[Last Film I Saw] The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Title: The Asphalt Jungle
Year: 1950
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Film-Noir
Director: John Huston
Writers:
Ben Maddow
John Huston
W.R. Burnett
Cast:
Sterling Hayden
Louis Calhern
Jean Hagen
Sam Jaffe
James Whitmore
John McIntire
Marc Lawrence
Barry Kelley
Marilyn Monroe
Anthony Caruso
Teresa Celli
Dorothy Tree
Brad Dexter
John Maxwell
Rating: 7.9/10

After two misadventures with Huston’s more recent films PRIZZI’S HONOR (1985) and THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975), I turned to his earlier canons to find some redeemed compensation, THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, a Black & White film-noir, scrupulously delves into the ramifications of a bank stick-up in the 1930s depression period of America, which is executed by a slew of criminals whose ill-fated predestination will indubitably resonate after 60 years, since fortunately we haven’t been evolving much and its neo-realistic aesthetics is still sitting comfily in the appreciative zone.

For me, since I am oft more intrigued by the narrative arc than the comprehensive mise-en-scene a director concocts (at least in this present period), the film excels itself in founding its empathy on several well-depicted characters. Sterling Hayden, the first-billed star of the film, equivocally the leading man among the motley crew, is not the brain, but a trustworthy hooligan, suitably amplifying his simplistic kindheartedness by exposing himself to his girl friend (the moderately-used Jean Hagen) of his stroke of bad luck and his humble-but-never-realized dream (which Huston cleverly opts as the heart-rending culmination) under the veneer of his stalwart physique.

Sam Jaffe, who acquired his one and only Oscar nomination (the film altogether got 4 nominations including a BEST DIRECTOR for Huston) for the role of Doc, the constantly behind-the-wall mastermind, has another sort of fatalistic empathy through his non-violent, genteel policy which is simply the otherness for a perpetrator, he is a born leader, who welds a collection of gifted offenders into a real team, the only thing he misses it luck. Louis Calhern, the paymaster and the fence, ostensibly well-off, but bankrupted, is the major mis-step of the heist, Calhern’s commonly understated performance finds the right place as he is juggling between his wife and his trophy mistress (a 24-year-old Monroe, whose striking sheen cannot be overlooked even in such a minor role).

The film is feasibly an agitprop of police department, although the coppers are neither over-beautified nor disparaging represented (unlike the present mockery trend), it emits a pertinent point-of-view of their functions and liabilities, Huston is the torchbearer of the American neorealism, and I hope this assertion can stand its ground.

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