The Asphalt Jungle: Wikis


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The Asphalt Jungle

Theatrical release poster
Directed by John Huston
Produced by Arthur Hornblow Jr.
Written by W. R. Burnett
Ben Maddow
John Huston
Starring Sterling Hayden
Louis Calhern
Jean Hagen
James Whitmore
Sam Jaffe
Marilyn Monroe
Music by Miklós Rózsa
Cinematography Harold Rosson
Editing by George Boemler
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) May 23, 1950 (1950-05-23)
Running time 112 minutes
Country United States
Language English

The Asphalt Jungle is a 1950 film noir directed by John Huston. The caper film is based on the novel of the same name by W. R. Burnett and stars an ensemble cast including Sterling Hayden, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, Louis Calhern, James Whitmore, and, in a minor but key role, Marilyn Monroe, an unknown at the time who was pictured but not mentioned on the posters.

The film tells the story of a group of men planning and executing a jewel robbery. It was nominated for four Academy Awards.

In 2008, The Asphalt Jungle was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".



The criminal mastermind Erwin "Doc" Riedenschneider is out of prison. Doc has a keen eye for detail, not to mention an eye for a pretty girl. He has been planning a “caper” – a jewel heist, outlined by a fellow inmate when they were “behind the walls” for the previous seven years. In an unnamed Midwest city, Doc goes to the betting parlor of a mid-level bookie called "Cobby." He requests to be put in touch with Alonzo Emmerich, a crooked lawyer. It is his understanding that Emmerich is the kind of man who can be approached with such operations and has the money to finance them. Emmerich attentively listens. Doc says he will need $50,000 to hire a team of men to carry out the burglary. Emmerich agrees on the condition that he (not one or more “fences”) should receive the jewels directly, pay off Doc, then be responsible for the disposal of the gems. Emmerich would therefore need to come up with an immediate $500,000 in cash to pay off Doc. Doc's hand-picked gang consists of Dix Handley, a hooligan from Kentucky who will provide the necessary muscle; Gus Minissi, a hunchbacked diner owner who is hired as the getaway driver, and Louie Ciavelli, a professional safecracker. Cobby will act as the go-between. Dix explains his ultimate goal to Doll Conovan, who is clearly in love with him. He sees the heist as a means to finance his dream of buying back the horse farm that his family lost during the Great Depression.

During the meticulously planned crime (an 11-minute sequence in the film), the criminals confidently carry out their work in a calm manner. Ciavelli pounds through a brick wall, breaks into the jewelry store, deactivates the door's alarm and lets in the other thieves, then heads to the main safe. With care, he slides flat on his back under the electric-eye system, picks the gate's lock, drills holes into the safe's door, gingerly opens a corked bottle of nitroglycerin (called "the soup" by the characters) and sets off a charge on the safe. Unfortunately for the crooks, the explosion sets off the alarms of several nearby businesses and brings the police to the scene more quickly than expected. A second unexpected mishap occurs when a security guard drops his gun after being struck by Dix, causing the gun to discharge and wound Ciavelli. The men get away and a police manhunt begins. Under increasing pressure from his commanding officer, a corrupt cop named Ditrich beats Cobby into confessing and fingering the other crooks involved.

Emmerich, meanwhile, double-crosses Doc and the thieves. He is broke and needs the money, not only for himself but to satisfy the expensive tastes of his young, gorgeous mistress, Angela Phinlay, who calls him "Uncle Lon." A tough private detective named Bob Brannom is willing to back Emmerich's betrayal for a 50-50 split. Doc had heard Emmerich was having financial difficulties and foresaw this possibility, which is why he brought Dix to the payoff. Dix is able to kill Brannom, but not without being seriously wounded himself. The cops put the squeeze on the gang. Cobby is jailed and so is Gus, who can't wait to get his hands on the snitch. Ciavelli dies at home from his gunshot wound. Doc and Dix are on the run. Emmerich is in his hideaway with his mistress, who is making big plans. The police arrive and force Angela, his alibi, to recant her previous story and tell the truth. Emmerich is caught red-handed. He asks for a moment to make a phone call, pulls a gun from his desk and shoots himself.

