Film Review: The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

Release Date: June 1st, 1950
Directed by: John Huston
Written by: Ben Maddow, John Huston
Based on: The Asphalt Jungle by W. R. Burnett
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, Marilyn Monroe, Anthony Caruso, Strother Martin (uncredited)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 112 Minutes

Review:

“One way or another, we all work for our vice.” – Doc Riedenschneider

John Huston was a true maestro of film-noir. Sure, he made some other great films but there was just something special about his work on The Maltese FalconKey Largo and this, the grittiest and ballsiest of his noir pictures.

The Asphalt Jungle is a heist movie but it is so much more than that. However, the heist itself is a stellar sequence that probably went on to inspire just about every good cinematic heist after it. It takes its time, builds suspense and created a lot of the tropes associated with the heist genre.

The film also makes an immediate impact, thanks to the powerful opening theme by Miklós Rózsa, who really knew how to set the tone with all the film-noir movies he scored. The music is great throughout the entire picture and creates the type of mood needed to audibly enhance this gritty and tense film.

The cinematography was handled by Harold Rosson and was done in great contrast to his opulent and colorful fantasy world seen in The Wizard of Oz. And like Oz, this film got Rosson an Academy Award nomination. However, he was no stranger to nominations, as he also received the same honors for Boom TownThirty Seconds Over Tokyo and The Bad Seed. Before all those nominations, however, he was awarded an Honorary Oscar for his color cinematography in 1936’s The Garden of Allah, which was only the fifth film in history to be photographed in Three-strip Technicolor.

Needless to say, Rosson was an accomplished cinematographer, ahead of his time, and he captured things on this film, along with Huston’s direction, that showcased a real technical prowess and an ability to create more dynamic scenes with less shots and more natural and fluid motion between characters and their environments.

Sterling Hayden has a strong presence and we get to spend some time with Jean Hagen and a young Marilyn Monroe, who was on the verge of superstardom. Character actor Strother Martin even pops up in this.

This is an incredible film-noir to look at. It takes risks but it really is art in the highest sense in how it all comes together: a perfect storm and an amazingly woven tapestry. There are a lot of interesting characters, twist and turns and there aren’t any real faults to pick apart.

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