A private eye escapes his past to run a gas station in a small town, but his past catches up with him. Now he must return to the big city world of danger, corruption, double crosses and duplicitous dames.
When the intelligent criminal Erwin "Doc" Riedenschneider is released from prison, he seeks a fifty thousand-dollar investment from the bookmaker Cobby to recruit a small gang of specialists for a million-dollar heist of jewels from a jewelry. Doc is introduced to the lawyer Alonzo D. Emmerich that offers to finance the whole operation and buy the gems immediately after the burglary. Doc hires the safecracker Louis Ciavelli, the driver Gus Minissi and the gunman Dix Handley to the heist. His plan works perfectly but bad luck and betrayals compromise the steps after the heist and the gangsters need to flee from the police.Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
This film is part of the Criterion Collection, spine #847. See more »
Although the story takes place in middle America, one urban scene clearly shows the Los Angeles city hall in the background. See more »
That copper, he recognized me.
How'd you know he was a copper?
I can smell one a block off.
Oh, don't worry about Ditrich. He's on my payroll. Practically a partner. Me and him, we're like that.
[Cobby holds up his index and middle finger]
Experience has taught me never to trust a policeman. Just when you think one's all right, he turns legit.
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Also available in a computer colorized version. See more »
Characters are as harsh as their physical surroundings in this bleak story about a group of men who plan, then attempt to carry out, a jewel heist in Cincinnati, Ohio, in the late 1940s. It's a story of cheap booze, bookies, a corrupt police officer, and sleazy, desperate criminals.
Dix (Sterling Hayden) is a smalltime gambler; he's tall, rarely smiles, and has a girlfriend named "Doll" (Jean Hagen). Cigar-smoking Doc (Sam Jaffe) is the group's brain; he's just out of prison, and has a weakness for pretty young girls. Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) is a middle-aged man with a wife and sick baby. And Lon Emmerich (Louis Calhern) is the smooth-talking lawyer who functions as the group's respectable front man; he has a whiny wife and a voluptuous blonde girl-on-the-side named Angela (Marilyn Monroe). None of these characters or anyone else in the story is sympathetic. But they're all unique, with their own dreams, motivations, and flaws.
Despite Doc's well-laid plans and the competence of the other players, unforeseen events, accidents, and bad luck make their robbery scheme fraught with peril. That "stuff" happens is not their fault. It's fate. And the story's outcome is a forceful reminder that much of what happens in life is random and to some extent meaningless. The film's message is thus highly existential.
What makes the overall story interesting is that it is told from the POV of each of the criminal participants. We get to know these characters as individuals, and then watch them under pressure, as they react to unplanned events.
Their individual predicaments make for good drama. And the film's noirish, high-contrast B&W lighting ups the drama even more. Most of the plot takes place at night, or in dimly lit, rundown, seedy back-rooms. "The Asphalt Jungle" has an oppressive, claustrophobic, rat-in-a-maze feel to it.
Casting and acting are fine. I especially liked the performance of Louis Calhern. Arguably, the best element of the film is the cinematography. Those stark visuals in some scenes are just terrific. My only complaints, both minor, are that the script has several characters too many, and the film lacks appropriate background music.
Although visually bleak and dreary, "The Asphalt Jungle" is a high quality film with a thoughtful story about desperate people living on the underbelly of society. The script is good, and the direction from John Huston is excellent.
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