John Huston directs this Noir story of a successful bank heist derailed by bad luck and double crossings.
This is ostensibly a heist film. At its core lies a marvellous 11 minute bank robbery, beautifully shot and meticulously acted out. This cleverly mirrors the plot; all goes well until at the very end of the heist someone gets shot, triggering an unfortunate sequence of events. At this point Huston’s direction shifts to a slightly more frantic, desperate pace.
However, there’s so much more to The Asphalt Jungle than the heist. Lurking beneath the surface lies a character driven drama. We explore people’s motivations, their thoughts and their fears. Everyone is given a purpose, not just in the plot, but in life. Criminals are sympathetic characters, just doing their jobs like anyone else.
Huston was known for applying the principles of an artist to his films, and it shows here. Every shot has been cleverly composed, adding either aesthetic or narrative value, or both. The heist scene is a good example of the care taken, but take any frame from The Asphalt Jungle and one can see the mind of a great director at work.
At some point one realises there is no score. To this day this remains a bold move, but one that works to great effect here. The silence adds to the tension but also exposes every other aspect of the film. Where this might be a problem for poorer projects, it’s one of the great strengths of The Asphalt Jungle.
Also noteworthy is that this is one of the first big roles for Marilyn Monroe. She’s not in the film for long, but she plays a key part. It’s interesting to see her before she hits the big time. She still has that camera piercing quality but without the showiness or self-awareness.
The Asphalt Jungle comprises everything great about Film Noir, whilst adding its own spin on the genre. We get a glimpse into a seedy criminal underworld, yet Huston keeps the characters grounded, thus making the film feel much less dated than many of its counterparts. The innovative imagery and use of silence place it as an instant favourite of mine.