Friday, April 8, 2011

The Asphalt Jungle (Huston. 1950)

"Here's to the drink habit. It's the only one I got that don't get me into trouble."


Marilyn Monroe is really really good looking. Like, she is really good looking. That was my initial reaction after my first viewing of The Asphalt Jungle. This is a film that the 1077 Films to See Before You Die has deemed a significant work in film-noir and crime drama. This is one example of how the list can be correct. Which is nice - considering how wrong it has been lately.

This film tells the story of a few high profile criminals and the jewelry heist that has brought them all together. Though the heist goes as planned, double-crosses and pressure from the fuzz eventually lead to everything unraveling. This second act of the film actually shows these criminals as they try to escape the heat.

The Asphalt Jungle was directed by the much acclaimed John Huston. This is a man who was most famous for his work on the film-noir classic, The Maltese Falcon (1941). Huston was certainly under some pressure to make sure that his next noir was at least on par with his magnum opus. So he sought out and cast an acclaimed cast of actors to make sure this film did not fail. The most famous person in the film was a relative nobody at the time, Marilyn Monroe.

In 1950 the world had not yet been introduced to the sultry and seductive powers of Marilyn. In this film, she plays the mistress of the crooked lawyer, Emmerich. Though her role in the picture is actually very small, it is still the most memorable part of the film. Seeing a young Marilyn on screen is like watching a screen legend being born. It is an interesting look into the pop culture icon's rise to fame.

And though Ms. Monroe is a the most distracting, she is not the only interesting aspect of The Asphalt Jungle. Nominated for four Academy Awards, this picture had an incredibly well rounded cast and production team. Obviously, John Huston's direction is perfect and his screenplay is twisting and interesting.

Harold Rosson's Academy Award nominated cinematography is very pleasing to the eye, especially for a film shot in black and white. The lighting is very dimmed and the mood is set with flickering lights and overcast shadows. Rosson's shooting style for The Asphalt Jungle is a perfect representation of what a noir should look like.

But my favorite part of this film is the emotionally effective ending. After Dix Handley, a wounded criminal, makes it back to his home in Kentucky he has one of the purest emotional moments I have seen in film.

In this one scene, Dix (Sterling Hayden) becomes filled with childlike regret for his life choices. He is again surrounded by the things that make him happy. He is okay to die. And as he collapses we see the woman that loves him. She yells for him. He does not answer. She is in frantic tears, but Dix is finally at peace amongst the things that he loves. It is an emotionally striking moment.

All in all, The Maltese Falcon is still the greatest film-noir ever made. But John Huston put forth an incredibly solid second effort with The Asphalt Jungle. This is a film that will entertain everyone. It has several points that transcend its most convenient genre definition. This was one of the more entertaining films I have seen so far.

The Asphalt Jungle: B+

My Next Film...The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Wiene. 1920)

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