The engrossing world of classic American noirs is replete with tough-guy heist films where things end badly through a mix of bad breaks. The Asphalt Jungle – adapted from W.R. Burnett’s novel, and one of Huston’s greatest works, along with The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre – remains a fabulous, gritty, hardboiled, fatalistic, hugely influential and a definitive depiction of, to borrow from the script, “a left-handed form of human endeavour”. “Doc” Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) is a recently paroled career-criminal who’s hatched plan for a big caper; the potential payoff interests the wealthy lawyer Emmerich (Louis Calhern) and a crooked bookie (Marc Lawrence) to fund the expenses and hiring of the crew for the job, which includes a disillusioned hooligan (Sterling Hayden), a bartender and a family man. Things, unfortunately, don’t follow the planned route as Emmerich, unbeknownst to the group, has planned a neat double-cross; and that, combined with murders, nasty luck and an overenthusiastic police Commissioner, push Doc and his crew into a corner from which there’re hardly any chances of a clean getaway. Most of the men have their weaknesses – the street-smart professional Doc in his attraction towards nymphets; the seemingly well-placed Emmerich having gone broke through his affair with a teasing seductress (Marilyn Monroe), etc. – which, in the end, take all involved to their doom. The sparkling B/W photography, jazz score and taut script were wonderfully aided by a host of fine performances led from the front by the brilliant Sam Jaffe, and a top-notch Huston who magnificently created a realistic depiction of corrupt cops, societal underbelly and crime as just another occupation, despite the many limitations of the then prudish Production Code.
p.s. This is a revisit. My earlier review of this film can be found here.
Author: John Huston
Genre: Film Noir/Crime Thriller/Heist Film