There are many directors the film has an unhealthy fondness for. I’ve mentioned several of those directors in the past, and I’ll mention another now: John Huston. Probably best known for The Maltese Falcon, he has a plethora of films on the list, so to single one out and talk about how it distinguishes itself from the rest of the pack can be a challenge. The Asphalt Jungle, starring Sterling Hayden, carries itself highly with its expert camerawork and great storytelling ability, but unfortunately, there isn’t really anything to distinguish this one from the others.
The film is very unlike Ocean’s Eleven; it focuses much more on the planning of the caper itself and relinquishes most of its possible sense of style to do so. It is very bare-bones, and while many films fall under the trap of not doing enough, for this film the approach works very well. Huston had some fun with the camera on this one; the film opens up on one of the most oblique angles I’ve seen in classical cinema, and from then on is incredibly mobile and well executed, following through on its staging and shot composition beautifully. Huston really knew what he was doing, and he shows the craftsmanship of a true master of American cinema. The one thing I wasn’t too much of a fan of was the shoehorned females of the film, who seemed to be there just to provide a foil for the various male characters, in particular the lead man Dix. I think the film would’ve worked a little better had it had the guts to go without a female lead; it would’ve been extremely unusual for the time, and the film would’ve raised in stature that much more.
The caper itself takes up only 11 minutes halfway through the film, and from then on the film deals with the aftermath; of course, the caper is far from perfectly executed, and all the film goes through in the lead-up to the heist comes back into play once the heist is over and the players have to deal with the repercussions of all that happens. Basically, if you’re getting into this film for the crime caper itself, you should probably look elsewhere. As for what the film does have to offer, I’m not really sure how to answer that, other than to say that the film is very well done and is worth your time, at the very least.
As I mentioned before, there is very little here that makes the film stand out from others in Huston’s filmography, but it is still a very well made film regardless. The only problem is, you can’t go into this film expecting a “caper film” like today’s films are caper films. This is much more measured, focusing on the inter-personal relationship between the men and how they get involved in the heist, rather than the high-tension escapades of the criminal minds of modern heist movies. Go into this with the right mindset, not expecting much, and the film will impress you, especially from a critical eye; otherwise, you might be setting yourself up for a disappointment, and I can say that it won’t be the film’s fault if that happens.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10