Asphalt Jungle, The (1950)

As a matter of fact, that IS my poster.
As a matter of fact, that IS my poster.

Genre: Crime Noir

Starring: Sterling Hayden (Johnny GuitarThe Killing), Louis Cahern (Duck SoupNotorious)

Directed By: John Huston (The Maltese FalconThe Treasure Of The Sierra Madre

Overview: A German heister has a plan for a big score. He seeks the aid of a corrupt lawyer for financing his little project. Of course everyone wants a slice.

Every third Saturday in May, in my little nation’s capital known as Ottawa, Ontario, is a lovely little event that is even better than Christmas – the Great Glebe Garage Sale. A prim and proper neighbourhood locks itself down for a 10 block square garage sale event that draws people from hundred of kilometers away. Last year, for $15, I found a three-foot-tall glassed and framed poster of Marilyn Monroe, extolling the virtues of The Asphalt Jungle. I put it up on the wall with the twinge of guilt that came from the fact that I hadn’t ever seen this movie.

Well kiddies, I’m proud to say that I’m no longer a poster poseur, and more than that, I’m proud to have it on my wall, because The Asphalt Jungle is one Hell of a film, and deserving of all the praise of champion of its genre.

Our characters include a pompous wallet, a dirty pig, the sweaty worm that pays him off, a German with an easy heist plan, a goon with a dream, a Doll and a dame. And, as all good Noir should be, this tale of cross and double-cross is all about guessing which guy’s got which hand in which bag first.

Experience has taught me never to trust a policeman. Just when you think one's all right, he turns legit. - Doc Riedenschneider

The visual aspects of The Asphalt Jungle are unforgivingly Noir. Every shot is starkly lit, with our questionably moral characters surrounded by dingy holes-in-the-wall and monologues delivered under bare bulbs.

More than anything, what makes The Asphalt Jungle so grand is the script, just dripping with perfect cadence marked with hard-boiled grit, with subtext pointing at a bent underground society without center, yet with endless rules of survival and ways to escape through the cracks that exist in every system. Every character is written with nuance, every crook has his breaking point or his badge of honour and even the hardest-line police commissioner can admit that there is dirt under his desk. His words to the press are exquisite:
[Turning on the police radio] People are being cheated, robbed, murdered, raped. And that goes on 24 hours a day, every day in the year. And that's not exceptional, that's usual. It's the same in every city in the modern world. But suppose we had no police force, good or bad. Suppose we had...[turning off the police radio] just silence. Nobody to listen, nobody to answer. The battle's finished. The jungle wins. The predatory beasts take over.

Add the talent of this cast including Sterling Hayden, James Whitmore and a young Marilyn, all directed by John Huston, well you can rest assured that The Asphalt Jungle is a  film that can deliver.

One of a hundred shots from the 'Learning Noir 101' class offered by The Asphalt Jungle
One of a hundred shots from the 'Learning Noir 101' class offered by The Asphalt Jungle

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 9 Script: 10 Plot: 9 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 92% (A Concrete Winner)

What it does for this critic is point an indelible example of what Nino Frank meant when he defined Film Noir. To me, that now means The Asphalt Jungle. It's the reason I love Film Noir, and this completely under-rated film is the reason I swear on 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die like a bible.

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How much do you want for your poster? All I have is a poorly reproduced 11x14 of Public Enemy :\

I love that this film is helmed by such a weighty A-Lister (Huston) and lead mostly by unknowns who would become milestones in other massively classic films. There's something exciting about that.

I love the poster as well. But it is misleading because Monroe is in a minor role. However I don't think Sterling Hayden in a dress would be a good idea.

Great review.

Hubba Hubba!

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