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Asphalt Jungle

The Asphalt Jungle

4.6 3
Director: John Huston, Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, James Whitmore

Cast: John Huston, Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, James Whitmore


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The Asphalt Jungle is a brilliantly conceived and executed anatomy of a crime -- or, as director John Huston and scripter Ben Maddow put it, "a left-handed form of human endeavor." Recently paroled master criminal Erwin "Doc" Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe), with funding from crooked attorney Emmerich (Louis Calhern), gathers several crooks together in Cincinnati


The Asphalt Jungle is a brilliantly conceived and executed anatomy of a crime -- or, as director John Huston and scripter Ben Maddow put it, "a left-handed form of human endeavor." Recently paroled master criminal Erwin "Doc" Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe), with funding from crooked attorney Emmerich (Louis Calhern), gathers several crooks together in Cincinnati for a Big Caper. Among those involved are Dix (Sterling Hayden), an impoverished hood who sees the upcoming jewel heist as a means to finance his dream of owning a horse farm. Hunch-backed cafe owner (James Whitmore) is hired on to be the driver for the heist; professional safecracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) assembles the tools of his trade; and a bookie (Marc Lawrence) acts as Emmerich's go-between. The robbery is pulled off successfully, but an alert night watchman shoots Ciavelli. Corrupt cop (Barry Kelley), angry that his "patsy" (Lawrence) didn't let him in on the caper, beats the bookie into confessing and fingering the other criminals involved. From this point on, the meticulously planned crime falls apart with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. Way down on the cast list is Marilyn Monroe in her star-making bit as Emmerich's sexy "niece"; whenever The Asphalt Jungle would be reissued, Monroe would figure prominently in the print ads as one of the stars. The Asphalt Jungle was based on a novel by the prolific W.R. Burnett, who also wrote Little Caesar and Saint Johnson (the fictionalized life story of Wyatt Earp).

Editorial Reviews

Barnes & Noble - Gregory Baird
Lust, greed, and corruption lurk around every corner in director John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, the definitive caper movie. The film distinguishes itself from other examples of the genre not merely through its intricate plotting but in the complex web of relationships it portrays among cops and criminals alike. Depth of characterization is Huston's strong suit, and it shows: Every role is brilliantly cast; every performance a gem. A clear standout, though, is Sam Jaffe, who portrays the scheme's elderly mastermind as a cross between a German psychoanalyst and a Zen master. He's the calm at the center of the storm, but with a taste for life's pleasures, notably young girls. Noteworthy also is Louis Calhern as a high-priced lawyer whose fancy clothes and even fancier manners conceal a young mistress (Marilyn Monroe), an empty bank account, and feet of clay. But the moral center of the story is a low-rent hoodlum played by the inimitable Sterling Hayden. Hayden's screen presence is stunning, and despite his predominantly B-movie career, he must rank among the most compelling American screen actors of the century. His fiery-eyed glare has the intensity of divine judgment here, single-handedly lifting The Asphalt Jungle to the level of classical tragedy. And while there are traces of sentiment in the film, they quickly yield to a more detached observation of characters whose destinies seem to emerge inevitably from their flaws. This, combined with a powerful sense of irony, places the film squarely in the realm of great American cinema.
All Movie Guide
Much imitated, The Asphalt Jungle was one of the first caper films to show a crime and its consequences from the criminals' point of view. It's one of director John Huston's most gritty and suspenseful films, centering on a recently paroled criminal's scheme to make one last big hit. The cast of reliable character actors includes Sterling Hayden, James Whitmore and Sam Jaffe, and a little-known seductress named Marilyn Monroe, who had a small part. Based on a novel by W.R. Burnett, The Asphalt Jungle was innovative for 1950, as Huston told a crime-doesn't-pay story without the usual distancing and moralizing. It is more of a character study than an action film, and countless films that came later, all the way to Pulp Fiction, have paid it homage, some unknowingly. Some of the more direct remakes of the same plot include Cairo, A Cool Breeze, and The Badlanders.

