Sunday, July 22, 2007


The second movie I watched during Thursday's* three-movie extravaganza was John Huston's atypical noir masterpiece the Asphalt Jungle (1950),* a film which re-infuses the twitchy melodramatic crime formula with some of the textural realism evident in its sister genre, the police procedural; ejecting along the way much of what is oneiric about classic noir and replacing it with true grit. This grit is evident in the staging of the film's central motif: the planning and execution of a complex robbery, a motif that helped give birth to a sub-genre of caper films. Nevertheless the Asphalt Jungle is noir: advancing the seedy aspects of cinema's criminal underbelly onto center stage and allowing the moldering turpitude of guys* good and bad to commingle in such a way as to blur the lines between them, rendering the struggle between these forces as a balancing act rather than a moral interplay. The film opens along the concrete bank of an unnamed city, a distant skyline rising above early morning fog. The police are hunting for Dix (Sterling Hayden), a crooked man with a crooked house and a nest of crooked friends. Meanwhile, recently released German ex-con Doc (Sam Jaffe) sits in a bookie's basement, pitching plans for a lucrative jewelry heist. He finds a crooked bankroller in a famous local attorney who is hiding his imminent bankruptcy. A band of thieves is hired: a box man, a driver, the hooligan Dix. They all want to get out after one last caper--Dix not least: he wishes to return to the Kentucky horse country of his youth. But the lawyer has secret plans to take the loot and leave the criminals out to dry. Everything is complicated by the unstoppable influence of oppressive environment, the true culprit behind the actions of crooked men. [Cavin]

Then, a 1 sided conversation ensued...

To which Blogger Mr. Cavin added:

* Also atypically, this film noir nearly does away with the standard femme fatale. Of primary narrative note is Dix's friend Maria, an equally down-and-out dancing girl who cannot make ends meet but who nevertheless fails to intend any harm or pursue any criminal course. Her pitying and pitiable love of Dix is her only moral failing. Of much more historical significance is the criminal attorney's barely legal blonde mistress, a bit part played by a fledgling Marilyn Monroe with such an acute and fetching breeziness that she became an instant hit. One beautiful moment in the film comes near the end when she is being called in for questioning by the police. During the space of one small shot, one line, the actress cranks up the wattage to that of her later persona, moving from ingénue to full throttle Hollywood goddess without so much as an indication as to how. The effect is tantamount to the movie suddenly becoming color, or holographic, or electric, and the explosion of pure appeal onscreen almost lets the fact that the actress just deftly characterized the movie's one moment of gold-digging fatale-ism slip right on by.

Monday, July 23, 2007 8:20:00 AM  

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