52 of 52 people found the following review helpful
on August 5, 2004
Actually, I'll give "The Asphalt Jungle" four and a half stars, as it stands as one of the great "films noir", and another triumph for director, John Huston. This is a gritty, realistic portrait of the big city's dark "underbelly", circa 1950, and some of the shady characters who are trying to survive in this tough environment.
Most of the people we meet in "Jungle" are crooks, with different skills--there is even the obligatory "cop on the take". A brainy crook named "Doc" ( Sam Jaffe, excellent as usual ) has just been released from jail, where he has clearly not been rehabilitated ! He has planned a big jewellery heist. Of course, he needs help to pull it off. With the assistance of the local bookie, "Cobby" ( sweaty, nervous Marc Lawrence ), he recruits an expert safe-cracker, "Louis" ( desperate Anthony Caruso ), a getaway driver, "Gus" ( cool-under-fire James Whitmore ) and, for muscle, a bitter, tough-as-nails hood, "Dix" (an unshaven Sterling Hayden, never better ). To bankroll the whole operation, our gang brings in a sleazy lawyer named Emmerich, played with smarmy elitism by Louis Calhern.
Of course, you know what can happen to "the best laid plans". Unforeseen problems, accidents and the personal faults of the individuals involved cause Doc's "perfect plan" to go off the rails. There is much more to the plot, not to mention some interesting sub-plots, but I don't like to spoil movies for first-time viewers, so I will not reveal more of the story-line.
I would like to mention a few other performances though that further contribute to a fine film. Jean Hagen plays "Doll", Dix's long-suffering girlfriend, a very different role to her ditzy, petulant "star" in "Singin' in the Rain"--what a versatile actress ! John McIntire registers strongly as the Police Commissioner, a job obviously not for "nice guys" ! Brad Dexter has a few memorable scenes as a private eye.
Finally, Emmerich's mistress, "Angela", is played by a young actress just starting her career in movies--Marilyn Monroe. Her acting here may not be on a par with the other actors, but her glamour and charisma still leap off the screen.
The DVD exhibits a reasonable black and white picture, with some occasional wear--sound of course is mono. Extras include a trailer, a brief introduction by John Huston, optional comments by film scholar, Drew Casper, and even a few reminiscences by cast-member, James Whitmore ( his comments on Marilyn are interesting ).
Bottom line--if you like classic, hard-boiled film noir, "The Asphalt Jungle" rates with the best. You are in for 112 minutes of gripping entertainment. Recommended.
A very sad footnote, dated 16 February 2009--Mr. James Whitmore has passed away. This fine actor had a long career in film, television and in the theatre, where he displayed a remarkable talent in so many different roles.
33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2000
When director John Huston was edged out of the production of The Killers, he was determined to create a landmark film that would define and embody professional crimminality. Huston exceeded his expectations. The Asphalt Jungle is the seminal "caper film" which inspired a host of similar pictures. Huston assembled a superb cast where each actor represented a character who possessed a special skill needed to complete a million dollar jewel heist. Sam Jaffe is Doc Reidenschneider-the mastermind, Anthony Caruso is Louie Ciavelli- the safe cracker, Marc Lawrence is Coby- the bookmaker who finances the operation, Sterling Hayden is Dix Handley- the enforcer, James Whitmore is Gus- the wheelman,and Louis Calhern is Emmerich- the corrupt attorney who acts as a fence. The characters, especially Doc, Louie, Dix, and Gus, are sketched with blatant realism. Each character is proud of their status and existence within the underworld. Their careers and reputations hinge on their acceptance by fellow professionals. Huston injects the virtues of trust, loyalty, and respect into their crimminal circle and simultaneously questions the code of honor among the rightousness. Emmerich sums up this dichotomy with a memorable line: "There's nothing so different about them (crimminals). Crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor." Morality, an issue in most noir films becomes blurred as Emmerich and a graft accepting detective become viewed as figures more contemptable than the crimminals involved in the heist. Sterling Hayden as Dix delivers his most memorable performance. Dix is not just another tough henchman, but a troubled loner trying to ..."wash this city dirt off me". Huston allows viewers unabashed insight into each of his characters. Doc with his predilection for nubile young girls, Gus's conscious awareness of his physical deformity, Louie's familial responsibilities, and Emmerich's moral disintegration add to the film's realism. The Asphalt Jungle is one of the premier black and white films ever made. John Huston's creative energy is evident in every line and scene. Truely American film making at its best.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
"The Asphalt Jungle", based on the novel by W. R. Burnett, was director John Huston's farewell to film noir style. His first film noir, 1941's "The Maltese Falcon", also adapted from a novel, was arguably the first film in the noir style, making Huston an essential contributor to the movement. "The Asphalt Jungle"'s apt subtitle, "The City Under the City", pretty well describes what the film is about: the criminal underworld. "The Asphalt Jungle" explores the planning, execution, and aftermath of a great jewel heist by a diverse band of criminals. Doc Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) is a caper mastermind who has just been released from prison. Eager to execute a grand jewel heist, Doc immediately visits a bookmaker named Cobby (Marc Lawrence), whom he hopes can connect him to a financier for the project. Cobby introduces Doc to a crooked and apparently wealthy lawyer, Mr. Lon Emmerich (Louis Calhern), who jumps at the opportunity to finance the heist. They hire a boxman, or safecracker, Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso), a driver, Gus (James Whitmore), and a hooligan, Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) to pull the job. Things might go well if Emmerich were not actually broke and planning to double-cross his partners.
