Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Directed by John Huston.
Starring Sterling Hayden and Louis Calhern.
In a Nutshell: A group of criminals pull off a heist with devastating consequences.

It can be said with some confidence that nearly every heist movie can be traced back here, one that owes that distinction to weakening censorship of the Production Code. Specifically this refers to the actual heist itself, a detailed centerpiece celebrated for its authenticity. Every action, every move is studied, slowly sealing the fate of the crooked men behind it all. The Asphalt Jungle is pure noir abandoning a potboiler appeal for a thesis on societal decay and amorality. Though that is markedly less engaging compared to its narrowed character focus; seasoned criminals upholding their degenerate lives with dignity, if only to escape desperation. Atalented cast of supporting actors handles the characterization; highlights include Louis Calhern as the financer wrestling with a burdensome conscience, and Sam Jaffe as the mastermind whose clipped delivery suggests an incarnation of Walter Huston in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

Director John Huston revels in constructing the house of cards, though it may leave some finding the first act shapeless. But once the heist collapses, the plot momentum moves with crushing intensity, undoubtedly the film’s greatest strength. Despite its judgeless lens on the criminal element, it offers little authentic insight. Its portrayal of the law is no better; cops are flabby, corrupt or John McIntire’s snarling bulldog. Though such complaints feel extraneous given its necessity to the plot, one already colored by enough fine atmospheric detail. The Asphalt Jungle leaves little to chew over, but it exists beyond its moralistic musings. A well-to-do stroke of masterful Huston storytelling.

1 comment:

  1. The Asphalt Jungle suggests some police corruption, but it's limited compared to the other investigators out to put the jewel thieves behind bars. I liked Barry Kelley as Lieut. Ditrich, a cop who's a little too cozy with the people he's supposed to put behind bars. How about the atmosphere in this film? I felt a lot of unease, especially with Dix (Sterling Hayden) and his willingness to quickly toss a few punches to prove a point.