That leaves only Doc and Dix, who go their separate ways. Doc asks a taxi driver to drive him out of the city. Dix, in desperate need of medical attention, takes off in his own car with Doll going along. At a roadhouse having a bite to eat, Doc gives jukebox money to a pretty girl and lingers to watch her dance. The delay costs him dearly when two police officers recognize Doc as they peer into the diner and take him into custody as he departs. Dix's car makes it all the way to the gates of his beloved Kentucky horse farm. But he stumbles into the pasture, collapses and dies on the green grass of home.


Background and production

The film was an adaptation by director John Huston and screenwriter Ben Maddow of the 1949 novel by W. R. Burnett. It was backed by the major film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, which allowed the production a relatively free hand. The PCA's main concerns with the script were the detailed depiction of the heist and the fact that the character of the fence Emmerich seemed to cheat justice by killing himself.[1] Neither the studio nor the censors interfered significantly with the script, however, and both the heist and the suicide featured in the final cut.[1]

Both Huston and ex-communist star Sterling Hayden were members of the Committee for the First Amendment, which opposed the blacklisting of alleged communists active in the film industry during the Red Scare.[1]

Critical reception

When the film first opened, the staff at Variety liked the film, and wrote, "The Asphalt Jungle is a study in crime, hard-hitting in its expose of the underworld. Ironic realism is striven for and achieved in the writing, production and direction. An audience will quite easily pull for the crooks in their execution of the million-dollar jewelry theft around which the plot is built."[2]

Bosley Crowther, the film critic for The New York Times, also like the film, yet with a few caveats, writing, "This film, derived by Ben Maddow and John Huston from Mr. Burnett's book and directed by Mr. Huston in brilliantly naturalistic style, gives such an electrifying picture of the whole vicious circle of a crime...that one finds it hard to tag the item of repulsive exhibition in itself. Yet that is our inevitable judgment of this film, now on the Capitol's screen...But, in that meager interest, we've got to hand it to the boys, particularly to Mr. Huston: they've done a terrific job! From the very first shot, in which the camera picks up a prowling thug, sliding along between buildings to avoid a police car in the gray and liquid dawn, there is ruthless authority in this picture, the hardness and clarity of steel, and remarkably subtle suggestion that conveys a whole involvement of distorted personality and inveterate crime."[3]

Film writer David M. Meyer notes, "The robbery is among the best-staged heists in noir. The simple visual treatment, the precise movements of the actors, and the absence of music on the sound track raise the tension to a boiling point."[4]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 96% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on twenty-five reviews.[5]


The Asphalt Jungle was one of the most influential crime films of the 1950s.[6]

The film spawned a television series The Asphalt Jungle starring Jack Warden which ran in the summer of 1961 on ABC. The series, however, resembled the film in name only. None of the characters in the film appeared in the television scripts, and the plots were devoted to the exploits of the major case squad of the NYPD. One of the most notable features of the series was the theme song written by Duke Ellington.[7]

Burnett's novel The Asphalt Jungle was also the basis of the western film The Badlanders (1958) directed by Delmer Daves.

The Asphalt Jungle instigated the crime thriller subgenre of caper films.[1] The 1955 French film Rififi, which critics such as Leonard Maltin have labeled as the best heist film ever, drew much inspiration from The Asphalt Jungle.[6]

In 2008, The Asphalt Jungle was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


  • Venice Film Festival: Golden Lion, John Huston; 1950.
  • Academy Awards: Oscar, Best Actor in a Supporting Role, Sam Jaffe; Best Cinematography, Black-and-White, Harold Rosson; Best Director, John Huston; Best Writing, Screenplay, Ben Maddow and John Huston; 1951.
  • British Academy of Film and Television Arts: BAFTA Film Award, Best Film from any Source, USA; 1951.
  • Directors Guild of America: DGA Award, Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures, John Huston; 1951.
  • Golden Globes: Golden Globe, Best Cinematography - Black and White, Harold Rosson; Best Motion Picture Director, John Huston; Best Screenplay, John Huston and Ben Maddow; 1951.
  • Writers Guild of America: WGA Screen Award; Best Written American Drama, Ben Maddow and John Huston; The Robert Meltzer Award (Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with Problems of the American Scene), Ben Maddow and John Huston; 1951.