John Huston says in his introduction to the film, "You may not admire these people, but I think they'll fascinate you." In truth, the criminals of "The Asphalt Jungle" are more sympathetic than it's law enforcement agents, who number a corrupt bully and a self-righteous crusader. As Emmerich says in the film, "Crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor." These characters have aspirations, hopes, and troubles similar to their law-abiding counterparts. And they are foiled by their obsessions. The underworld is a mirror image of the respectable world.
Louis Calhern and Sterling Hayden give memorable, complex performances as Emmerich, a corrupt lawyer whose extravagance and foolishness do everyone in, and as Dix, the farm boy turned stick-up man whose gambling stands in the way of his dreams. Marilyn Monroe has a small role as Emmerich's mistress, Angela. "The Asphalt Jungle" is great classic film noir with intriguing crooks and impressive character acting all around. The film was nominated for 4 Academy Awards in 1951, including best director, cinematography, and screenplay. W. R. Burnett's novel has since been adapted 3 more times (in 1958 as "The Badlanders", in 1963 as "Cairo", and in 1972 as "Cool Breeze"), but John Huston's "The Asphalt Jungle" is still the gold standard.
The DVD (Warner Home Video 2004 release): There is a 45-second introduction to the film by director John Huston, filmed around 1950. The sound quality is very poor, but you can make out what he's saying if you listen carefully. There is an audio commentary by film historian and USC School of Film and Television professor Drew Casper, with excerpts from an archival interview with actor James Whitmore. Dr. Casper is more a film historian than a noir specialist. He places the film in context by discussing the history of MGM studios in the decade preceding "The Asphalt Jungle". He talks about John Huston's directing style and the film's structure. Judging by this and other commentary that I've heard, Casper tends to think more in terms of genre than style. So he's looking at "The Asphalt Jungle" as a caper film more than a noir film. We don't get scene-by-scene or shot-by-shot analysis. Whitmore's interview is interjected where appropriate. He relates anecdotes about getting the job, director John Huston, and the film's cast. There is also a theatrical trailer (2 1/2 minutes). Subtitles for the film are available in English, French, and Spanish. Dubbing is available in French.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2006
In terms of pedigree, The Asphalt Jungle (1950) carries some impressive credentials...based on a novel by W.R. Burnett (Little Caesar, High Sierra, The Great Escape), and co-written and directed by Academy Award winner John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Prizzi's Honor), the film stars Sterling Hayden (The Killing, Dr. Strangelove) as a roughneck hooligan named Dix Handley. Also appearing is Louis Calhern (Duck Soup), Jean Hagen (Singin' in the Rain), James Whitmore (Them!), Sam Jaffe (The Day the Earth Stood Still), Marc Lawrence (Key Largo), John McIntire (The Street with No Name), Barry Kelley (Force of Evil), Anthony Caruso (Scene of the Crime), Brad Dexter (The Magnificent Seven), and Marilyn Monroe (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), in a small, but memorable, role.
