The Asphalt Jungle
Can you believe I never saw this? Directed and co-written by John Huston, solidly in the middle of the film noir period, one of the very first caper/heist films, shown from the criminal’s POV, which was revolutionary and controversial at the time … and I’d never seen it. Well, I finally caught up, and it’s a classic that stands up. The filming is stark and beautiful. The acting is … well, of its time, a bit overdone, but very good, even so. Sterling Hayden has some very good moments. This is like a rehearsal for his masterwork a few years later in Kubrick‘s The Killing … a little older, a little more cynical, a lot less hot-headed, and much wearier. These are losers, and in some sense they know it going in. Their inevitable doom is the dominant theme. Like The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, it contains a pearl beyond price: a realistic fight scene. I have hardly ever been in a fistfight in my life—if I was, it was early childhood—but I understand how they tend to go down. Except in the professional ring, you take a few punches, you grapple, and with no ref to pull you apart, you both go down, wrestling for advantage. John Huston, not a stranger to fisticuffs, knew this, and didn’t let his fights become slugfests.