  1. ^ a b c d Naremore, James (2008). More Than Night: Film Noir in Its Contexts. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 128–129. ISBN 0520254023. 
  2. ^ Variety. Film review, May 23, 1950. Last accessed: February 11, 2010.
  3. ^ Crowther, Bos;ey. The New York Times, film review, June 9, 1950. Last accessed: February 11, 2010.
  4. ^ David M. Meyer (1998). A Girl and a Gun: The Complete Guide to Film Noir on Video. Avon Books. ISBN 0-380-79067-X. 
  5. ^ The Asphalt Jungle at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: February 11, 2010.
  6. ^ a b Schwartz, Ronald (2001). "The Asphalt Jungle (1950), The Badlanders (1958), Cairo (1963), and Cool Breeze (1972)". Noir, Now and Then. Westport: Greenwood Press. p. 85. ISBN 0313308934. 
  7. ^ The Asphalt Jungle at The Classic TV Archive. Last accessed: July 2, 2008.

External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

The Asphalt Jungle is a 1950 film about a major heist that goes off as planned, until bad luck and double crosses cause everything to unravel.

Directed by John Huston and written by Ben Maddow and John Huston, based on the novel by W.R. Burnett.
The City Under the City


Doc Riedenschneider

  • Experience has taught me never to trust a policeman. Just when you think one's all right, he turns legit.
  • One way or another, we all work for our vice.
  • Everything is here, from the observed routine of the personnel to the alarm system, the types of locks on the doors, the aging condition of the main safe, and so forth and so forth. Take my word for it, Mr. Emmerich, this is a ripe plum ready to fall...Perhaps you know my reputation. I've engineered some very big things.
  • They'll be paid off like house painters - they'll be told nothing about the size of the take. Sometimes, men get greedy.
  • Oh, I suppose a fellow should stick to his own trade, but uh, I know some pretty big men around here that might not be averse to a deal like this - if they're properly approached. Highly respectable men, I might add...It might mean a lot more money for all of us.
  • They'll listen to reason. This is a very bad jolt for them. And it's possible they'll be willing to buy the jewels back, no questions asked, for as high as twenty-five percent of what they're worth.
  • Put in hours and hours of planning. Figure everything down to the last detail. Then what? Burglar alarms start going off all over the place for no sensible reason. A gun fires of its own accord and a man is shot. And a broken down old cop, no good for anything but chasing kids, has to trip over us. Blind accident. What can you do against blind accidents? One thing I ought to have figured and didn't was Emmerich. I know why I didn't. I'm not kidding myself. It was the extra dough he promised. I got hungry. Greed made me blind.
  • I haven't carried a gun since my twenties. You carry a gun, you shoot a policeman. Bad rap, hard to beat. You don't carry a gun, you give up when they hold one on you.

Dix Handley

  • Why don't you quit cryin' and get me some bourbon?
  • Are you a man, or what? Trying to gyp and double-cross with no guts for it. What's inside of you? What's keeping you alive?

Police Commissioner Hardy

  • It's not anything strange that there are corrupt officers in police departments. The dirt they're trying to clean up is bound to rub off on some of 'em but not all of 'em. Maybe one out of a hundred. The other ninety-nine are honest men trying to do an honest job....[One by one, he switches on police radios] We send police assistance to every one of those calls. Those are not just code numbers on a radio beam, they're cries for help. People are being cheated, robbed, murdered, raped. And that goes on twenty-four hours a day, every day in the year. And that's not exceptional, that's usual. It's the same in every city in the modern world. But suppose we had no police force, good or bad. Suppose we had [he flips off all four radios] - just silence. Nobody to listen, nobody to answer. The battle's finished. The jungle wins. The predatory beasts take over. Think about it. Well gentlemen, three men are in jail, three men dead, one by his own hand. One man's a fugitive - we have reason to believe seriously wounded. That's six out of seven, not bad. And we'll get the last one too. In some ways, he's the most dangerous of them all, a hardened killer, a hooligan, a man without human feeling or human mercy.


