Posted: 05/19/2001


The Asphalt Jungle


by Ashley Cook

This crime tale takes us for a ride through a city that has a wild kingdom underneath the layers.

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The Asphalt Jungle should be recognized, along with the greats like Sunset Blvd. (1950) and The Third Man (1949), as a landmark of Film Noir. The police officers, the dialogue, the suspense and each motive work together to move the story along. It is without a doubt true to the genre.

This is a writer’s film. Since we had the strike threat, we should dedicate this film to all the writers and those who feel the need for appreciation. Director John Huston, nominated for best director for The Asphalt Jungle, was a man of many talents: acting, directing, producing, writing and even cinematography and editing. Huston is the god of true ambition, growing up in a house full of Hollywood stars, being raised by Walter Huston and having a family of his own. He is the only person known for directing both his parent (Walter) and child (Angelica) to Oscar success. Writing credit goes to Ben Maddow and Huston, both nominated for best screenplay in 1950. They teamed up to take on the novel by W.R. Burnett (High Sierra, The Racket).

Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) wins my applause. He never loses touch with his stone-hard disgruntled look of a hoodlum. The audience cheers. ‘Doc’ Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) is fresh from the cell and out on the streets. He has a million dollar scheme and needs the right kind of crooks. They take on the wild kingdom underneath the city’s law. Doc recruits some supposedly trustworthy men to help with the jewel heist. We have all of the above and then some. Alonzo D. Emmerich (Louis Calhern) is the financial backer with a side plot. Gus (James Whitmore) is the trusted driver and lookout. “He won’t tell a soul and he’ll take the heat.” Louis (Anthony Caruso), the cocky safecracker, is along for the ride and on Emmerich’s side. Marilyn Monroe has a bit part, but is very much worth mentioning. She bats her lashes and squeals innocence. When you are rooting for the bad guys, eventually you take it to the grave.

Some recommended films to watch are The Killing (1956), GoodFellas (1990), and Reservoir Dogs (1992). The Asphalt Jungle keeps us in suspense and has an ending that runs off in the tradition of Noir. It’s part of American Cinematheque’s Third Annual Film Noir Festival at The Egyptian Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. To catch more of this vital film festival and view some of the best in this genre, go to

Ashley Cook is a writer and student.

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