The Asphalt Jungle
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The Asphalt Jungle

The artistic expression of cinema has infatuated me for most of my cognitive years. As soon as I was able to understand son of the ways a story’s themes looked forward to building my personal collection of my favorite movie my library of VHS began to command an increasing amount of space in my living room. I was able to gain the ability to watch my favorite movies anytime I wished. That means of collecting movies was soon to be affected for the better by advances in technology. I was able to begin replacing films already in my collection on tape and acquire additions films on of the most useful of the new features was the addition of special features that included such things as deleted scenes, alternate endings a blooper reel and perhaps a filmmaker’s commentary. Added material provided in A Criterion Collection release is frequently tantamount to an academic consideration of the film. The latest release I received for preview is an iconic example of one of my favorite genres, film noir. ‘The Asphalt Jungle,' directed and co-written by one of the legendary filmmakers in film history, John Huston. Whenever Mr. Huston committed to taking on, a film he focused all of his considerable talents to the project.In almost every instance the movie formed by his rare and wonderful abilities of this preeminent auteur it inevitably becomes synonymous with the epitome of the genre it represents. The quality of this movie is undisputed universally hailed for its taut narrative, groundbreaking directorial style and incredibly intense performances. One of the most important aspects of this film was how it helped redefined the technical tools available to the advanced filmmaker. At least since the thirties, one of the perennial favorite types of movies in America has been the crime thriller. There were several examples where the protagonist, the anti-hero as it were, concentrated on the criminal. The usual point of view taken by these stories provided the point of view held by the authorities. ‘The Asphalt’ drew the audience behind the eyes watching the events on old from their perspective. This groundbreaking technique would influence generations of filmmakers including such luminaries as Sam Peckinpah and Quentin Tarantino and others that formed a coterie of filmmakers devoted to depicting violence in exceptionally graphic reality. Considering the movie was produced during a time when government and religious groups enforced various codes restricting the content of movies. Such things as ‘The Hayes Code’ weren’t ‘officially’ in place to impose censorship but their hold over the industry was sufficiently intense to be effective.

Erwin "Doc" Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) just released from prison after serving seven years of his sentence. Doc’s well-earned reputation in criminal circles was a mastermind, a person who is capable of the most intricately involved plans to help ensure the success of any criminal enterprise. Directly after regaining his freedom Doc’s first order of business was to visit a bookie, Cobby (Marc Lawrence), who resides somewhere in a Midwest City presumed by many to be Cincinnati. The touches such as leaving out the precise location allow us a story to assume a ubiquitous nature allowing the events to unfold as if they occurred in almost any city in America. The purpose of the visit is to have a low-level criminal introduce Doc to a high profile lawyer, Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern), to kick a much more elaborate and lucrative plan. Emmerich listening with undivided attention as the recently released convict begins to lay out some of the details of his plan. Doc has a scheme that will yield a score of over $1 million in precious gems and jewelry. To execute this plan, you need to state a $50,000 to secure the services of several experts; a safecracker/box man, a driver any third party described as a hooligan. If the listening to these details Emmerich agrees to bankroll the operation with one prerequisite, you’ll be the one to dispose of the turning the stones into money, not one of the many fences would perform this task. One example of the genius that made Mr. Huston’s influential and innovative filmmakers in history was how he treated the planning stage for the heist. The scene of this type would normally be just a brief moment of exposition sole purpose is to provide the audience with the broad brushstrokes what is about to happen. In the hands of a master craftsman such as Mr. Houston, it takes on a much deeper meaning.

First, however, the team had to be assembled. The first one Doc hires are the ‘box man,' professional, safe cracker Louie Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso). We then help doc obtain the services of the getaway driver, Gus Minissi (James Whitmore), the personification of a man with twisted intention physically made manifest by being a hunchback. Finally, the last member of the gang is brought in, the hooligan and all around tough guy ideal to handle unexpected situations that might arise. This position is assumed by, Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), the general thug with numerous criminal associations. Only after the entire team has been assembled the stock gathers them around to relate the details of his plan. This is one of many spots in the film what happens it defies the expectations of the audience. Traditional brief overview of the crime replaced with a finely detailed account of the actual plan. The scene takes over 11 minutes of time during which Doc proves his credentials for the title of Mastermind. He covers the details of the crime’s execution in minute detail. This is how Mr. Houston allows his screenplay to soar above the mundane storytelling of the most film. By supplying such details, the audience receives a much clearer understanding of Doc’s contribution to the crime. Audience members might understandably expect the scene to progress as we have witnessed so many times; "we enter the building gaining access to the safe. The safe cracker bypasses the locks and opens the safe. We emptied the content and leave, the speeding array in the car provided by the driver. To handle any unforeseen circumstances that might arise, the hooligan stands ready to strong arm theoretically of the problem.

By going into such extraordinary detail into the planning stage of the crime, the audience receives a greater understanding of the depth of strategy and the importance of tactics and pulling off a major heist. Doc takes on the persona of a general as seen in almost any World War II as he briefs his senior officers before a major operation. One of the many subliminal themes brought out by the story is the universal nature of being so well-prepared for any inherently dangerous activity. This is one of the most fundamental somatic aspects of a film noir movie. The sense of moral ambiguity is achieved by demonstrating that the criminals utilize most of the pre-operation planning that the military and civil authorities employ on a routine basis. A considerable portion of the film’s brilliance is how the moral ambiguity that is part of the very definition of film noir’s depiction in such a realistic setting with unprecedented attention to the minutest details. Many stories have been the about the term ‘mastermind’ improperly utilizing the term or underestimating its overall importance progression of character development.

This is one of a fascinating crime I have ever seen in the event the seeing it many times over the years I’m still able to find something fresh and different each time experience the movie. This is not something that you watch casually, looking up to catch glimpses while busy with something else. The film demands and deserves your full attention. Every individual frame is essential to the overall crafting of the movie is necessary to relate the story at hand completely. This advice will not be difficult to act upon; the perfection of the film’s artistry is inspiring. As always this presentation as part of the Criterion Collection Blu-ray release schedule, the movie can finally be seen and fully appreciated a technical environment that exceeds anything the grandest theater from sixty years ago could boost. For those that own a home theater receiver capable of emulating some different audio environments try either the mono theater of a moderately large venue. I found that the best way to listen to this movie is to enhance the natural reverberation found in those great palaces of cinematic entertainment.

bulletAudio Commentary From 2004 by Film Historian Drew Casper, Featuring Archival Recordings of Actor James Whitmore.
bulletPlanes of Chaos, A 1983 Documentary About Actor Sterling Hayden
bulletNew Interviews with Film Noir Historian Eddie Muller and Cinematographer John Bailey
bulletArchival Footage of Writer-Director John Huston Discussing the Film.
bulletEpisodes of the Television Program City Limits From 1979 Featuring Huston
bulletAudio Excerpts of and Archival Interview with Huston
bulletPlus: Essay by Critic Geoffrey O'Brien

Posted 12/11/2016

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