“One way or another, we all work for our vice.”
John Huston was a man of many incredible talents. He was a writer writing some great films such as The Killers with Ava Gardner and Burt Lancaster, Jezebel with Henry Fonda and Bette Davis, and Key Largo with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. He directed The Maltese Falcon (1941), In this Our Life, and The African Queen. One of the first films of Huston’s I ever viewed was The Asphalt Jungle. When I first viewed The Asphalt Jungle I was not into classic Hollywood as I am now so I did not really understand or appreciate it. I bought it because of Jean Hagen I wanted to see her in something else besides Singin in the Rain. Realizing it now this film was my first Noir as well as the first John Huston film I saw. What a great film to start off with for both genre and director/writer.
“Doc” Reidenschneider has just gotten out of jail. He is a well known criminal “brain.” When he gets out the first thing he does is plan the perfect robbery of a quarter of a million dollars in diamonds from a bank. He needs help so he gets together a few guys including Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) a strong arm. Doc goes to a corrupt lawyer named Emmerich (Louis Calhern) for backing.
Dix has not had it easy in the past few years. He has been in and out of jail for small crimes and he tells a woman he knows named Doll (Jean Hagen) that his family used to own a large farm with horses but lost it all when his father died.
Doc, Dix and a safe cracker named Louis break into the bank very easily. There are no complications getting into the safe until the explosive Louis used to get into a smaller safe set off other alarms in the area. As they are leaving a police officer comes in and Louis is shot. Later on when Dix and Doc meet up with Emmerich they find that the lawyer does not have the money and was planning on running away with the diamonds. Dix gets shot in the side. Doc and Dix decide to split up to keep the heat off of each other and to get out of town.
Dix plans to head to his home in Kentucky but he begins to bleed heavily from his gunshot wound and Doll will not let him go home alone. They only get so far until Dix faints from blood loss.
The whole plot is really interesting. Each character was addicted to something- Emmerich with money, Doc with robbing, Dix with money to get his farm back, Doll with Dix. You have to feel for these characters no matter that they were hoodlums and thieves. Besides Emmerich they were poor, out of a job characters living in not too great of an area. Emmerich just wanted everything he was not happy with his life at all, he was cheating on his wife and was nearly bankrupt. I liked seeing how the robbery was going off so smoothly until a few little accidents and unpredictable circumstances came about and ruined everything.
I am sure wherever you read a review of The Asphalt Jungle the reviewer will mention how excellent the cast was. I have to agree with them one hundred percent. Not one person was miscast they were all perfect. I have not seen Sterling Hayden in another film besides this yet but he will always be Dix Handley to me. He has an odd face that is tough yet soft at the same time. If you only know Jean Hagen as Lina Lamont from Singin in the Rain definitely watch her here she was a very good actress. She has a great speaking voice and she is not blonde! Louis Calhern seems to always be a bad guy (besides in Annie Get Your Gun) in whatever I have seen him in. This is an early Marilyn Monroe film. If you look up the DVD or any poster of the film you will see her on it. She is only in the film for a combined five minutes but she is great. Her voice did not get on my nerves and her acting was fantastic. There are so many other bit characters and actors in the film that it is hard to name them all and give them a proper reviewing but trust me and other reviewers that they helped to make a great film.
John Huston wrote the screenplay along with Ben Maddow. It is one of the most perfect screenplays ever. Huston did an incredible job with the direction. He really captured every character’s desperation and want and addiction. The story follows the Noir mould by having the characters so flawed it is sad to see what they have come to. The cinematography by Harold Rosson is beautiful it is one of the perfect examples of Noir cinematography.
The Asphalt Jungle is one of very few films I have seen that is flawless in every sense of the word. Now that I understand Noir and have seen some of Huston’s other works either under his writing or direction I really appreciate how truly great The Asphalt Jungle is.