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John Huston
Sterling Hayden, Louis Cahern, Jean Hagen, Sam Jaffe, Marilyn Monroe
Writing Credits:
Ben Maddow, John Huston

A major heist goes off as planned, until bad luck and double crosses cause everything to unravel.

Rated NR

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
English LPCM Mono

Runtime: 112 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 12/13/2016

• Audio Commentary with Film Historian Drew Casper
• Interview Segment with Director John Huston
• “Pharos of Chaos” Documentary
• Interview with Film Historian Eddie Muller
• Interview with Cinematographer John Bailey
• 1979 City Lights TV Interview
• “The Huston Method” Audio Interviews
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


The Asphalt Jungle: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1950)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 7, 2016)

If you look up Marilyn Monroe’s listing on Wikipedia, you’ll find a section entitled “Breakthrough”. In this area, we’re told that two 1950 films served as vehicles to further Monroe’s career: All About Eve and The Asphalt Jungle. Since I’ve already discussed Eve, this Criterion Blu-ray seemed like a good time to investigate Monroe’s other “breakout” effort.

Noted criminal mastermind Erwin “Doc” Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) gets out of prison but immediately returns to his old trade. He plots a million-dollar jewel heist and gets financial support from lawyer Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Cahern).

From there the men recruit a team to handle the job: gunman Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden), getaway driver Gus Minissi (James Whitmore) and Louie Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso). We follow the way the crew executes the crime as well as aspects of its aftermath.

Going into Jungle, I didn’t choose to view it due to Marilyn Monroe’s presence. Honestly, I didn’t even realize she appeared in the film until I looked up the credits to prep for this review.

Fans shouldn’t expect a lot from Monroe in Jungle. She plays a fairly small role, one not even big enough to be featured in the film’s opening credits. Interestingly, Monroe does receive semi-prominent billing in the movie’s trailer, so I guess the promo guys figured out that she boasted box office potential.

For me, the main draw involved with Jungle came from director John Huston. Nine years earlier, Huston directed arguably my favorite film noir effort of all, The Maltese Falcon, and just two years prior, he made the excellent Treasure of the Sierra Madre. With another classic on the horizon – 1951’s African Queen - I wanted to see if Jungle could continue Huston’s hot streak.

My answer would be yes and no, though closer to yes. While I don’t think Jungle quite measures up with greats such as Falcon and Treasure, it still offers a well-executed and involving drama.

Huston’s skill becomes evident during the first act, as he displays supreme self-restraint. Whereas other directors might rush to get to the action, Jungle takes its time and develops at a gradual, deliberate pace.

In the hands of a lesser director, this approach might flop, as the viewer might tire of the potentially superfluous information. However, none of these issues ever arises, as the movie unfolds in a way that brings in the audience and envelops the viewer in the movie’s own world.

Just because Jungle devotes a lot of time to exposition doesn’t mean that it spoon-feeds the audience, though. Instead, the film gives us enough to set up the characters and situations to intrigue us but not so much that these elements lack any sense of mystery. Matters unfold in a logical way and make us invest in the circumstances.

I also appreciate the relative lack of melodrama found in Jungle. Played with minimal score, the movie feels fairly matter of fact, and it doesn’t hammer us over the head with its themes or developments. For a movie with many tense and/or emotional moments, this one keeps things nicely restrained.

As I noted earlier, I wouldn’t place Jungle on a level with Huston’s better-known flicks, but that shouldn’t sound like an insult. The movie works very well and delivers a taut, well-developed mix of character and caper.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

The Asphalt Jungle appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc.

Sharpness looked terrific. Only the slightest smidgen of softness ever interfered, and those instances virtually always related to the source material; otherwise the image was precise and well-defined. I saw no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes were absent.

Print flaws failed to appear. Grain could be somewhat heavy, but that was connected to the original photography and looked perfectly natural for a gritty old movie like this.

Blacks came across as deep and rich, while shadows seemed superb. The film opted for quite a few low-light interiors, and these demonstrated surprisingly solid clarity and definition. I felt totally satisfied with this strong presentation.

While not as impressive, the film’s LPCM monaural audio held up perfectly fine for its age. Speech worked well enough. The dialogue lacked notable edginess and remained intelligible and relatively warm along the way.