Product Details

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[Wide Screen]
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Special Features

New 2k digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack; Audio Commentary from 2004 by film historian Drew Casper, featuring archival recordings of actor James Whitmore; Pharos of Chaos, a 1983 documentary about actor Sterling Hayden; New interviews with film noir historian Eddie Muller and Cinematographer John Bailey; Archival footage of Writer-Director John Huston discussing the film; Episode of the television program City Lights from 1979 featuring Huston; Audio excerpts of an archival interview with Huston; Trailer; Plus: An essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien

Related Subjects

Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
Sterling Hayden Dix Handley
Louis Calhern Alonzo D. Emmerich
James Whitmore Gus Ninissi
Jean Hagen Doll Conovan
Sam Jaffe Doc Erwin Riedenschneider
John McIntire Police Commissioner Hardy
Marilyn Monroe Angela Phinlay
Marc Lawrence Cobby
Barry Kelley Lt. Ditrich
Anthony Caruso Louis Ciavelli
Teresa Celli Maria Ciavelli
Wee Willie Davis Timmons
Dorothy Tree May Emmerich
Brad Dexter Bob Brannen
John Maxwell Dr. Swanson
Tom Browne Henry James X. Connery
Alex Gerry Maxwell
James Seay Officer Janocek
Don Haggerty Detective Andrews
Henry Rowland Franz Schurz
Helene Stanley Jeannie
Raymond Roe Tallboy
Judith Wood Woman
Ralph Dunn Policeman
Pat Flaherty Policeman
Jack Shea Policeman
John Cliff Policeman
Ray Teal Policeman
Frank Cady Night Clerk
Strother Martin Karl Anton Smith
Henry Corden William Doldy
Benny Burt Driver
Fred Graham Truck Driver
Bill Washington Suspect
Kerry O'Day Girl
Patricia Miller Girl
Eloise Hardt Vivian
Alberto Morin Eddie Donato
Wilson Wood Man
Tim Ryan Jack; Police Clerk
Howard Mitchell Secretary
Sol (Saul) Gorss Policeman
Joseph Darr Smith Reporter

Technical Credits
John Huston Director,Screenwriter
George Boemler Editor
Jack Dawn Makeup
Randall Duell Art Director
Cedric Gibbons Art Director
Arthur Hornblow Producer
Ben Maddow Screenwriter
Jack D. Moore Set Decoration/Design
Harold Hal Rosson Cinematographer
Miklós Rózsa Score Composer
Douglas Shearer Sound/Sound Designer
Edwin B. Willis Set Decoration/Design

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4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
John Huston does a great job. His direction is flawless. It cannot be topped. Sterling Hayden looked the part exactly. This was a great film with excellent potential.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The disquieting urban landscape and deeply disturbed motley crew of spurious characters that populate ¿The Asphalt Jungle¿ make the film one of the essential destinations for fans of film noir. The films artfully gritty atmosphere is perhaps its best selling feature, though, truth be told, there is nothing about the production that is second rate. Basically, it¿s a jewel heist caper gone horribly wrong but carried off with such panache and attention to detail by director, John Huston that one has to admire both the economy of plot and depth of characters fleshed out within the context of two hours. Huston¿s great knack for extolling unusual and breakthrough performances from his ensemble is working overtime on this occasion. While we might be used to seeing Sam Jaffe as a nefarious rogue (here, he¿s Doc, the criminal mastermind with a weakness for hoop earrings and tight skirts), the extraordinary off kilter performance of Louis Calhern ¿ as middle aged fencer, Ennrich/sugar daddy to Marilyn Monroe, is so menacing in its undertone, that one wishes the actor had been given the opportunity to play more such parts. There is nothing cartoonish or cliché about any of the characters in the film. Sterling Hayden¿s particularly powerful as Dix Handley, the tense enforcer of the group. This is a story about out of control people losing control of their lives. Huston captures the immediacy of these tragic lives and the overwhelming sense of doom. As one might expect, it ends badly for all concerned though, within the context of this review I won¿t say exactly how. The transfer on ¿The Asphalt Jungle¿ is better than average, though it¿s not perfect. The gray scale has a richly balanced look with deep solid blacks and clean whites. On occasion grain looks heavier than it should and contrast levels seem a tad low. Still, this DVD is considerable improvement over previously issued VHS tapes. Age related artifacts are present but do not terribly distract. The audio is mono but nicely balanced. The more intent listener will notice some hiss but nothing that will distract. Drew Casper provides the audio commentary here. There are a few inserts of audio from James Whitmore that will most surely enhance your appreciation for this film. All in all, another good disc to add to your library of classic film noir.
Guest More than 1 year ago
After watching The Asphalt Jungle, one can see that this kind of film noir is what inspired the modern great Pulp Fiction. Gritty, seedy realism in black and white, in a city where not everything, or everyone, is as it seems. Ominous and suffocating, The Asphalt Jungle is dark, ambigous, and an absolutely compelling film.