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The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Director: John Houston
Cast: Sterling Hayden, Jean Hagen, Louis Calhern, Sam Jaffe and Marilyn Monroe

Written by:
Ricardo Barberini

June 2, 2006


Doc Erwin or simply Doc (Sam Jaffe) is a criminal mastermind who has recently been released from the prison. He is planning one final job before retiring. He arrives in town looking for seed money.  A caricature of a police chief (John McIntire) is out to nab him before he scores.

Doc finds a bunch of losers; a gunman (Sterling Hayden), a driver (James Whitmore), a safe cracker (Anthony Caruso.)  He is promised money by the fence (Louis Calhern) who is planning on double crossing them.

The heist is carried out according to Doc's plan but the safe cracker (Anthony Caruso) gets shot during the robbery. The fence (Louis Calhern) tries to steal the loot with the aid of his private eyeriend (Brad Dexter.) From there on out it is all down hill. The characters get killed or betrayeduntil the tragic ending where Sterling Hayden dies while trying to visit his old family farm.

A Poignant Film Noir directed by the great John Houston. It shies away from glamorizing crime and criminals and vividly illustrates the squalor of criminals and their filthy environment. It was fantastically directed by Huston.  Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe, Louis Calhern, Brad Dexter and even Marilyn Monroe gave some of their best performances.

Sterling Hayden plays a brutal killer. Yet, he is not evil.  He has a touch of kindness in his heart such as when he offers shelter to the girl in distress.  The truly evil characters are Louis Calhern and Brad Dexter.  Brad never made it big in Hollywood because he was typecast.  Here he smiles boyishly while plotting with Louis Calhern to rob Doc and his associates.

The best actor, in my mind, was Jean Hagen who played the nightclub hostess and B-girl, Doll Conovan, with such realism. I remember the scene when she has just arrived at Sterling Hayden's apartment, broke and homeless.  She starts to talk and then one of her false eyelashes falls out.  The director zooms on her face with all the available floodlights in the studio.  The scene is so full of melancholy.  I felt so sad for her that I wished I could step into the movie and rescue her from despair.  The black and white cinematography by Harold Rosson is bleak and foreboding.  A truly wonderful film. 

The film and Jean Hagen deserved Oscars that year but alas “All About Eve” won most of the Oscars including the best supporting actress for Celeste Holm!

So, I'll give it 

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