Music could be a little bright but appeared reasonably full, and effects fared the same way. Louder elements tended to be a tad distorted, but most effects were acceptable to good. The track didn’t show any source defects like noise or popping. Nothing here excelled, but this was a solid “B-“ mix given its era.

When we shift to extras, we start with an audio commentary from film historian Dr. Drew Casper. Recorded for a Warner Bros. 2004 DVD, Casper offers a running, screen-specific chat that also includes archival material with actor James Whitmore.

The piece covers aspects of the studio system in place at MGM and the movie's roots/development, cast and crew, story, characters and themes/interpretation, the work of director John Huston, music, genre elements and the film's reception. Whitmore throws in a handful of thoughts about his experiences, but Casper heavily dominates.

Casper throws out a good array of notes, but I think he focuses too much on analysis of the film. Some of that information works well, but I'd like more details about the production itself, especially because the commentary's opening discussion of MGM works so well. Still, even with ups and downs, this becomes a largely engaging chat.

More archival material comes via a brief interview with director John Huston - and I do mean brief, as the clip lasts a mere 50 seconds. Huston just gives us an overview of the story and characters in this fairly useless snippet.

With Pharos of Chaos, we find a 1983 documentary about actor Sterling Hayden. It runs one hour, 59 minutes and two seconds as it shows time the documentary crew spent with the actor not too long before his death.

Don’t expect a concise overview of Hayden’s life and career from “Chaos”. Instead, we get never-ending sequences in which an often drunk and apparently mentally-unbalanced Hayden babbles and rants. Sure, we get the occasional nugget about Hayden’s life and career, but most of the show focuses on his sad state of affairs toward the end of his life.

To what end? I don’t know, as I can’t figure out what the filmmakers hoped to achieve with “Pharos”. The documentary feels cruel and exploitative, as it does little more than show us how far Hayden fell.

Frankly, if there’s anything useful to take from “Pharos”, I can’t figure out what that might be. Hayden simply babbles and tells nonsensical stories about nothing, and the film also tosses in endless shots of the actor as he wanders aimlessly.

I was ready for this painful enterprise to end after 15 minutes, but I stayed through the whole two hours. I thought that perhaps the program would build toward a finish that tied up the film and gave it purpose.

This doesn’t really occur. Hayden does eventually talk a little about his career, but these nuggets add little. Add to that Hayden’s incessant verbal tics and “Pharos” becomes a difficult piece to watch that serves no purpose.

Next comes a 2016 interview with film historian Eddie Muller. In this 24-minute, 10-second piece, Muller discusses novelist WR Burnett and his work’s adaptation as well as Huston’s approach to the material and various production notes. Muller delivers a solid overview of these movie topics and makes this a good synopsis.

Another modern clip, we find a 2016 chat with cinematographer John Bailey. This reel lasts 20 minutes, 12 seconds and provides his thoughts about the visual styles favored by Huston, with an emphasis on the photography of Jungle. Bailey delivers an insightful take on the material.

From October 1979, an episode of City Lights looks at John Huston. In the 48-minute, 28-second show, Huston talks with host Brian Linehan about his life and career. I can’t claim Huston reveals a ton of useful notes, but I like this chance to hear him look back on aspects of his work.

By the way, SCTV fans may enjoy City Lights because Martin Short lampooned the series. And he did so well – going into Lights, I didn’t realize it was the inspiration for SCTV’s “Stars in One”.

However, after about 30 seconds, I realized that Linehan inspired Martin’s character. As an old SCTV lover, it’s fun to see the reality behind “Stars In One”.

The Huston Method delivers a short compilation of audio interviews with the director. The clips last a total of six minutes, one second and cover Huston’s approach to movie-making. Though general, Huston’s comments add a few interesting thoughts.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a booklet. This foldout piece provides photos, credits and an essay from critic Geoffrey O’Brien. It concludes the package well.

Unusually character driven for a “heist movie”, The Asphalt Jungle uses its expository time well. It also comes to life with excitement when necessary to create a vivid, involving drama. The Blu-ray boasts excellent picture along with age-appropriate audio and a mostly positive roster of bonus materials. As both film and Blu-ray, this Criterion release satisfies.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 4
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