The Asphalt Jungle
What can one say about John Huston’s marvellous 1950 film noir/heist classic that has not already been said? A very direct influence on much that was to follow it, most obviously Kubrick’s The Killing and Dassin’s Riffifi but also a vibrant model of seedy modernity for more outré US filmmakers Shirley Clarke (The Connection) and John Cassavettes (Faces), The Asphalt Jungle feels as fresh today as it must have back in those grim post war years.
Based on WR Burnett’s pulp novel, adapted by Huston and Ben Maddow, this freshly cleaned up gem (the new print looks great) about a botched diamond heist which brings down characters from every rung of society is serious alpha movie stuff. Not only is Huston at the helm but the mighty and profane turned out and turned in the best performances of their careers here. There’s Sterling Hayden as hoodlum Dix, the wonderful Louis Calhern as corrupt high class lawyer Emmerich, the astounding Sam Jaffe (appearing just before he was blacklisted by McCarthy) as gentlemen mastermind Doc, plus Jean Hagen, Marilyn Monroe and Anthony Caruso in solidly written supporting roles. On top of this, cinematographer Harold Rosson’s bold, imaginative lighting breaches the gap between the film noir and a more naturalist look that was to follow.
Watched at this reserve, however, the film is problematic - Police Commissioner Hardy’s (John McIntyre) final po-faced speech about the necessity of a police force (the intervening years have proved that international police forces are generally more of a hinderance than a help to social progress) rings a little hollow and works against the wispy amorality that pervades the film. That aside The Asphalt Jungle is a joy and undoubtedly one of Huston’s best (and that really is up against some tough competition).