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I am a fan of film noir, owning many of them, and this one is right
about at the top of the list and climbing each time I view it. It might
even have passed Double Indemnity for the number one spot. It's that
For anyone who has not seen it: the poster art and the video/DVD cover are both misleading. They usually feature Marilyn Monroe in publicizing this movie, but she only has a small role. Many times they feature Monroe, Jean Hagen and Sterling Hayden all together....and those three are never on screen at the same time. My point being: what you see on the outside is not what's on the inside.
Hayden is the star of the film but Sam Jaffe and Louis Calhern are not far behind. In fact, the more I watch this film, the more I see the latter two as the real stars here, and I especially have begun to appreciate the great acting by Calhern in here.
Actually, everyone performs at a very high level. The diverse and interesting characters are really fun to watch, one of the big reasons I rate this film so high. Hayden, with his big body and tough demeanor, was perfect for film noir. He is a legitimate tough guy, nobody to fool with. Jaffe was fascinating as the little German "doctor" but until I got the DVD and put on the English subtitles, I never understood all his dialog, which is terrific, and "Doc" is my favorite character in this film. Kudos also go to James Whitmore and Marc Lawrence for great supporting role performances.
The two women, Hagen and Monroe, also do their bits nicely. I never understood people who criticized Monroe's acting. I thought she was pretty good right from the start, with this film as an example. I also liked seeing her thin and in shape.
This movie is a gritty, tough, no-nonsense crime story concerning a jewel robbery where things go wrong and eventually does everybody in. Actually, it isn't just a botched robbery that ruins some of them - it's character weakness, from greed to sexual lust.
"You reap what you sow" could be a moral of this story.
"The Asphalt Jungle" is one of the greatest crime films. The movie has
its roots in several great film noir projects, such as "Double
Indemnity", "The Killers", "Criss Cross", and "Out of the Past". Its
lasting impression over time is based upon its quality and its
unprecedentedly brilliant use of the "caper" as a plot device. As
stated in other comments, this film noir's influence can be seen in
hundreds of disparate "caper" movies - "Rififi", "A Simple Plan", "The
Guns of Navarone", "The Usual Suspects", and "How to Steal a Million",
just to name a few.
I will not give away the results of the "caper", but the film is truly superior in how it explores relationships and deception. This is one of John Huston's greatest works, and the script lays down the tension from the first moment and doesn't let up. Huston uses multiple closeups to literally drain the emotion out of the characters. Hayden, Calhern, Lawrence, Hagen, and Whitmore turn in superb performances with many memorable moments, but Sam Jaffe steals the film in an Oscar-worthy performance as the brain behind the caper. Marilyn Monroe makes an indelible impression in a fairly brief but pivotal role.
Please do not miss this - an easy 10 out of 10.
I guess the great John Huston knew what he was doing when making this
film. Get the right cast and so he did.! The timeless touches in this
film make it so watchable so often that we forget that a studio like
MGM rarley made a gutty film like this.
Every character in the " Asphalt Jungle" has his/her moments! When Angela Phinley says to Emerich( Calhern) what will happen and Emerich responds the appropriate " you'll have lots of vacation".
Marc Lawrence as cobby has never been better since his part as Ziggy in "Key Largo" Jean Hagen shows some real ability and we wonder why she was used in future films to a lessor effect.Hayden, as Dix Hanley has a warped credo for a man on the edge.Sam Jaffe steals the show as doc..smart enough in most items save for your girls dancing in bars.
Even the supporting cast shines under Huston, Mcintre and the police chief , Brad Dexter as the crooked investigator, Barry Kelly as the corrupt cop with James Whitmore playing a man whose body is warped but whose soul is still intact.
Thanks goodness there is no music( film score) during the jewel heist. This fact alone lets us know this is a real film..unlike the ones being released today.
