Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Asphalt Jungle (1950)

That girl really loves dicks.

Sometimes, when I'm watching a movie, I stop and ask myself the most important question of all. Why am I watching this? Usually the answer is apparent. Sometimes it's entertainment, sometimes it's art, but every so often the question goes without an answer. While The Asphalt Jungle isn't a total abomination, I found it hard to care an ounce about the movie. While the film earns points for looking and feeling honest and natural, it is far from enlightening, entertaining or interesting.

There's nothing really interesting about the story here. Some crooks pull off a huge jewelry heist, but things don't go as planned. After a few double-crosses and some shootings, the movie ends. That may sound like an oversimplification, but it really isn't. If you've seen a heist movie in your life, you know what happens here. The film is directed by John Huston and stars a cast of relative unknowns, except that the girl doing the bad Marilyn Monroe impersonation is actually Marilyn Monroe. The film was nominated for a few Academy Awards, winning none of them, and has endured quite well in the minds of critics. The movie may have been daring for it's time, but I have a hard time understanding the praise it receives to this day.

It's easy to point out a few positive things about the film. The performances, script and direction are all striving for naturalism and they succeed impressively. Very little is embellished here, there is almost no score, and things go the way they feel like they should. This naturalism is certainly pleasing, but, generally speaking, the more natural a movie looks and feels, the more boring it is. One of the things that makes movies exciting to watch is the embellishment. I have a perfectly fine, natural life going on every minute of every day. I watch movies to see something different. This doesn't mean that I don't like realism, in fact I love it, but your realism needs to be, first and foremost, interesting or thought provoking. We could talk about Huston's message here, the cycle of crime, the relationship between law and criminal, but none of it is really that thought provoking. You root for the crooks here because they are slightly more charismatic than the cops, but, in the end, you don't feel bad for them when they get busted or shot. The performances are half-way decent, although Sterling Hayden comes off as a cross between Keanu Reeves and Dwight from Sin City, but most of the characters seem poorly formed. We learn little to nothing about the people in the movie, except for Dix, and the movie suffers. There is a lot of history between these characters, you can feel it while watching the film, but to just gloss over it is a big mistake and the biggest reason why I didn't care what happened to the people in the movie.

The annoying thing about a movie like The Asphalt Jungle is that it's forgettable. I know that a 1000 movies is a lot of movies to put on a list, but how movies this average make the list is beyond me. Maybe it has something to do with it's influence on the heist movie genre, but just because a movie is influential doesn't mean it must be watched. There are better heist movies, better noirs and better films directed by John Huston that you should watch long before you get to The Asphalt Jungle.


1 comment:

Thisguyoverhere said...

A film like this is easier to appreciate through the lens of history, for sure. Compared to today's entertainment and drama, most of these films might appear meek.

When looked at in terms of Film Noir there's a bit more to admire than just a normal viewing for entertainment value. Does that make it a better film? Well that's completely subjective. Perhaps that's just a way for critics and cinephiles to hold onto their elitism.

My first experience with The Asphalt Jungle was very similar to yours. But after watching Huston's other classics, particularly Treasure of the Sierra Madre, I came out of this film a second time with a completely different experience.

I think you make a good point about whether just because a film is influential does it make it good? Look at Clerks.