As the film begins the police are on the city streets in force, looking for a man recently involved in a hold up, the description given by an eyewitness matching that of country bred hooligan Dix Handley (Hayden). Dix is eventually picked up at a diner operated by a hunchbacked associate named Gus (Whitmore), thrown into a three man line-up (check out the small guy in the middle...it's a young Strother Martin), but due to the stink eye Dix gives the witness, it's no surprise he declines to identify Dix as the hold up man. Anyway, seems Police Commissioner Hardy (McIntire) is really cracking down, especially on Detective Lieutenant Ditrich (Kelley), whose precinct has seen an unusually high amount of criminal activity, probably due to Dix and his penchant for holding up local establishments (Dix has a problem betting on the ponies, he never wins), but then again, given Ditrich is on the take with a local book making operation run by greasy, pizza-faced hood named Cobby (Lawrence), there appears to be a number of factors involved. As it turns out, an older man named Doc (Jaffe) has recently been released from prison, is in town looking to put together a crew for a million dollar jewel heist and is in need of three things; operating expenses, personnel, and a means to dispose of the take. Doc contacts Cobby, who puts him in touch with a high priced mouthpiece named Alonzo D. 'Lon' Emmerich (Calhern), who not only agrees to finance the operation, but also to act as a fence for the take. That leaves only one element...the crew. Louis Ciavelli (Caruso) is brought in as a safe cracker, Gus is hired as a driver, and Dix chosen as the hooligan aka the muscle (every good plan needs a hooligan). The heist goes off relatively well, but things quickly fall apart as various circumstances result in a grievous injury to one of the crew, a double cross (including a wild card or two), a murder, and a whole lot of heat from the police, all with Dix caught square in the middle.
In terms of most excellent, edgy noir crime dramas, you really can't go wrong with The Asphalt Jungle, as it fires on all the cylinders from impeccable direction, beautiful cinematography, intricate, detailed story, well developed and diverse characters, and wonderful performances from the top all the way down. While the film runs just shy of two hours, rarely does it become dull or cumbersome, for me at least. There's an incredible amount of complexity in terms of the characters and the caper, enough so to keep the viewer engaged throughout the feature. I thought it really interesting how well planed the heist was, and how well it went off, only to go sour afterwards due to certain weaknesses inherent within some of the participants involved. I did learn a number of things while watching this film, including the following...
1. It's unwise to `bone' a hooligan, especially in front of others (you'll have to watch the film to get the full meaning of this).
2. Sterling Hayden was a true, physical presence.
3. Everyone has their vice, especially criminals, and it's not uncommon for said vice to be the cause of their eventual downfall.
4. Never trust a high priced, over-extended, character deficient mouthpiece, especially one who keeps Marilyn Monroe as a mistress, to play it straight in a criminal enterprise.
5. There's always a weak link in any gang (my money's on the boozehound).
6. Doc's certainly got brains, knowing most of the angles, but his attraction to young girls is really repulsive.
7. A trustworthy hooligan is a vital element to any criminal enterprise.
8. If you're involved in a criminal enterprise and you get seriously wounded, you're really up the creek.
9. Hooligans are like left-handed pitchers in that they all have a screw loose somewhere.
10. Having your drop dead gorgeous mistress refer to you as `uncle' is infinitely creepy.
All in all this a taut, solid, stylistic thriller that stands out from a time when taut, solid, stylistic thrillers were the flavor of the day and definitely worth seeing if only to understand what people mean when they say `They just don't make `em like that anymore' (cause they don't).
The picture, presented in fullscreen (1.33:1), looks very good, limited to a few, very minor flaws, and the Dolby Digital audio, available in both English and French, comes across sharp and clean. There is a so-so commentary track featuring author/film noir specialist Drew Casper with co-star James Whitmore, along with a theatrical trailer, an introduction by director John Houston (0:49), and subtitles in English, Spanish, and French. If you're interested in picking up this DVD, you might want to look into purchasing the Film Noir Classics Collection, Volume 1, a most excellent DVD set, as it includes this film, along with Gun Crazy (1949) aka Deadly Is the Female, Murder My Sweet (1944), Out of the Past (1947), and The Set-Up (1949) which appears to cost significantly less than buying the films individually.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 15, 2006
I am a fan of film noir, owning many of them, and this one is right about at the top of the list and climbing each time I view it. It might even have passed Double Indemnity for the number one spot. It's that good.
For anyone who has not seen it: the poster art and the video or DVD cover can both misleading. They usually feature Marilyn Monroe in publicizing this movie, but she only has a small role. Many times they feature Monroe, Jean Hagen and Sterling Hayden all together....and those three are never on screen at the same time. My point being: what you see on the outside is not what's on the inside.
Hayden is the star of the film but Sam Jaffe and Louis Calhern are not far behind. In fact, the more I watch this film, the more I see the latter two as the real stars here, and I especially have begun to appreciate the great acting by Calhern in here.
Actually, everyone performs at a very high level. The diverse and interesting characters are really fun to watch, one of the big reasons I rate this film so high. Hayden, with his big body and tough demeanor, was perfect for film noir. He is a legitimate tough guy, nobody to fool with. Jaffe was fascinating as the little German "doctor" but until I got the DVD and put on the English subtitles, I never understood all his dialog, which is terrific, and "Doc" is my favorite character in this film. Kudos also go to James Whitmore and Marc Lawrence for great supporting role performances.