Mikos Rosza's score is emotional for sure..and the final in a Kentucky field is very poetic a la Huston
I'm a sucker for a good heist film, and three of the best I've ever seen were made around 1955/56 - 'Rififi', 'Bob le flambeur' and 'The Killing'. Now they are still three of the greatest crime thrillers ever made, but now that I've finally seen 'The Asphalt Jungle' it's obvious what source those movies were drawing on! Not that I'm saying they're rip offs, they're not, but they are kind of three (excellent) variations on Huston's theme. 'The Asphalt Jungle' must therefore be seen as the most influential crime movie of the modern era, and the blueprint for every subsequent caper movie ('The Anderson Tapes', 'Thief', 'Reservoir Dogs', 'The Usual Suspects', 'The Score',etc.etc.) This superb film noir is almost impossible to fault. The script is first rate, John Huston's direction is inspired, Sterling Hayden - possibly America's most underrated actor - is fantastic as troubled ex-con Dix Handley, and the ensemble cast are all excellent, especially James Whitmore ('Them!'), Louis Calhern ('Notorious'), Sam Jaffe ('The Day The Earth Stood Still') and John McIntire ('Psycho'). The early role for Marilyn Monroe made a strong impact on a lot of people, but I was even more impressed by Jean Hagen as Doll. She is unforgettable and her scenes with Hayden are wonderful. Why did she never become a major star? This is a crime classic and brilliant entertainment. Highly recommended!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Coming at the end of the decade in 1950 - which effectively ended
Hollywood's much cherished Golden Age - was MGM's THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. A
superbly structured gritty crime drama it was one of the last of the
great Noir thrillers. Produced for the studio by Arthur Hornblow Jr.
from a novel by W.R. Burnett it was beautifully written for the screen
by Ben Maddow and John Huston and outstandingly directed by Huston. The
assembled cast couldn't be better even down to the smallest parts such
as Ray Teal turning up as a patrolling policeman. The picture is
notable also for an early appearance of Marilyn Monroe as the kittenish
ingenue of shady lawyer Louis Calhern. Stylishly photographed in
stunning black & white by Harold Rosson THE ASPHALT JUNGLE has joined
the ranks, alongside "The Killers" (1946) and "Out Of The Past" (1947),
as the finest Noir ever made.
An old time criminal Doc Redinschneider (Sam Jaffe) has just been released from prison and has devised a plan for the "perfect" caper ("I could sell it on the open market for $100,000"). He approaches a small time racing "fixer" Cobby (a brilliant Marc Lawrence) who in turn arranges with dishonest lawyer Alonzo Emmerich (Calhern) to finance the heist of a million dollar diamond haul from a major jewellery firm. Emmerich is also to act as a "fence" to offload the gems. Hired is expert safe-cracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso), the humpback Gus (James Whitmore) as the driver and a small time hoodlum Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) as the group's strong arm. The robbery itself is a success (a riveting intense sequence) but things start to go terribly wrong. First Ciavelli is accidentally shot and then Emmerich, along with an accomplice (an impressive Brad Dexter) attempt a double cross which is thwarted by Dix after a shootout. With the loot now just so much junk Reidinschneider and Dix must go on the run. The movie culminates with Emmerich committing suicide, Redinschneider, Cobby and Gus being arrested and ends with the fatally wounded Dix making a dash out of the city to reach his family farm in the country.
Performances are terrific! Hayden was never better and only came close to matching this portrayal six years later in Kubrick's brilliant "The Killing" (1956). Outstanding also is Sam Jaffe as the master criminal, Louis Calhern as the crooked lawyer, Marc Lawrence as the "fixer" ("I always sweat when I count money - it's the way I am") and John McIntire as the determined Police Commissioner. All things considered THE ASPHALT JUNGLE is probably the most perfectly cast film ever. The only minor disappointment is the sparse music score by the great Miklos Rozsa. There is a splendid dramatic main title and continues after the credits for a short while but then no more music is heard until the final six or seven minutes of the picture when there is a hectic rhythmic orchestral statement to accompany the mortally wounded Dix and his frantic drive to his family's farm. Then as he reaches home, collapses and lays dying in a pasture the music segues into a reflective melodic theme for the end title. The lack of a full score however is but a minor quibble and does little to alter the fact that THE ASPHALT JUNGLE remains an exercise in meticulous motion picture making.
I hadn't seen The Asphalt Jungle for nearly 30 years until tonight, I
think I must have (wrongly) considered it to be a "modern film", ie
post rock'n'roll and dismissed it as too earthy as a result. Well I was
wrong, it's certainly a Golden Age film made with high production
values, with all the right actors, direction, music and story the
Golden Age had produced. The music especially links it back to Double
Indemnity and of course Huston to The Maltese Falcon, Jaffe to Lost
Horizon etc. It was simply a signpost to the type of films to come ,
the ones I avoid.
