Monday, May 7, 2012

224. The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: John Huston
Written By: W.R. Burnett, Ben Maddow, John Huston, from novel by W.R. Burnett
Main Cast: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe, Marc Lawrence, James Whitmore
Click here to view the trailer


Well here we are; one week after it has began, “Seven Shadows Week” is prepared to come to a close and what a week in film it has been. I was hoping that when Karen and I first talked about this collaboration that I would come out of this week with a new appreciation and better understanding for film noir and I definitely have. By sheer coincidence, we have saved the best for last.

The film revolves around a jewelry heist and really takes shape when “Doc” Erwin Riedenschneider (Jaffe) is released from prison and makes one of his first stops a bookie joint, run by a seedy individual named Cobby (Lawrence). Doc makes his plans for the jewel heist known and fortunately his reputation precedes him and Doc doesn’t have to do much talking to convince Cobby to take part. Cobby suggests that the two go to see a wealthy lawyer named Alonzo Emmerich (Calhern) and try to convince him to back their caper. Emmerich is very interested, as he’s informed that he stands to walk away from the deal a half million dollars richer. Doc releases more of the plan, stating that he’ll only need a team of three men: a driver, a “boxman” (someone to pick the safe) and a “hooligan” (someone to handle the guards). That’s where our main character comes in, the top hooligan in the underground and a man who has a passion for playing the ponies, Dix Handley (Hayden). Dix has been in and out of jail countless times, but if he could only raise enough money to get back home to Kentucky and Hickorywood Ranch, then (and only then) he could be content. The heist is pulled off, but everything doesn’t go as planned, as usual in a heist film.

Before I started this journey through the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die” book, I didn’t watch a lot of old movies. In fact, my comfort zone used to be movies from the 90s or 2000s and absolutely no earlier than the 80s. Anyway, one thing that always used to really irk me about films (and still does sometimes) is the overuse of the happy ending. I hate when a film could end on a down note and make a lot of sense, but instead some plot twist is thrown in at the last minute and everything turns out rosey. With this week of film noir, I realized that the happy ending is almost nonexistent when it comes to film noir. They almost always end with dead main characters, characters in prison or characters that are worse off than when the film started. That is no truer than in “The Asphalt Jungle”. It’s amazing how this type of film conditions us to root for the bad guy. We want to see the heist pulled off successfully, we want to see the criminals off a copper or two, if one stand in their way and we want to see them prosper in the end. In “The Asphalt Jungle” the heist itself lasts approximately eleven minutes, but in reality showing the actual heist itself wasn’t even necessary. This film is not about a heist, but rather about the type of men that pull off a heist, their vices and what motivates them. It shows us the events leading up to the caper and it shows us the aftermath, but more importantly it takes the time to introduce the characters and let us get a chance to get used to them for a few minutes. Then the film plays out with characters we actually care about. As it is, however, I’m glad the actual heist was included, because it’s a pretty heavy eleven minutes and a great scene.

As I thought about this film throughout the day, I realized that there was nothing wrong with it. Initially it didn’t hit me as a perfect movie, but as I type this, I literally have nothing bad to say about “The Asphalt Jungle”. Having Sterling Hayden in a heist movie, I couldn’t help but remember “The Killing” – another favorite noir of mine – and this is nearly as good, if not just as good. The rest of the cast is great too. Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore and Marc Lawrence all great cast choices and even Marilyn Monroe is present (albeit not for long) and plays her part well. The cinematography is classic noir style and I couldn’t help, at times, to be reminded of the French New Wave and how this film had to be another inspiration to the director’s of that period.

RATING: 10/10  Like I said, there aren’t any faults here. It’s a fantastic film, one that I could see myself enjoying over and over again.


I’d like to take one last opportunity to send a big thank you to Karen Burroughs Hansberry for providing my blog with three fantastic articles this week. Also, for allowing three of my reviews to appear on her blog, Shadows and Satin. I hope my followers took the time to read her words. She is a woman who is very passionate about films, especially the ones she loves and I think that shines through in her writing. I had a lot of fun this week watching these movies and ultimately, this week was a success, with four candidates for my next TOP 20 rearing their heads this week.

April 10, 2012  6:59pm
PUBLISHED: May 7, 2012  12:00pm

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