A Movie A Day: Quint visits THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)! One way or another, we all work for our vice.
Published at: June 14, 2008, 2:07 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge and plowing through the hundreds of DVDs I own for movies I haven’t seen. Each day I’ll talk about a film I haven’t previously seen and each film will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
Today we dive back into film noir, a theme we’ll continue over the weekend and into early next week. Yesterday was COOL HAND LUKE and we’re now jumping back 27 years via a very, very young Strother Martin who has a non-speaking extra part as a dude in a line-up early in the motion picture THE ASPHALT JUNGLE, directed by John Huston and starring Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe and featuring one of Marilyn Monroe’s first screen appearances.
I’m not sure what I expected with this flick, but I didn’t have any idea it was a heist movie going in. Maybe I thought more street crime stuff, but I love me a good heist flick, especially one that gathers together a bunch of really great characters, like this one.
So you have a German mastermind (played by Sam Jaffe), a relatively sweet old guy with a proclivity for young flesh, who gathers himself a team to run a diamond heist. Included on the team are a safe cracker, a corrupt lawyer who is supposed to be funding the operation, but is secretly broke and is looking to double cross the team after the job, a skittish low-rent bookie who effectively manages the team and a strong arm (played by Sterling Hayden).
What’s really compelling about the movie isn’t so much the job itself, but the time Huston dedicates to exploring most of the group, especially the strong arm, Dix, the mastermind, Doc Riedenschneider and the backstabbing moneyman, Emmerich.
Emmerich is probably my favorite character in the movie, he’s the one with the darkest inner demons, which is funny because the rest of the characters are all criminals through and through, but they live by a certain code of honor, especially the hooligan, Dix. Emmerich is driven to crime by his own personal greed and desperation. He lives in high society, but is broke.
Emmerich has a sick wife desperate to keep herself in his thoughts. You never see her out of bed, but it’s clear when we do see her begging for him to spend time with her that she has a feeling that he’s slipping away. In fact, his money troubles are all because of his affair with a young blonde, played by Marilyn Monroe.
Holy Christ does Huston photograph the hell out of Ms. Monroe in this film. She’s absolutely stunning, if not all that important to the plot. She has a few scenes of interest, though, before she developed her trademark breathy blonde delivery. We’re actually following Marilyn over to tomorrow’s film, CLASH BY NIGHT.
I’ve seen a few Sterling Hayden flicks, mostly his bigger appearances like DR. STRANGELOVE, THE KILLERS for Stanley Kubrick and his small role in THE GODFATHER… Can’t say I’m a big fan of his work in this flick. I love his character, the rough, but fair muscle, but his delivery is so stony and personality-free that I could never really connect with him.
Now, I’m sure that’s completely intentional, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. Still, the strength of the character and snappy dialogue he gets is more than enough to compensate for his line delivery.
In fact, the character work throughout this movie is what I really took away from it. The reason it has lived on and became a classic is because of that attention to character and character detail. The heist isn’t really full of twists and turns… in fact it’s pretty straight forward… but it’s clear that the heist isn’t the focus of the film. The focus is on mixing these characters together as bad luck and greed is added to the stew, showing us everybody in their most desperate hour.
It’s definitely worth seeking out. I don’t know if you can get kids to watch and appreciate a film like this, but any movie lover shouldn’t have any trouble. I think the best thing that can be said about this film is that they don't make anything like it today. Here the characters drive the plot, not the heist or spectacle. That's something really becoming apparent in these films, really, really strong scriptwork and great characters.