The City Under the City

The Asphalt Jungle details the seedy underbelly of a dirty crime-ridden city. Similar to The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, John Huston chose to director an adaptation of another book about the morally corrupt. The Asphalt Jungle was inspired by films like White Heat, but it’s really the former that emphasized the heist genre. Though nominated for Best Director, Supporting Actor, Adapted Screenplay, and Cinematography – Black-and-White, The Asphalt Jungle didn’t win a single award. It lost almost every category to All About Eve. Ironically both movies have Marilyn Monroe in common.

Despite only appearing in two scenes before she was famous, Monroe made a big impression with her charm, beauty, and acting skills. Though the rest of the movie isn’t overshadowed by her memorable appearance. The Asphalt Jungle centers around a jewel heist perpetuated by small time hooligans, a safecracker, getaway driver, and other criminals. Sam Jaffe was nominated for his role as the aging Doc in charge of the heist. Sterling Hayden is the Southern hooligan Dix Handley who agrees to the job if it means returning to his family farm. Jean Hagen plays his ditzy chatterbox girlfriend Doll.

Though the safecracker Louis Ciavelli is the only one with a family to think about. James Whitmore plays his friend Gus who acts as the getaway driver. There’s also bookie Cobby, corrupt private detective Brannom, and lawyer Alonzo D. Emmerich played by a morally ambiguous Louis Calhern. Emmerich is the one having an affair with Monroe’s character Angela. The heist is tense thanks to noir aesthetics and the fact that we got to know every character. Making the manhunt performed by John McIntire’s police commissioner feel justified. Much like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, none of the men can escape their inevitable fate. Each man is either arrested, shot dead, wounded, or commits suicide. The Asphalt Jungle captures crime without hesitation.

The Asphalt Jungle

Angela charms a cop

4 thoughts on “The City Under the City

  1. This was John Huston’s farewell to the Noir genre that had catapulted him to success, and he leaves the genre with a solid bang. The film takes the grit, shadows, betrayal, and uncertainty that made Noir what it was and brings them to their height. There’s really no good character in the film, though some are far less ruthless and cold as the others. Marilyn really did make an impression in one of her early roles, a big point in that she helps spell the downfall of the gang along with her beauty and skill. This film and Odds Against Tomorrow were the inspirations for French filmmaker Jean-Pierre Melville’s 1970 magnum opus Le Cercle Rouge (The Red Circle).

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