  • Dr. Swanson: He hasn't got enough blood left in him to keep a chicken alive.
  • Cobby: Here's to the drink habit. It's the only one I got that don't get me into trouble.
  • Cobby: How can things go so wrong? How is it possible? One man killed, two others plugged. I'm out thirty grand. We got a load of rocks we can't even peddle...I must be awful stupid. Here I am with a good business, money rolling in, I-I gotta get mixed up in a thing like this. I ought to have my head examined.
  • Lt. Ditrich: [referring to Doc] He loses you five blocks from the depot and one of the most dangerous criminals alive is now at large in this city.
  • Gus Minissi: Take my advice and knock off for a while. The happiness boys are on a rampage. Headquarters is givin' 'em a push...Go home, Dix, stay home. Don't get your flag at half-mast. Remember, you still got ol' Gus.
  • Emmerich: I could tell them that I'd fence the stuff myself, you see, promise them cash on delivery. Then, when the time comes, I simply wouldn't have the cash, do you understand? I'd tell them it would take a few more days to raise it. I'm certain I could get them to leave the stuff with me while we're waiting...Well, then I'd disappear. I'd take a plane to another country, to another life. The gold and platinum, I could melt up and sell as bullion, you see. And the rocks - sell them one at a time. There'd be no hurry. They'd last a lifetime.
  • Louis Ciavelli: I never saw a hooligan I did like. They're like left-handed pitchers, they all have a screw loose somewhere.
  • Louis Ciavelli: If you want fresh air, don't look for it in this town.
  • Angela Phinlay: Imagine me on this beach here in my green bathing suit. Yipe! I almost bought a white one the other day, but it wasn't quite extreme enough. I mean, don't get me wrong, if I really went in for the extreme extreme, I would have bought a French one. Run for your life, girls, the fleet's in. Oh, Uncle Lon, am I excited? Yipe! [[referring to the magazine's pictures of a tropical resort] Look, Uncle Lon, isn't it romantic? Real palms and ocean and everything.
  • Angela Phinlay: Haven't you bothered me enough, you big banana-head? Just try breaking my door and Mr. Emmerich will throw you out of the house!


May Emmerich: Oh Lon, when I think of all those awful people you come in contact with - downright criminals - I get scared.
Alonzo Emmerich: Oh, there's nothing so different about them. After all, crime is only... a left-handed form of human endeavor.

Doc: I got a proposition. A big one.
Cobby: How big is big?
Doc: Too big for you, Cobby.
Cobby: Now wait, Doc. I don't like to brag, but I'm doin' all right. I'm makin' book, I'm in the chips. What kind of proposition is it?
Doc: A plan for the caper, and it's a good one. I could sell it for a hundred thousand dollars in the open market, but that would be throwing money away. I prefer to execute it myself and make...half a million dollars. [He pauses for dramatic effect.] Maybe even more. Of course, I will have to do a little checking as the plan is some years old. But not much checking, not much. I need roughly $50,000 to operate...

Truck Driver: [referring to stray cats] I run over one every time I get a chance. Some people feedin' cats and some kids haven't got enough to eat.
Gus: [Tosses the customer out by his coat-tails] If I ever see you runnin' over a cat, I'll kick your teeth out.

Doc: It's a matter of temperament. I cause no trouble. The prison authorities appreciate that. They made me assistant librarian.
Emmerich: I'm afraid I wouldn't make a model prisoner.
Doc: After this job, it's Mexico for me. I'll live like a king. Mexican girls are very pretty. I'll have nothing to do all day long but chase them in the sunshine.

