Now on Blu-ray: John Huston’s ‘The Asphalt Jungle’ is a Hard-Boiled Entry in the Criterion Collection

The Asphalt Jungle

Film noir sprouted from the aftermath of World War II. The propaganda films of the war effort had faded away and soldiers returned home with a new found sense of disillusionment that found an outlet in deceitful tales of deadly dames and crimes gone horribly wrong. Though it doesn’t have femme fatale, John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle is a true American film noir, a tale of crooks hoping to grab their slice of the American Dream through illicit means and the slow winding way the perfect crime unravels. Now The Asphalt Jungle is a part of the Criterion Collection and its brand new Blu-ray is a loving restoration of this somewhat unheralded classic of American crime fiction.

In an unspecified corner of the American Midwest, nobody is innocent. The criminal element in the underbelly of the city use crime to fund their various vices. The police are on the take. When we first see Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), he’s fleeing the sound of sirens, hiding in the shadows of urban decay that resemble the wreckage of war-torn Europe. Dix is a roughneck, a hoodlum, but he operates under his own code of honor among thieves. Stuck in this rotten heart of a city, Dix yearns to leave behind the grit of this urban hellhole and make his way back to his family farm in Kentucky. But Dix can be his worst enemy with his predilection for betting on horses, though he numerous faults don’t undermine his long-running friendship with Gus (James Whitmore), a hunchback that runs a local shop, or the ample affections of Doll (Jean Hagen), who loves Dix to a fault.

Dix’s ticket out of the city might be punched when Doc Erwin Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) is released from his time in jail. The elder convict has a knack for planning heists that have massive payouts and he approaches Cobby (Marc Lawrence), a local crime boss, with a plan for a new job. With over a half million in loot, Cobby seeks out Alonzo D. Emmerich (Louis Calhern) to operate as the money man on the job, fronting the money to pay out the team of crooks and goons necessary to carry out the heist. Before long Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) is on board to crack the safe and Dix is hired to be the strongman. But Police Commissioner Hardy (John McIntire) is cracking down on cops that are on the take, including the wobbly morals of Lieutenant Ditrich (Barry Kelly), and combined with the greed among the perpetrators of the daring heist, the perfect crime may entirely unravel.

The screenplay adaptation of W.R. Burnett’s novel by Huston and Ben Maddow eschews a lot of film noir conventions, chiefly in its lack of narration. First and foremost, though, The Asphalt Jungle lacks a femme fatale but there’s still the deadly vices of each of its lead characters. Cobby is a boozehound, constantly with drink in hand. Dix has his gambling problem with the horses. But the biggest vice of these characters belongs to Alonzo, who has an infatuation with younger women that is embodied by the alluring Angela, played by a young Marilyn Monroe in her breakout role. Alonzo has squandered his wealth in a vain attempt to woo the young blonde and schemes with Bob Brannom (Brad Dexter) to betray his fellow criminals. The story seamlessly bounces between all these different threads as its makes it way towards climax of criminality.

In a lot of regards, The Asphalt Jungle is like a precursor to another Sterling Hayden-led crime drama also in the Criterion Collection, Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing. Whereas Kubrick’s film is interested in all the steps of the heist and its eventual unraveling, Huston makes The Asphalt Jungle a much more fatalistic and moralistic tale. The opening scenes highlight the urban decay illustrate that rotten heart at the central of the film’s unspecified city. It’s not just one person’s fault that this carefully orchestrated plan falls apart, but a series of events that are seemingly unavoidable due to the corrupt nature of each player.

The towering Sterling Hayden provides The Asphalt Jungle with its heart and soul as the film’s leading man. Hayden’s booming voice lends an authoritative aura to his criminal character that commands the screen. And yet the hard-boiled persona of Hayden also has a lingering sadness that shines through the rough veneer, as his is a character that yearns to be free from the concrete and brick façade of the city and in the open fields of Kentucky. The criminal element that surrounds Dix brings forth the character’s rough edges and his relationship with Doll brings forth his underlying tenderness, a balance that only a few could bring to life with the disparity that Sterling Hayden brings to the role.

As with all entries in the Criterion Collection, the special features on the Blu-ray for The Asphalt Jungle are robust and delve deep into the history of the film and its key players. There are two archival segments featuring interviews with John Huston, one from the film’s initial release and the other a television interview from 1979. There are featurettes that explore the film with cinematographer John Bailey and film historian Eddie Muller that examine the film’s visual style as well as its place in history. Adding to the historical context is the audio commentary track by historian Drew Casper, which examines the film as well as its place within the studio system of old. The most fascinating of all the special features is the documentary Pharos of Chaos, a 1983 documentary about Sterling Hayden. At this point in his life, Hayden was living on a boat in Europe. Hayden at this point is in hiding from the IRS and spends his time on camera drinking, smoking hashish, and giving a mixture of biographical information and his own musings on life. It’s a fascinating look at a screen icon far removed from the glitz and glamour of the silver screen.

The Asphalt Jungle is one of the great films from the filmography of John Huston that is often overshadowed by his classic collaborations with Humphrey Bogart, such as The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. But this film has Huston bringing back some of that disillusionment that many people brought back with them following World War II. This fatalistic piece of noir features an America in the throes of urban decay as deceit and violence run rampant. Deep in those shadows within the seedy underbelly of the city lies some of the most engrossing cinema ever made.

