A diamond heist goes off without a hitch, but double crosses
and increasing police presence cause things to go off the rails.
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Directed by John Huston
Written by Ben Maddow and John Huston
Starring Sterling Hayden, Louis Calhern, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, James Whitmore, Marc Lawrence, Marilyn Monroe,
John McIntire, Barry Kelley, Brad Dexter
Based on the novel by W.R. Burnett
Oscar Nominations - Best Supporting Actor (Sam Jaffe),
Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography
Every crime movie made in the 1950's followed a similar template, mostly because the Hays Code insisted that crime never pay. So, something always went wrong towards the end that cause everything to unravel and nobody to get away with the money. In this case, that thing was solid police work and a lot of random double crosses. Of course, when there's hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of diamonds at stake, everyone is going to want the biggest piece. Despite being stuck obeying the whims of the Hays Code, The Asphalt Jungle is still an intriguing heist drama with great characters and a good story.
An expert thief recently released from prison, Doc Reidenschneider (Jaffe) has a plan to rob a jewelry store. He brings together a host of ne'er-do-wells to assist him, including hotheaded Dix Handley (Hayden), who is wanted for robbery and murder. When the heist goes off without a hitch, Doc's diamond fence (Calhern) double crosses him and leaves Doc with nowhere to offload the diamonds. One by one, his band of thieves fall to either the police or each other, until only Doc and Dix are left standing. I won't spoil the ending, but suffice it to say crime never pays in 1950's America. John Huston was an expert director, and his sure and steady hand is at work here in full force.
The Asphalt Jungle is listed among the greats of the film noir era, and I can see why. It exemplifies everything people love about that genre of film. Sure, it's got it's moments of drag, but it doesn't hinder the film. You keep wondering who is gonna get pulled down next. In Huston's long and colorful career, this film can be seen as one of his strongest.