The two women, Hagen and Monroe, also do their bits nicely. I never understood people who criticized Monroe's acting. I thought she was pretty good right from the start, with this film as an example. I also liked seeing her thin and in shape.
This movie is a gritty, tough, no-nonsense crime story concerning a jewel robbery where things go wrong and eventually does everybody in. Actually, it isn't just a botched robbery that ruins some of them - it's character weakness, from greed to sexual lust.
"You reap what you sow" could be a moral of this story.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
It is tragic that this marvelous film is not yet available on DVD. While it would not be full screen, I nonetheless would love to see a perfectly restored print and the greater detail that one gets with DVD.
THE ASPHALT JUNGLE is one of John Huston's most amazing films and was made at a time when America was obsessing with political subversives and individuals engaging in un-American attitudes and beliefs. Huston, a political leftist who was virtually the only successful Hollywood director (along with Billy Wilder) who was horrified and dismayed at what was happening to American society, was acutely aware that not everyone felt at ease in post-WW II America. Many were feeling left behind by the American Dream. What is remarkable about the criminals in this film is that none of them were evil reprobates. Unlike the criminals in films of the thirties, none of the characters were rotten or especially hard-hearted. Indeed, the one true "bad guy" of the film is an apparently successful, law-abiding lawyer.
The plot essentially concerns the attempt of a number of individuals who have left behind by society to try and get ahead by pulling off a jewelry heist. Few characters in 1950s cinema epitomize a societal outsider as well as Sterling Hayden's Dix Handley. Dix isn't terribly bright, and he certainly isn't lucky. His sole goal is to somehow, someway buy back the farm he grew up on. Dix Handley is the moral center of THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, because while on one level he is merely a common criminal, he also highlights the fact that despite the official propaganda of 1950 America, many good, essentially decent people were being displaced and alienated. The final shot of the film, when Dix does, in a way, get back to the farm, is one of the most brilliant moments in American cinema.
Despite the fact that the box cover of the video outrageously misrepresents the role of Marilyn Monroe in this film (her name didn't even appear in the original cast list), the cast of this film is extraordinarily good, even though none of the actors are "marquee" performers. Sam Jaffe is an actor who never got the number of roles that I would have liked for him to have had. Despite a strong start to his career, in which he excelled in such films as THE SCARLETT EMPRESS, LOST HORIZONS (playing, although only in his forties, the High Lama, a man hundreds of years old), and, playing the title role, GUNGA DIN, Jaffe never seemed to find his niche in Hollywood. His performance in this film is nonetheless remarkable, and casting him in the role of the caper's mastermind was one of the keys to the movie's success. The rest of the cast is likewise superb. Louis Calhern excelled at playing cads and jerks, and he was never viler than in this film. The entire supporting cast is impeccable, even Marilyn Monroe, who despite a very small role, nonetheless displays her famous appeal. But the female lead belongs to Jean Hagen, two years before her most famous role of Lina Lamont in SINGIN' IN THE RAIN. She plays the woman who would like to love Dix Handley, and stands affectionately beside him, but who is barely noticed by him in his single-minded effort to reacquire the farm of his youth.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2006
This is the quientessential noir caper film. Maybe the best B movie ever. The stellar cast is led by Sterling Hayden as Dix, a down & out petty criminal with a dream. But then everyone in this one has a dream. Doc (Sam Jaffe) has just gotten out ot the pen. He's a criminal genius & he's been busy while inside planning the perfect crime, a jewel heist. He needs money & partners are bought in & a gang is assembled. The cast makes or breaks any movie & some of the characters in this did some of their best work. Not the pre-star Marilyn Monroe of course in a small part but James Whitmore as Gus, Dix best friend, John McIntyre the police commissioner & Jean Hagen as Doll, Dix's loyal girlfriend are great. Lots of others player make for a great emsemble. The heist goes well, it's a good plan. The gang is professional. During the escape the safe cracker, Louis is shot & severely wounded. Then things begin to slowly unravel for everyone by their weaknesses, pretty young girls, a mistress (that was Marilyn), home, love or just plain greed, betrayal or bad luck, whatever. Dix is the guy you root for, but you know he's not going to make it. My favorite in the genre, so far.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on June 18, 2000
