Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

It's easy to get lost in The Asphalt Jungle.

I mean that in the best possible way.

Director John Huston's film noir from 1950 is a crackerjack crime drama with standout performances, beautiful cinematography and an engrossing story. There's very little actual physical violence, but boy is there plenty of tension in an environment where double crosses, corruption and greed are ever-present.

What makes this film even more enjoyable is knowing that so many of the principal cast were just starting their film careers. Kudos to the film's casting for finding so many great performances from up-and-coming actors.

Marilyn Monroe is played up prominently in marketing material even though she's only in a pair of scenes as Angela Phinlay, the drop-dead gorgeous mistress of lawyer gone bad Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern). But she does fine as Emmerich's eye candy. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Bus Stop and Some Like It Hot would follow before the decade ended.

The Asphalt Jungle was only Jean Hagen's fourth film role. She made her debut in another film classic, Adam's Rib, in 1949. Perhaps her most well-known role, Singin' in the Rain, would follow in 1952. Here, she's Doll Conovan, a young dame who can't shake her love for hood Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden).

James Whitmore, who just died in 2009, earned his fifth movie credit as Gus Minissi, a hunbacked restaurant owner only too happy to help out thugs in need of a little protection from pesky police.

Meanwhile, The Asphalt Jungle was one of the last roles for Dorothy Tree. She was Dracula's wife in Dracula (1931). Tree earned 49 credits before leaving Hollywood to work as a speech and voice coach at the Metropolitan Opera. Here, she's May Emmerich, bedridden wife of the said crooked, and cheating, lawyer.

Doc (Sam Jaffe) is a well-known criminal just sprung from prison. He doesn't waste time trying to go straight. Doc has a plan to rip off hundreds of thousands of dollars in jewelry from a safe. Emmerich offers him a generous deal to offload the valuable hot gems.

Doc assembles his caper team including Dix, a brute with a penchant for the ponies and Gus as the wheelman.

The heist, surprise, surprise, doesn't go through as planned. Stay tuned to see who crosses who before the credits roll. A preachy speech from the police commissioner greates, but that's a small beef for this well-made film.

RATING: 9.5/10

FUN FACTS: Marilyn Monroe's first film appearance was as a telephone operator in The Shocking Miss Pilgrim (1947). Wow. John Huston's directorial debut was The Maltese Falcon (1941). Sterling Hayden appeared in another crime classic, The Godfather (1972).

No comments: