Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Someone Asked Me To Be An Expert In Something Part 4: The Asphalt Jungle

(So I've been helping to program, a film noir retrospective here in SLO. I took a two month hiatus, while others took the hosting job. But I'm back this month for the final film in the series. The Asphalt Jungle.

Once again this was written for speech so the syntax might be a bit odd. Please forgive me. Otherwise Enjoy.)

The film we’re showing today is The Asphalt Jungle. It’s a noir film notable for the fact that many purists would contend that its not a noir film at all, but technically a crime movie. I obviously disagree, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The film was directed by John Huston, whose famous for making films in virtually ever genre that exists. War films, Epics Westerns, Spy Films, Action films comedies, Musicals even adaptations of Flannery O’Conner and Joyce one of the things that makes Huston so much damn fun is the fact that he never allowed himself to be pigeonholed.

All of that being said, the one genre according to some people, that Huston never made, despite making The Asphalt Jungle and The Maltese Falcon as well as starring in arguably the great neo noir with Chinatown, was a noir film. The reason is simple, if you can remember back to when I first talked about Film Noir all the way back with Out Of The Past, I said that the thing that separates Noir from the crime film or the mystery, is that Noir usually deals with normal people being lured into committing evil desperate acts. In other words, its not the acts themselves that lend Noir films their power, but the fact that these seemingly normal characters at there center can be committing these acts.

Therefore, since The Asphalt Jungle, is a film in which career criminals, not “good citizen’s” are committing these crimes, just as The Maltese Falcon follows Private Eyes and gangsters, they are not true Noirs.

But what these films feature that is even more important, is the character of fate as a conscience force. In the key scene in Hammett’s novel, Sam Spade tells his client the story of a man who when he was nearly killed in a random accident one day, fled his family and moved to another part of the country in order to change the course of his life and avoid such a fate. After a few years he settled into the exact same groove, and even started a second family, only to be killed in another random accident. The point is, no matter where you run, your fate is your own. Once it has its knives sharpened for you, there is no way to escape.

The message is carried over in The Asphalt Jungle. Its characters are doomed, whether by fate in the external sense, or their own inescapable flaws matters very little in the end. The professor cannot help but stop and watch The Bobbysoxers dance. His nature seals his own fate.

The Asphalt Jungle, runs as smoothly as fate itself. Huston was one of Hollywood’s best storytellers as well as one of its most impeccable casters, and both aspects of his art are in full swing here. There is of course Marylin Monroe in her first role beautiful and doomed ("Do I still get my trip to Cuba?"), and Sam Jaffe, wonderfully perverse and corrupt as the dirty old man behind it all.

But its really Sterling Hayden who holds it all together. Hayden, never seemed quite so self aware, as Bogart and Mitchum. Though he can play shrewd and smart, like he did in his other great Noir of fate, Kubrick’s The Killers, he was also awfully good at playing dumb.

He’s just tough enough to take all the punishment the world can dish out at full brunt. And in this film, the world never runs out of ammo.

He is in the end what gives the movie the noble dignity required of noir. He’s what makes it hurt.

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