When John Huston was edged out of the production of The Killlers, he was determined to create a landmark film that would define and embody professional criminality. Huston exceeded his expectations. The Asphalt Jungle is the seminal "caper film" that inspired a host of similar productions. Huston assembled a superb cast, where each actor represented a character that possessed special skills needed to complete a million dollar jewelry hiest. Sam Jaffe is Doc Reidenschneider- the mastermind, Anthony Caruso is Louie Ciavelli- the safecracker, Marc Lawrence is Cobby- the bookmaker who finances the operation, Sterling Hayden is Dix Handley- the enforcer, James Whitmore is Gus - the wheelman, and Louis Calhern is Emmerich- the fence. The characters, especially Doc, Louie, Dix and Gus, are sketched with blatant realism. Each character is defined by the skills that determine their existence within the underworld. The characters proceed with their assignments in workmanlike fashion. Huston's tightly wound script eliminated the pompous flambouancy associated with earlier crime films. Doc's hand picked criminal experts represent blue collar values and commitment. Huston injects virtues such as trust, loyalty, and respect into Doc's criminal circle and simultaneously questions the code of honor among the so called rightousness of society. Emmerich the crooked attorney sums up this dichotomy with a memorable line: ..."There's nothing so different about them (criminals). Crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor". Morality, an issue in most noir films becomes blurred as Emmerich and a graft accepting detective ( Barry Kelley) become viewed as figures more contemptable than the jewel thieves. Sterling Hayden as Dix Handley delivers one of his most memorable performances. Dix is not just a tough, cardboard, heavy, but a loner trying to ..."Wash this city dirt off me". Huston allows viewers insights into each of the character's personas. The elderstatesman Doc has a queer predilection for nubile young girls. Gus is aware that his pysical deformity limits his access and acceptance into mainstream society. Louie's familial responsibilities and Emmerich's moral disintegration also add to the film's dark aesthetics. The Apsphalt Jungle is one of the premier black and white films ever made. John huston's creative energy is evident in every line and scene. The Asphalt Jungle is American noir film making at its best.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2003
The Asphalt Jungle is an excellent film noir classic directed by John Huston. The story follows the preparation of a jewel heist, the robbery, and then the following chase for the crooks. During the robbery, something goes wrong causing the police to come down hard on the robbers. This is a classic movie that shows a darker side of society and the people in it. These people aren't just cartoon characters, but human beings with emotions and reasons for the way they live. In the movie, we see the motivation for several of the characters and why they are involved in the robbery. The cast for the movie is very good with several big stars. Sterling Hayden is suprisingly good as Dix Handley, the enforcer on the heist. His performance is very good since it is different from his usual cardboard personality in movies. Louis Calhern plays Ennrich, the fence for the heist and the man who has alterior motives. James Whitmore is excellent as Gus, the driver with the crooked back. Sam Jaffe is also very good as Doc, the orchestrator of the plan who is recently out of jail. The film also stars Marilyn Monroe in an early role, Marc Lawrence, Anthony Caruso, Jean Hagen, and in a particularly slimy role, Brad Dexter. This is an excellent film that doesn't shy away from showing things like they are. A great story with flawed characters help to make this a true classic. Do not miss the Asphalt Jungle!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2004
The disquieting urban landscape and deeply disturbed motley crew of spurious characters that populate "The Asphalt Jungle" make the film one of the essential destinations for fans of film noir. The films artfully gritty atmosphere is perhaps its best selling feature, though, truth be told, there is nothing about the production that is second rate. Basically, it's a jewel heist caper gone horribly wrong but carried off with such panache and attention to detail by director, John Huston that one has to admire both the economy of plot and depth of characters fleshed out within the context of two hours. Huston's great knack for extolling unusual and breakthrough performances from his ensemble is working overtime on this occasion. While we might be used to seeing Sam Jaffe as a nefarious rogue (here, he's Doc, the criminal mastermind with a weakness for hoop earrings and tight skirts), the extraordinary off kilter performance of Louis Calhern - as middle aged fencer, Ennrich/sugar daddy to Marilyn Monroe, is so menacing in its undertone, that one wishes the actor had been given the opportunity to play more such parts. There is nothing cartoonish or cliché about any of the characters in the film. Sterling Hayden's particularly powerful as Dix Handley, the tense enforcer of the group. This is a story about out of control people losing control of their lives. Huston captures the immediacy of these tragic lives and the overwhelming sense of doom. As one might expect, it ends badly for all concerned though, within the context of this review I won't say exactly how.
The transfer on "The Asphalt Jungle" is better than average, though it's not perfect. The gray scale has a richly balanced look with deep solid blacks and clean whites. On occasion grain looks heavier than it should and contrast levels seem a tad low. Still, this DVD is considerable improvement over previously issued VHS tapes. Age related artifacts are present but do not terribly distract. The audio is mono but nicely balanced. The more intent listener will notice some hiss but nothing that will distract. Drew Casper provides the audio commentary here. There are a few inserts of audio from James Whitmore that will most surely enhance your appreciation for this film. All in all, another good disc to add to your library of classic film noir.