Time to kick off the month of “Noir-vember” with some thoughts on the 1950 crime drama, The Asphalt Jungle, starring Sterling Hayden and Louis Calhern.
Upon being released from prison, “Doc” Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) makes plans to pull off a jewelry heist. He goes to the bookie Cobby (Marc Lawrence) for a cash investment and three men to help pull it off: a safecracker, a driver and a “hooligan.” The heist goes as planned, except they run into trouble with burglar alarms in nearby places going off, a guard’s gun accidentally going off upon being knock to the ground and hitting one of them, and a traitorous fence.
Apparently, this is a bit of an important noir, coming from director John Huston, who had, amongst others, The Maltese Falcon (1941) and Key Largo (1948), to his credit. It seems, from what I have read, that one important point about this movie, was that it made the criminals at the heart of the movie more human than had previously been done. They all have their own issues that they are dealing with, that make it easier for the audience to relate to, whether it be that they are family men, or one who wants back a horse farm his family lost during the Depression, or any of a number of things. Even the traitorous fence, lawyer Alonzo Emmerich, when listening to his wife worry about him having to deal with criminals, can only say that “there’s nothing so different about them.” I can believe that, and I think that we can feel Doc’s pain, when, in spite of how well-planned everything was, they run into trouble because of “blind accidents” which couldn’t possibly have been accounted for.
This movie’s success resulted in a number of crime thrillers, including a few remakes. It also helped Marilyn Monroe’s career. Although her role was small, her performance left a big impression on Darryl F. Zanuck, the head of 20th Century Fox, who previously had her under contract, (but only in small non-speaking roles) and now gave her better roles as a result. This movie spawned a thirteen-episode TV series of the same name in the early sixties (although it focused more on the police, and only one episode really related to this movie).
I did enjoy this movie, and I do recommend it (although some subject matter, such as a suicide that happens off-screen, might make it less palatable for young kids). The movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion Collection, and is about one hour, fifty-two minutes in length.
My Rating: 9/10
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