WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWNY) -
The Asphalt Jungle
One of the most famous crime dramas of the gritty film noir period, this authentic crime caper is considered one of the best of the genres. Directed by one of Hollywood’s most esteemed storytellers (both writer and director) John Huston received two of his astonishing 15 Oscar nominations for co-writing and directing this film.
Set in a mid-western city that could be Indianapolis, or more likely Cincinnati, or Cleveland, a cast of thieves plan an elaborate heist of jewels from a safe. We understand it isn’t Chicago, because one of the thieves references Chicago as someplace else using the great crime jargon term, “Chi.” The film is full of great mid-century crime lingo: boxman is a safe cracker, a heater is a gun, and a fence is someone who helps sell stolen goods.
Oscar nominated cinematographer Harold Rosson is a genius at interpreting the bleak crime world as well as understanding the crackling good cast of characters. Full of sharp angles, jarring close-ups and deep shadows, the black and white canvas has rarely worked this well. Aided by the deep characterizations by the amazing ensemble cast, Rosson and Huston have a knack of knowing exactly where to put the camera to maximize conflict and create empathy for criminals.
The great ensemble is too large to mention all of them, but of special note is Sam Jaffe who scored the sole acting nomination (supporting) as Dr. Erwin Reidenschneiderm, he is incredibly understated and totally credible as the intellectual mastermind. Marilyn Monroe makes one of her earliest screen performances as Emmerich’s (Louis Calhern) mistress, Angela. Although it is a minor role, Marilyn exudes charisma and you can see the burgeoning love affair the camera will always have with her.
If The Asphalt Jungle were made today, it would surely have a different ending. Its crime doesn’t pay message would be the exact opposite and the audience would be elated that the amoral bunch had gotten away with the big heist. Still the film is a great example of American realism of the 1950’s. Even if they thieves didn’t get away with, you are rooting for them all the way, and it’s their stories that drive the plot. Lucid, brutal, lean and with a plot that works as well as a Swiss watch—The Asphalt Jungle remains surprisingly modern and effective.
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