It's gritty, as realistic as a gritty fantasy could be in 1950, as realistic as I want. The multi character interplay sticks in the mind, everyone's grafting and ready to dump on the next guy, apart from The Hooligan who dumb as he is really has a heart. It's Sam Jaffe's film though, his calculating but flawed dirty old man character was a classic perv-ormance, nowadays we would not have been spared the sleaze, but he walked a fine line successfully.
And again, the sleazy relationship between Uncle Louis Calhern and young Marilyn Monroe was perfectly handled.
All in all a marvellous film from the twilight years of the Golden Age.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
THE ASPHALT JUNGLE epitomizes Film Noir. It's dark, grim and it's not
afraid to show us seedy, down-and-out characters who are nevertheless
complex and deeply human. This film has men and women who inhabit the
underworld, that 'city under the city'. Most of their needs are spelled
out, and the backgrounds are painted in memorable detail.
We see little men like Cobby (the late Marc Lawrence in a sweaty, realistic performance) and Gus (James Whitmore); a woman with nothing but a romantic illusion to cling to (the great Jean Hagen as Doll); men whose lives have been crippled by crime and who persevere only through their own folly-laden dreams: Doc (who sets it all in motion, expertly played by Sam Jaffe) and Dix (Sterling Hayden). There is also family-man safe-cracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso), whose motivations are understandable to us all and whose desperation is painful to watch at times. While Dix is often seen as the central protagonist in JUNGLE, he really shares that position with Alonzo Emmerich. Emmerich is a corrupt lawyer: a formerly wealthy, urbane man reduced to the same doomed schemes as his cohorts, men to whom he feels superior and whom he ultimately intends to double-cross. Emmerich is almost tragic in the Greek or Shakespearean mold: he has farther to fall than Dix and the rest, but he has already met the ground halfway as the film begins. He's broke, and no more debts can be called in to support the new scheme. Unlike the younger men, who could possibly take other paths, there is really nowhere for him to go but down. Emmerich's scenes--rendered immortal by Louis Calhern's performance, the greatest in the film--are the most interestingly complex. He pretends he is smarter than everyone else, but he knows that hubris has brought his life past the crisis point. He is painfully aware that neither the money from the stolen jewels, nor the foolish romantic escape with his mistress (Marilyn Monroe) will ever redeem him.
The robbery sequence, around which the film ostensibly revolves, is very brief and anti-climactic. This is surely Huston's intention: it's all over in a few minutes and nobody actually gets what they want. The stolen jewels are brought to Emmerich and a violent scene leads to a foil of the rich man's double-crossing scheme. In the end, everyone can see that this particular gleaming treasure--like the gold dust in TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE or the 'black bird' in THE MALTESE FALCON--is ultimately worthless: the jewels are too hot and no one dares fence them. So Doc ends up with most of them in his black bag. He begins pursuit of his dream of a tropical isle, surrounded with dancing girls and ends up in a roadside bar where he feeds nickels into a jukebox as a pretty teenager bops around for him. The waiting cops close in quickly, and all is over for Doc. Emmerich, too, is soon caught. The alibi plan with the mistress doesn't hold water. And the police make a direct connection to him and his dead henchman Brannom (Brad Dexter). Making short work of it, he goes into his private office and shoots himself in the head.
Other characters meet their ends behind bars (Cobby and Gus) or with ironic justice (corrupt detective Barry Kelley, who tries to play both sides), or in death (Ciavelli). At the close of the film, we are left with a mortally wounded Dix, driving toward his dreamed-of horse farm. At his side is the faithful Doll, who knows the jig is up. Dix has never given up his illusions, where the other characters probably never believed their own. He dies, with poetic rightness, in a field surrounded by curious horses, as poor Doll is left to her own devices. The film, which opened on a dim stretch of urban asphalt, closes on a sunny rural vision.
What makes THE ASPHALT JUNGLE a great Film Noir? The wide array of doomed characters and a persistent feeling of encroaching doom go a long way to take it in that direction. In this way, the film exemplifies the strong fatalism that is essential to Noir. Along the way, we hear some of the most intelligent, yet convincing dialog in all of Noir (by Huston and Ben Maddow) characters who sound real, who say what someone might actually say or be thinking.
