The Asphalt Jungle

1950, Movie, NR, 112 mins


Adapted by director John Huston and co-screenwriter Ben Maddow from the novel by W.R. Burnett, this classic, often copied but never equaled, focuses on the robbery of a swank jewelry firm, meticulously planned by master criminal "Doc" Erwin Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) while imprisoned. Alonzo D. Emmerich (Louis Calhern) is a sleazy lawyer who'll fence the stolen jewels, giving "Doc" and his cohorts $1 million for their labors. The assembled gang includes Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), a somewhat dumb but standup fellow who has dreams of buying back his father's Kentucky horse ranch; Gus Ninissi (James Whitmore), a tough-as-nails, cat-loving hunchback who runs a diner; and Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso), a professional thief who's enlisted to blow the safe under Riedenschneider's supervision. After carefully drilling the gang members, "Doc" leads the men on the robbery attempt. The safe is blown and the gems secured, but his "perfect" crime immediately unravels.

Huston directed this superb production with tremendous assurance, developing his characters incisively but not at the expense of the rapidly developing plot. Indeed, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE boasts a rogues' gallery of definitive portrayals, led by creepy mastermind Jaffe, whose voyeuristic pursuit of Lolitas finally frames him. Calhern figures nicely as the crooked lawyer who keeps Monroe, in an outstanding cameo that foretold her future stardom. Jean Hagen's moll is a rare lead female performance, poignant and subtly shaded, that is totally devoid of studio-era vanity. Rosson's moody photography and Rozsa's moving score further enhance this film noir masterpiece. leave a comment

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