The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
The Asphalt Jungle is a classic film noir directed by one of cinema's greatest, John Huston. It's a heist film, but what makes it different from others is that it is more concerned with the consequences of the heist than the actual robbery itself. Unfortunately, the movie failed to meet my expectations, which may have been set too high.
Dr. Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) has just been released from prison, and he's got a plan for jewel thievery that he claims can't miss, and it's worth a lotta dough, see? One million bucks that is. (Remember, this is 1950.) A group of men is assembled, including a safecracker, Louis (Anthony Caruso), a getaway driver, Gus (James Whitmore), and a brute, Dix (Sterling Hayden). The plan is to steal the diamonds, then immediately sell them to a man named Emmerich (Louis Calhern), but he intends otherwise. We end up with two men shot and one man dead, with more to come, and police hot on the trail.
Perhaps it's that I've seen too many of the heist films that were influenced by this before seeing The Asphalt Jungle. I can see how this film would have been a great, innovative one in its day, but after 55 years, it just seems watered down to me. The characters aren't terribly engaging, and the plot wasn't very complex, but because the characters didn't come across well, it seemed as if it was.
With that said, as this is a film noir, I feel the need to discuss its merits on that front. It captures the essence of noir - that people are prone to doing bad things based on greed, sex, and power, and then they are haunted by their vices and get their comeuppance. The cinematography is fantastic, with high contrast black and white schemes and complex frame compositions throughout. There aren't a whole lot of pictures that look like this anymore. In the end, though, The Asphalt Jungle didn't work for me.
February 10, 2005