Shop Deadpool tees in our officially licensed Marvel store!

Leave a Reply

Animation/Anime Interviews Animation/Anime News Animation/Anime Reviews Film/TV Interviews Film/TV News Film/TV Review
2017 Oscars Preview
2017 Oscars Preview: Director, Editing, Cinematography, and More

With the Oscars coming up this Sunday, it’s time to examine...

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Comes to Digital March 24th and Blu-ray April 4th

From Disney – BURBANK, Calif. (Feb. 22, 2017) — Lucasfilm’s “Rogue...

I Don't Feel at Home in This World Anymore.
Macon Blair Delivers a Strong Directorial Debut with ‘I don’t feel at home in this world anymore.’

Macon Blair has made a name for himself as an actor...

Enabled Gaming Gaming News Gaming Reviews
Automata Battle Trailer
NieR: Automata Battle Trailer Introduces Players to their Main Weapon Types

NieR: Automata Battle Trailer Introduces Players to their the Main Weapon...

Shift Happens
Shift Happens is the Most Clever, Cute, and Challenging Game Coming Out Next Week

Shift Happens is instantly the most cleverly titled game out so...

Koei Tecmo America Announces Western Release of Samurai Warriors: Spirit of Sanada

Follow the legend of the Sanada Clan from their heroic rise...

Comic Creator Interviews Comic/Graphic Novel News Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews Manga News Manga Reviews Novel/Novella Author Interviews Novel/Novella News Novel/Novella Reviews
Twilight Princess Manga
VIZ Media Expands Zelda Franchise with Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Manga Series

VIZ Media announces the debut of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess manga...

Boston Metaphysical Society Kickstarter Is Building Up Steam

If you haven’t checked out Boston Metaphysical Society yet, you definitely...

‘Inkspirations’ is a Parasitic Art Book Selling Spirituality

I really should read my e-mails more carefully. If I had...

Apparel/Personal Maintenance News Apparel/Personal Maintenance Reviews Entertainment Product News Entertainment Product Reviews Food/Beverage Reviews Hardware News Hardware Reviews Mystery Box News Mystery Box Reviews
March WWE Slam Crate
March WWE Slam Crate will bring a WWE Hall of Famer to the Crate Ring!

The March WWE Slam Crate is themed ‘ Masters of the Mic”...

Tamashii Nations and Bluefin Expand the Market for Awesome Stuff Across North America

Tamashii Nations and Bluefin expand the market for high-quality Japanese collectibles...

LootCrate Jan 2017 Box is Super!

LootCrate starts out the new year with a bang. This is...

Arena Football Automotives MMA, Kick Boxing & Boxing Professional Wrestling
Patricky Pitbull Talks about Bellator 172

Patricky “Pitbull” Freire (16-8) who, with his brother Patricio, have become...

Bellator Returns to Torino Italy on April 8 With MMA & Kickboxing

From Bellator Kickboxing – TORINO (Feb. 7, 2017) – Bellator President...

WCA Goes International as Canada takes on South Africa

World Combat Arena (WCA) based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada will be...

Adult Continuity Comics on the Can Cultural Junk Drawer Future Comic Rock Stars Is That Racist? Revisiting the Reviled THAT'S NOT ROTTEN! The B-Reel The Cantina Scene This Week in Crowdfunding What the HELL Did I just...?
New Year’s Resolution Begins with ‘Country Heat’ Days 5, 6 & 8

Days 5 & 6: No, I didn’t forget to do days...

Cultural Junkdrawer – Pop Culture Resolutions for 2017

Hey, 2017, new year, new you?!?! The starting days of any...

New Year’s Resolution Begins with ‘Country Heat’ Day 4

Day 4: It has gone from leg pain to ab pain...

Event News Event Reviews
Rock Icons Queen and Adam Lambert Return for a 2017 North American Tour

NEW YORK, Jan. 26, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — Back by popular demand, Queen...

Third Eye Blind Celebrates 20th Anniversary with Summer Gods Tour

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 23, 2017 /PRNewswire/ — In recognition to their fans...

Santa Makes Phone Calls in Time for Christmas

NORTH POLE, Alaska, Dec. 20, 2016 /PRNewswire/ — With just days to...

Gaming Uncensored Growing Up Geek The Popcorn Podcast Toon-In-Talk
Popcorn Podcast Episode 102: Six Degrees of Poopsock

This week on the Popcorn Podcast Chad and Izola are joined...

Popcorn Podcast Episode 101: House of Blues Anaheim

Recently Chad got a chance to tour the impressive, and still...

Popcorn Podcast Presents: Nintendo Switch Commentary

On this special episode of the Popcorn Podcast Chad, Izola and...

Music Interviews Music News Music Reviews
Lebanese Englishwoman, Nadine Khouri Lulls you with ‘The Salted Air’

There is something fitting about a woman who’s last name translates...

Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con: Interview w/ Sonya Belousova

At last month’s Stan Lee’s LA Comic Con event, I had...

Mike Hill Bass Lives for ‘Love and War’

Love and War is a pop rock collaborative project that is...