Dix: I was up on that colt's back. My father and grandfather were there, watching the fun. That colt was buck-jumpin' and pitchin' and once he tried to scrape me off against the fence, but I stayed with him, you bet. And then I heard my granddaddy say, 'He's a real Handley, that boy, a real Handley.' And I felt proud as you please.
Doll: Did that really happen, Dix, well, when you were a kid?
Dix: Not exactly. The black colt pitched me into a fence on the first buck and my old man come over and prodded me with his boot and said, 'Maybe that'll teach ya not to brag about how good you are on a horse'...One of my ancestors imported the first Irish thoroughbred into our county...Why our farm was in the family for generations, one hundred sixty acres - thirty in bluegrass and the rest in crops. A fine barn and seven brood mares...And then everything happened at once. My old man died and we lost our corn crop. That black colt I was telling you about, he broke his leg and had to be shot. That was a rotten year. I'll never forget the day we left. Me and my brother swore we'd buy Hickory Wood Farm back some day...Twelve grand would have swung it, and I almost made it once. I had more than five thousand dollars in my pocket and Pampoon was runnin' in the Suburban. I figured he couldn't lose. I put it all on his nose. He lost by a nose...The way I figure, my luck's just gotta turn. One of these days, I'll make a real killin' and then I'm gonna head for home. First thing I do when I get there is take a bath in the creek, and get this city dirt off me.

Doc: What boxes have you opened?
Louis: Cannonball, double-door, even a few Firechests, all of 'em.
Doc: Can you open a vault with a time-lock and a re-locking device?
Louis: Sure.
Doc: What do you use? Lock or seam?
Louis: Seam...
Doc: How good are you as a pick-lock?
Louis: I can open anything in four minutes.

Doc: I'd just like to see the color of the money.
Emmerich: Gentlemen, I must admit at this moment, I, uh, I'm embarrassed.
Doc: You mean you haven't got the money, Mr. Emmerich?!
Emmerich: Oh, I have it - that is, I have the assurance of it...No, I haven't got the currency right here in my hands. But it's promised by an unimpeachable source. Gentlemen, I'm afraid we were a little hasty. We, uh, we moved too fast...So I'm afraid a few days more are needed to raise it...It wouldn't be safe for you to carry that stuff around...They're certainly gonna be looking for the big-timers, like yourself. Some smart cop might even connect this burglary with your release. Well, there you are.

Ditrich: We'll make ourselves a little deal with the commissioner. You won't get more than a year or two.
Cobby: I'm clean! I don't know where Doc went. That's the truth.
Ditrich: They won't believe you at headquarters, Cobby. Every time you'd tell 'em that, they'd work you over. And you ain't the type that can take it, believe me. You'd spill your guts in half an hour.
Cobby: Give me a break. You came to make a pinch, sure, but I'm not here...
Ditrich: You're right here, Cobby.
Cobby: I've always treated you right, Lieutenant. Let me duck out. You can get away with it.
Ditrich: No, I couldn't. The commissioner's mad. He's out for blood. And it's not going to be mine.
Cobby: You're not gonna stop me. You're gonna let me go. You're gonna do that. If you don't...
Ditrich: Yeah, I know. You'll be a grade-A pigeon.
Cobby: That's right. I'll tell 'em you saw Riedenschneider here and didn't roust him. Why? Because you had to explain what you were doin' here. I'll tell 'em about all the juice you've been gettin' out of me.
Ditrich: Cobby, the only thing you're doing is making me sore.
Cobby: Once I start singing, I won't stop. They'll jug you right alongside of me.
Ditrich: That's where you're wrong, Cobby. Even if they believe you, it won't go too hard with me. Because I'll be the guy that cracked the biggest case ever pulled in the country... [Cobby is repeatedly slapped until he whimpers and cracks under the pressure.]
Cobby: They'll call me a fink.
Ditrich: That's my boy.


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