Saturday, February 21, 2015

The City Under The City!

The Asphalt Jungle is sober crime caper flick directed by John Huston, presenting the criminal underworld as a group of fully realized characters captured by passions they have limited control over.

The movie is ostensibly set in (and apparently shot on location in limited scenes) what is likely Cincinnati, Ohio, a city which even today has sections which are unusually dangerous. Actually it was across the river in Newport, Kentucky that crime ruled, though Newport is much diminished these days in the shadow of its more famous sister across the water, mostly famous for its aquarium.

Hayden on the streets of Cincinnati
We meet first Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) a thug with some truly scary dead eyes who pulls strong arm robberies to fund his gambling habit. His confidant is diner owner Gus Minissi (James Whitmore) a bitter hunchback who clearly carries a grudge against normal society. These two get drawn into a scheme by recently released convict Doc Riedenschineder (Sam Jaffe) who along with safecracker Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) plot to steal millions in jewels.

Whtimore and Hayden in a dive
The plot comes undone when their financier, a crooked local magnate name Emmerich (Louis Calhearn) connives to double cross his fellow thieves setting in motion a sequence of violent solutions to myriad problems. All the time the police are attempting to close in and capture the criminals, despite some of them being on the take the whole time.

Jaffe, Hayden, Whtimore and Caruso plot
There are other fascinating characters in this gritty John Huston effort, in particular two dames. One is Doll played by Jean Hagen who clearly has eyes for Dix, but gets little comfort in return. The other chick is not even listed in the credits but is Emmerich's ditsy girlfriend played by Marilyn Monroe. Monroe did not go unnoticed for long and dominates the posters for this movie after its initial run.

Jaffe, Hagen and Hayden marvel at the loot
The movie's best feature is its calm and steady storytelling which relentlessly follows each character as they try to deal with the successes and failures of the scheme. Some die, some live, but all meet their fates with some measure of dignity. That seems to be the point, that despite their lives of crime, these are people who have come to their respective ends as a result of life's powerful rigors.

Monroe steals the scene and maybe the movie
Stand outs are Sam Jaffe, the brilliant but flawed genius who plots the scheme and Sterling Hayden who puts up the best full-blooded presentation of a hood that I've come across. His violence is evident in every move he makes, but he doesn't fall to the level of a mere hoodlum. There's more there, a tragedy which defines his every moment on the screen. The film closes out with some beautiful scenery around Lexington, Kentucky and its almost recognizable still after over sixty years. The counterpoint of the seamy underbelly of the city with the idyllic beauty of the of the country is not overstated in this fable of modern fallible men.

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  1. Replies
    1. It's worth it. It's a quiet relentless flick.

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  2. Wow I would not want to run into Ms. Tree.

    1. She is something. I have billions of comics around this joint, but somehow I have very few Ms.Tree comics. It's a pity. We desperately need a collection of these stories.

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