The Asphalt Jungle

1950

The Asphalt Jungle

Critics Consensus

The Asphalt Jungle is an expertly told crime story with attention paid to the crime and characters in equal measure.

97%

TOMATOMETER

Total Count: 32

87%

Audience Score

User Ratings: 7,087
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Movie Info

The Asphalt Jungle is a brilliantly conceived and executed anatomy of a crime -- or, as director John Huston and scripter Ben Maddow put it, "a left-handed form of human endeavor." Recently paroled master criminal Erwin "Doc" Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe), with funding from crooked attorney Emmerich (Louis Calhern), gathers several crooks together in Cincinnati for a Big Caper. Among those involved are Dix (Sterling Hayden), an impoverished hood who sees the upcoming jewel heist as a means to finance his dream of owning a horse farm. Hunch-backed cafe owner (James Whitmore) is hired on to be the driver for the heist; professional safecracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) assembles the tools of his trade; and a bookie (Marc Lawrence) acts as Emmerich's go-between. The robbery is pulled off successfully, but an alert night watchman shoots Ciavelli. Corrupt cop (Barry Kelley), angry that his "patsy" (Lawrence) didn't let him in on the caper, beats the bookie into confessing and fingering the other criminals involved. From this point on, the meticulously planned crime falls apart with the inevitability of a Greek tragedy. Way down on the cast list is Marilyn Monroe in her star-making bit as Emmerich's sexy "niece"; whenever The Asphalt Jungle would be reissued, Monroe would figure prominently in the print ads as one of the stars. The Asphalt Jungle was based on a novel by the prolific W.R. Burnett, who also wrote Little Caesar and Saint Johnson (the fictionalized life story of Wyatt Earp).

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Cast

Sterling Hayden
as Dix Handley
Louis Calhern
as Alonzo D. Emmerich
Jean Hagen
as Doll Conovan
James Whitmore
as Gus Ninissi
Sam Jaffe
as Doc Erwin Riedenschneider
John McIntire
as Police Commissioner
Barry Kelley
as Lt. Ditrich
Anthony Caruso
as Louis Ciavelli
Teresa Celli
as Maria Ciavelli
Marilyn Monroe
as Angela Phinlay
Dorothy Tree
as May Emmerich
Brad Dexter
as Bob Brannon
John Maxwell
as Dr. Swanson
James Seay
as Janocek
Thomas Browne Henry
as James X. Connery
Alex Gerry
as Maxwell
Don Haggerty
as Andrews
Raymond Roe
as Tallboy
Henry Rowland
as Franz Schurz
Ralph Dunn
as Policeman
Pat Flaherty
as Policeman
Jack Shea
as Policeman
John Cliff
as Policeman
Ray Teal
as Policeman
Frank Cady
as Night Clerk
Strother Martin
as Karl Anton Smith
Henry Corden
as William Doldy
Benny Burt
as Driver
Fred Graham
as Truck Driver
Alberto Morin
as Eddie Donato
Howard Mitchell
as Secretary
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Critic Reviews for The Asphalt Jungle

All Critics (32) | Top Critics (4)

Audience Reviews for The Asphalt Jungle

  • Aug 10, 2018
    Directed by John Huston, this noir heist film is strong and well-balanced. The main characters in the caper are well-developed - the brain, an older German-American guy who has just gotten out of prison (Sam Jaffe), the safecracker with a wife and little baby (Anthony Caruso), the driver, a hunchbacked diner owner (James Whitmore), and the southern-fried muscleman (Sterling Hayden). They are brought together by a bookie (Marc Lawrence), and plan to fence the jewels they steal to a rich lawyer (Louis Calhern). To describe what happens would be to spoil the film, but suffice to say that even the best laid plans are fraught with peril, and unexpected events. I appreciated how Huston spent the time developing the characters and kept the story tight, without resorting to excess violence or plot twists. You still get the usual sorts of things - snappy dialogue, tense standoffs, double-crosses, etc - but it all feels intelligent. There are extended periods in the film without any background music, which I found refreshing. Each scene contributes to the story, and there is a spare feeling to the visuals, both of which make it feel authentic. There is also a human element in the relationship Caruso has with his wife (Teresa Celli), and in Whitmore standing up to comments about his deformity. It's a small moment in the movie, but it's quietly powerful when he says with dignity, "What I carry on my back, I was born with it. I didn't grow it myself." Also humanizing are the separate dreams Jaffe and Hayden have of running away from it all afterwards (Jaffe to Mexico to be in the warm weather and 'young girls', ok, ugh; Hayden to re-purchase his family farm in Kentucky). Everyone has a weakness, a flaw, but at the same time, a positive attribute. Jaffe is smart and a gentleman criminal, but he's also a pervert. Hayden is tough and the opposite of greedy, but he's also a compulsive gambler (and loser) at the horse races. Huston also shows us bad police behavior - pushing a witness to make a false ID, accepting a payoff from the bookie, and using their muscle when under pressure to make arrests. I loved how this was balanced by a little segment with the police radio from the commissioner (John McIntire), who flicks the calls of distress on one by one, and then points out: "People are being cheated, robbed, murdered, raped. And that goes on 24 hours a day, every day in the year. And that's not exceptional, that's usual. It's the same in every city of the modern world. But suppose we had no police force, good or bad. Suppose we had...just silence. Nobody to listen. Nobody to answer. The battle's finished. The jungle wins. The predatory beasts take over. Think about it." As a side bonus to all of this, you get Marilyn Monroe in a small role as Calhern's mistress. She was just 24, and this film, along with "All About Eve" from the same year, were the ones that started generating serious attention for her. Her performance is uneven at best, but when she turns on the charm with Calhern, or asks one of the cops "Do I have to talk to him? Couldn't I just talk to you?", her face so naturally assuming the look of a little girl, she's electric. There's also a wonderful dance sequence from a young girl (Helene Stanley) in a diner, who cuts loose in a very charming way after given a bunch of change for the jukebox. What a fun moment that is, maybe my favorite in the entire film, and how it fit into the plot and Jaffe's proclivities is very clever. My only small criticism is with Sterling Hayden, who got top billing, but just didn't resonate with me. I think it was something about the way he spoke, which seemed too 'heavy', if that makes any sense. Jean Hagen as his girlfriend was just average too. Calhern is brilliant as the shady lawyer, and the rest of the cast turn in solid performances. I considered a slightly higher rating, since you can so clearly see the effect this film had on others which would follow (Rififi from 1955 comes immediately to mind). Solid film.
    Antonius B Super Reviewer
  • Jul 18, 2018
    What makes this classic noir/heist film so engrossing is the deliberate and unemotional way it takes us through the minutiae of a plan that involves a large group of characters, and even more interesting is how it manages to keep these characters as its primary focus.
    Carlos M Super Reviewer
  • Jul 11, 2018
    One of the greatest film noirs ever made. Textured storytelling, excellent performances and direction.
    Aldo G Super Reviewer
  • Apr 06, 2013
    as intricate as you want for a robbery reel. the acting's solid & barely perceptively beyond in some cases. the script isnt too impressive, i was left feeling impassive at stages. the direction was average and the themes make it irrelevant as none of the characters are likeable. maybe it hasnt carried well over the years because if its point was an intention to be gritty it just came off bland. not a classic but perhaps an inspirational blueprint or reference point for future directors to take from. worth watching once
    Sanity Assassin ! Super Reviewer

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