bullet wound manages to make it to the farm in Kentucky with Doll for a famously poignant conclusion. The film engenders sympathy for the criminals and their dreams without sentimentalizing their characters or activities. The police are on the whole downplayed in the movie. A corrupt lieutenant plays an important role in the story as does the honest, officious police commissioner. With the sympathy it shows for the criminals, the film also speaks eloquently of the thankless job of the police and of the importance of police for bringing law to the city -- the "Asphalt Jungle". This theme was perhaps forced on films by the production code of the day, but I think that the importance of the police is less well understood today and needs to be presented.

The film is based upon a novel of the same name by W.R. Burnett, reminding me of the breadth of American writing slightly beyond the mainstream. The novel focuses on the police more than does Huston's film. "The Asphalt Jungle" has become recognized as a classic film noir and is included on the National Film Registry maintained by the Library of Congress as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." Lovers of film noir will want to get to know "The Asphalt Jungle".

Robin Friedman


Jan 8, 2009

Film noir par excellence!

A must for your film noir collection! MM at her lovliest - the Ford police car is a dream and the Wurlitzer 1100 juke box is a gem with that sexy bobby soxer doing her jive! GO FOR IT!!!!!

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