A Movie A Day: Quint visits THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (1950)!
One way or another, we all work for our vice.
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.
Here’s the line-up for the next 7 days:
Saturday, June 14th: CLASH BY NIGHT (1952)
Sunday, June 15th: SCARLET STREET (1945)
Monday, June 16th: KILLER BAIT (aka TOO LATE FOR TEARS) (1949)
Tuesday, June 17th: ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964)
Wednesday, June 18th: CITY FOR CONQUEST (1940)
Thursday, June 19th: SAN QUENTIN (1937)
Friday, June 20th: 42nd STREET (1933)
See you guys tomorrow, following Marilyn Monroe over to 1952’s CLASH BY NIGHT!
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June 14, 2008, 2:06 a.m. CST
June 14, 2008, 2:08 a.m. CST
is my fav kubrick movie. weird choice i know and sterling hayden is rock solid in there
June 14, 2008, 2:32 a.m. CST
by Napoleon Park
showing Marilyn Monroe, who you say has a minor role, given star billing and painted with the kind of torpedoes one rarely sees outside of cheap paperback book covers or the sleazier men's magazines. Yowzers, she could poke an eye out with those. And I would have had no idea what this flick was about either - probably confusing it with Blackboard Jungle. Was that title considered a parody of this one?
June 14, 2008, 2:34 a.m. CST
by Napoleon Park
so you can work your way around the clock and skip one? 'Cuz it's your baby, you know, if you want to do five or six a week instead, that's fine.
June 14, 2008, 3:49 a.m. CST
It's a classic, and those posters are anything but cheesy. Sex sells, and yes she looks fantastic in this. It's one of the greatest Noirs and was the first Noir WB released in their fantastic Film Noir box sets. Blackboard Jungle is in the first Controversial Classics boxed set from WB. It has nothing to do with Asphalt Jungle is not a parody.
June 14, 2008, 6:50 a.m. CST
A cinema legend if ever there was one.
June 14, 2008, 7:01 a.m. CST
Whitmore is a hunchback bar keep, believe it or not. I'm embarrassed I didn't mention him in the review because he's really good in the flick, just isn't a central character. There's a scene at the end of the movie when he's being led to a jail cell... and what happens on the way is one of my favorite parts of the film.
June 14, 2008, 8 a.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
I've been steadilly plowing through those excellent WB noir sets, and volume one doesn't have a dud in the bunch. Asphalt Jungle is tense, witty, and Monroe is positively gorgeous. Also like that the Jaffe character is named Reidenschneider. Did the Coens crib that name for Tony Shaloub in The Man Who Wasn't There...?
June 14, 2008, 12:38 p.m. CST
by Lenny Nero
When you mentioned a musical that you felt bad you hadn't seen, one of the big ones, I thought I'd have to skip your column in order to avoid descending into "Sound of Music" hell, but you picked a good one. <p>And Trik-Ster, I was one of those focus group attendees for IMDB, and let me tell you, nearly all of us hated the new design. We're just not being heeded.
June 14, 2008, 1:14 p.m. CST
I prefer The Killing, as it's a more stripped down version of the story that works the character development into the heist itself. However, The Asphalt Jungle is one of the masterpieces of noir. Sterling Hayden never bugged me in this film. I knew it was part of his character. However, I preferred his performance in The Killing.
June 14, 2008, 1:28 p.m. CST
June 14, 2008, 1:28 p.m. CST
Great characters. (I especially enjoy Jaffe.) Great ending. And Marilyn is at her absolute peak hottest.
June 14, 2008, 2:36 p.m. CST
Lenny, don't get too comfy yet... 42nd Street isn't the musical I was referring to.<BR><BR>Napoleon - The reports are coming a little later because I'm on a bizarro fucked up sleep schedule that I'm trying to throw myself off of. Thanks, Romania trip! As a result, I have CLASH BY NIGHT watched, but I'm going to sleep now, at 2:30pm CST and will be up in the wee hours, hopefully swinging around to a normal schedule by Monday or Tuesday. So, Clash By Night was watched today, but the column won't be up until I awaken and can pound it out. Fair warning.<BR><BR>I'm going strong so far. I hope you guys are digging it, too. I am thinking of breaking the A Movie A Day column into series', releasing the list of the entire run and thing going for a month or two, taking a short break to recoup and plan out the next series, then starting it up. What do you guys think of that? I'd like to keep this as involving as possible and don't want it to become a chore for anybody following along. I'm sure after a couple months I'll want a break, too, but so far I'm going strong, really enjoying digging into these films. What do you guys think?
June 14, 2008, 2:37 p.m. CST
Of course that's what I meant...
June 14, 2008, 3:11 p.m. CST
imdb looks the same as always for me...or have I been looking at the "new" version for a whil, and didn't notice the change-over?<p>what's something specific I can look for to know? it looks fine to me.
June 14, 2008, 6:09 p.m. CST
On the one hand, I've been introduced to some great films and filmmakers. On the other hand, there are a lot of seemingly unhappy people who waste a suspicious amount of time bashing certain films. Still, they did help introduce me to the film Werckmeister Harmonies.
June 14, 2008, 6:16 p.m. CST
I'm enjoying this series quite a bit as well. I like the idea of you posting a longer list of what's coming up. It gives people like myself who might want to select a few to tune into enough time to get them watched before you post about it. I'm just now checking out Rio Bravo now..
June 14, 2008, 7:03 p.m. CST
by Lenny Nero
I'm just trying to convince myself that you wouldn't put yourself through the hell that is Rodgers & Hammerstein's immature and dated canon.
June 14, 2008, 8:47 p.m. CST
Suck on that! But The Set-Up is better...
June 15, 2008, 12:10 a.m. CST
during the physical act of love i felt a sense of emptyness...
June 15, 2008, 1:55 a.m. CST
by Son of Hades
A nice change of pace. Can't you get a job over at the AV Club?
June 15, 2008, 10:41 a.m. CST
also. This is one of the reasons I like this site, reading contributors opinions on dvds/classic movies and maybe getting a take on something I've been thinking about seeing. I like Video Watchdog for the same reason, except having to sit through Mario Bava love, every single issue. I think the guy is good, but it's like listening to Bill Maher go off on people who have any kind of religion, every single episode of Real Time. And that's my rant.
June 15, 2008, 2:28 p.m. CST
I would think breaking the movies into monthly themed sections with different 'seasons' to allow for a break would be a good idea. Keeps the focus and energy levels up.<br><br> My only suggestion at this point would be if possible to get a permanent box on the front page to keep the list in, even if its tucked underneath the contests and comics & animation area everyone forgets to scroll down to. That way its easier to track and keep up with the discussions.
July 5, 2008, 10:59 p.m. CST
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