This realism is enhanced by the look of the film, starkly, yet vividly shot in black-and-white by Harold Rosson. It's worth noting that Rosson uses some sophisticated camera techniques, such as deep focus and and the extreme foregrounding of a single character. If, while watching, the viewer imagines a B-movie version of this story, with conventional camera work and a lackluster cast and script, the greatness of THE ASPHALT JUNGLE becomes even more evident. The consummate technical work and artistry involved elevate the film far above any genre or pulp limitations.
Underlining the bleakness of Huston's vision right from the opening credits is the music score by Miklos Rozsa (who also scored CRISS CROSS) in a departure from from his scores for DOUBLE INDEMNITY and SPELLBOUND, Rozsa places his cues sparingly. The score only calls attention to itself under the main titles and during Dix's wild death ride. As for the robbery scene, Rozsa provides no music for it, and dialog is minimal. While it's far briefer, we can see this scene as the true precursor of the robbery scene in Jules Dassin's RIFIFI (1955), famed for its nearly complete silence.
But John Huston himself may deserve the lion's share of credit for this film. Taking the advice of an older director he had known (possibly Josef Von Sternberg?), he directs each scene as if it were the most important one in the film. This gives every scene its own sense of urgency and keeps a consistent tone, making the film one long, tragic descent into doom.
John Huston, one of the great film makers of all times, was at the top
of his craft when he undertook the direction of "The Asphalt Jungle".
The book by W.R. Barnett was brilliantly adapted by Mr. Huston and Ben
Maddox and the result stunned everyone. In fact, the film has been so
influential one sees parts of it in other movies of the genre. The
magnificent cinematography created by Harold Rosson speaks by itself.
The music score by Miklos Rozsa stays in the background and never
interferes with the action.
This is a film that looks as good today, as when it first was released. In fact, one discovers more nuances as one watches it again, when it's shown on cable. The cast of the film is one of its best assets going for "The Asphalt Jungle". Mr. Huston assembled some of the best talent working in the American cinema of that time.
Sterling Hayden, as Dix, gives a tremendous performance. The excellent Louis Calhern, though, steals the picture with his take on Lon Emmerich, the man who finds he is broke and wants to be at the center of the caper, without risking anything. Marilyn Monroe has only two scenes in the movie, but she shines in them. Also Jean Hagen, an actress that should have gone far, but didn't, makes a valuable contribution with her Doll Conovan.
The supporting cast is amazing. James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, Anthony Caruso, Brad Dexter, and the rest, play well together to give the film a seamless look.
"The Asphalt Jungle" shows why John Huston was one of the most influential men in pictures. His films are a must see for all movie lovers and studied by his successors and people working today owe a lot to this master, who pioneered a style that stands as his legacy.
I suppose the only reason why this movie can be purchased on video (not on
DVD though, it seems) is the fact that Marilyn Monroe plays a part in it. If
I am right, this shows how much the movie industry has to rely on big names.
Sometimes this is a real shame. No movie proves this better than Asphalt
This caper movie is one of my all time favorites and frankly the best of its genre. Its brilliance lies for me in the fact that no big name of the Hollywood acting community was involved Monroe was small fries then. Instead John Huston worked with a cast of reliable, mostly very experienced character actors many people will know as "supports" from numerous other movies of the period. And many of those actors probably gave here the best performances of their lives. Everybody is cast dead right, this is what is so magnificent about Asphalt Jungle. The balance is perfect, the chemistry works all ways. Maybe just one miscast actor or actress would have spoiled the whole atmosphere. No one is overacting at any time, and there are many, many very moving moments as one can observe these characters struggling on the sidelines of urban society.
One is always tempted to name an actress or an actor whose performance one liked best in a movie. Here, I could not do it I liked them all. Yet I want to mention one actor: Louis Calhern. Seldom has a sudden change of mood and countenance in a character had such an impact on me as a viewer.
THE ASPHALT JUNGLE is a sometimes unsung triumph of director/writer John Huston. Sterling Hayden plays a down and out hoodlum who pairs up with cheesecake obcessed master thief Sam Jaffee. The seedy urbane characters that populate their world keep you glued to the screen. Marilyn Monroe is perfect as the spoiled mistress of crooked lawyer Louis Calhern. James Whitmore deserved an Oscar for his role as Gus, the diner owner with a fondness for kittens and crime. Has a great look, will make you pine for more black and white.
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