Coming at the end of the decade in 1950 - which effectively ended Hollywood's much cherished Golden Age - was MGM's THE ASPHALT JUNGLE. A superbly structured gritty crime drama it was one of the last of the great Noir thrillers. Produced for the studio by Arthur Hornblow Jr. from a novel by W.R. Burnett it was beautifully written for the screen by Ben Maddow and John Huston and outstandingly directed by Huston. The assembled cast couldn't be better even down to the smallest parts such as Ray Teal turning up as a patrolling policeman. The picture is notable also for an early appearance of Marilyn Monroe as the kittenish ingenue of shady lawyer Louis Calhern. Stylishly photographed in stunning black & white by Harold Rosson THE ASPHALT JUNGLE has joined the ranks, alongside "The Killers" (1946) and "Out Of The Past" (1947), as the finest Noir ever made.
An old time criminal Doc Redinschneider (Sam Jaffe) has just been released from prison and has devised a plan for the "perfect" caper ("I could sell it on the open market for $100,000"). He approaches a small time racing "fixer" Cobby (a brilliant Marc Lawrence) who in turn arranges with dishonest lawyer Alonzo Emmerich (Calhern) to finance the heist of a million dollar diamond haul from a major jewellery firm. Emmerich is also to act as a "fence" to offload the gems. Hired is expert safe-cracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso), the humpback Gus (James Whitmore) as the driver and a small time hoodlum Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) as the group's strong arm. The robbery itself is a success (a riveting intense sequence) but things start to go terribly wrong. First Ciavelli is accidentally shot and then Emmerich, along with an accomplice (an impressive Brad Dexter) attempt a double cross which is thwarted by Dix after a shootout. With the loot now just so much junk Reidinschneider and Dix must go on the run. The movie culminates with Emmerich committing suicide, Redinschneider, Cobby and Gus being arrested and ends with the fatally wounded Dix making a dash out of the city to reach his family farm in the country.
Performances are terrific! Hayden was never better and only came close to matching this portrayal six years later in Kubrick's brilliant "The Killing" (1956). Outstanding also is Sam Jaffe as the master criminal, Louis Calhern as the crooked lawyer, Marc Lawrence as the "fixer" ("I always sweat when I count money - it's the way I am") and John McIntire as the determined Police Commissioner. All things considered THE ASPHALT JUNGLE is probably the most perfectly cast film ever. The only minor disappointment is the sparse music score by the great Miklos Rozsa. There is a splendid dramatic main title and continues after the credits for a short while but then no more music is heard until the final six or seven minutes of the picture when there is a hectic rhythmic orchestral statement to accompany the mortally wounded Dix and his frantic drive to his family's farm. Then as he reaches home, collapses and lays dying in a pasture the music segues into a reflective melodic theme for the end title. The lack of a full score however is but a minor quibble and does little to alter the fact that THE ASPHALT JUNGLE remains an exercise in meticulous motion picture making.
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