“[C]rime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor.”
John Huston (best director, National Board of Review) now launched from inside the genre of film noir that he himself had invented (with The Maltese Falcon, 1941) the “heist film” or the “crime caper film.” This was The Asphalt Jungle, written by himself and Ben Maddow from the 1949 novel by W. R. Burnett. The film consists of three parts: the planning of the jewelry store burglary, including the selection of participants and the arrangement of financial backing, directed by “Doc” Erwin Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe, memorable—best actor, Venice), who has just been released from prison; the execution of the burglary; the unraveling of the plan. The collective weaknesses of the participants reflect sarcastically on both capitalism and democracy, and these Achilles’ heels in any case suit fate; working together like the “criminals” we watch here, cosmos and human nature doomed the project from the start.
Huston and black-and-white cinematographer Harold Rosson alternate between a daylight world of grays and profound darkness, especially in city backstreets on the night of the burglary. Their vision of reality is contradictory: the opening series of architectural exterior shots combines clean lines and tawdry surfaces. Early on, the human talk is so cold and terse that a cat’s meow sounds warm and “human”: familiarity breeding (in us) contentment rather than contempt. Police procedure quickly gives way to the world of the criminals, here portrayed as people just doing their jobs; dramatically, we are invited into the group, but a somewhat objective tone renders this “inside” view rather more complex. The police commissioner’s harangue against “predatory beasts” collides with “hooligan” Dix Handley’s death drive back home to his family’s Kentucky farm.
Oh: the film catapulted to stardom B-actress Marilyn Monroe.
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