The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

The Asphalt JungleAsphalt Jungle Poster
Directed by John Huston

Repeat viewing
#224 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die

Doc Riedenschneider: One way or another, we all work for our vice.

This is the granddaddy of all caper films and an essential film noir.  The excellent ensemble cast is matched only by the outstanding cinematography, screenplay and direction.  A true classic.

Courtly master safecracker Doc Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) has just been released from prison and has a plan for a “perfect” jewel heist that should net half a million dollars. He just needs $50,000 to pull off the crime.  He goes to bookmaker Cobby who connects him with corrupt attorney Lon Emmerich (Louis Calhern).  Emmerich agrees to front the capital needed to hire a robbery team and fence the jewels.  The team consists of “box man” Louis (Anthony Caruso), driver Gus (James Whitmore), and hooligan/gun man Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden).  Everybody involved has a dream or vice to motivate them to participate.  Needless to say, film noir is short on fairy tale endings, unless, of course, you are a police commissioner.  With Jean Hagen as Dix’s girl and Marilyn Monroe as Emmerich’s mistress.

Asphalt Jungle 1

I just love this movie.  I really enjoy seeing the mechanics of a well planned heist and this is one of the best.  I also like the economical way Huston gives us the back stories of not one but about six doomed noir protagonists.  Although our heroes, including many of the police, are flawed they are mostly sympathetic on some level.  This makes the movie’s ending a bit sad but not depressing or dispiriting to me.

This was probably the role of Louis Calhern’s career and one of Sterling Hayden’s best.  It also contains my favorite Sam Jaffe performance.  If you have never seen Jean Hagen in anything other than Singin’ in the Rain, this will show you her excellence in a dramatic role. The cinematography is fantastic with lots of shiny city streets and unique camera angles.  Highly recommended.



4 thoughts on “The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

    • I think this particular trailer gives a very good flavor of its film. The DVD has an intro by a young John Huston that is good too.

  1. You have hit on one of my favorites. What a great film. Everyone is so perfectly cast and you just know that something awful is going to happen. I particularly like Louis Calhern and his little bit on the side, Marilyn Monroe…..I loved the Uncle Lon name she gave him. Hey, I think I might have enjoyed being Calhern’s mistress since I always thought he was rather patrician and elegant..Sam Jaffe is superb……everyone is superb. One of the great noir classics without a doubt.

    • It was nice to see Sam Jaffe so restrained for a change of pace. I see what you mean about Louis Calhern! What got to me this time through was the small things that led to disaster and how the one big thing could have so easily been avoided.

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