“We all pay for our vices.” The Asphalt Jungle
This tale of small-time crooks trying for a big score can be classed as a Film Noir, a caper film, a heist film, or a crime-doesn’t-pay film. The poster reads “The city under the city.” (Is this a movie about “sub-urban” life?) The “city” is probably Cincinnati, Ohio. The location is not too far from Cleveland or Kentucky. Very well shot with fleshed out characters, The Asphalt Jungle
is still the blueprint for many caper films.
The film opens with Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) on the run from the police. He goes into a diner and gives the owner Gus (James Whitmore) his gun to hide. The police come in and take Dix in on a charge of vagrancy. We also find out Doc Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) has just been released from prison. A doctor of what, we never know. He doesn’t seem too interested in patching-up anyone. The good(?) Doc gets a group together to pull off a jewelry heist. There are alliances formed and double-crosses and along the way, and people do pay for their vices.
Marilyn Monroe plays an older man’s mistress. She calls him “Uncle.” Isn’t that sweet? As I mentioned in a previous post on her, Marilyn Monroe
just stands out whenever she is on screen. She is especially electric while being coy with a police officer. Louis Calhern does a fantastic job as Alonzo D. Emmerich, the dirty lawyer and “Uncle” who bankrolls the job.
The Asphalt Jungle
is extremely well done and is fascinating to watch, but there is no one to cheer for, other than perhaps Police Commissioner Hardy (John McIntire). Dix is somewhat a sympathetic character, but he is basically a thug with a nice dream. He wants to go back to Kentucky and buy the family farm back. Unlike The Naked City
where there are clear good and bad guys, this movie has a dirty cop, a dirty lawyer, a dirty diner owner, a bookie, a thug, a corrupt private eye, a dishonest family man, a crooked doc, and a mistress. Commissioner Hardy has a nice speech tacked on at the end about how most cops are good and all though. Really though, The Asphalt Jungle
deserves it’s place in the pantheon of great crime films.