Sunday 11 December 2016

On Blu-ray - David Hare enthuses about John Huston's THE ASPHALT JUNGLE (USA, 1950)

The climax of Huston's terrific Asphalt Jungle and probably his most impressive closing sequence (among many.) All the more poignant and moving for MIlklos Rosza's stunning score which rises again after only appearing once previously to announce the very opening credits in a film otherwise entirely without music, at least until the pre-climactic jukebox diner capture of Sam Jaffe/Doc in the movie's penultimate nighttime setting. 
Huston's and Ben Maddow's screenplay is taken from a book by the grand daddy of American crime to movie sagas, W.R.Burnett (Little Caesar, High SIerra, Beast of the City). What he also does is luck into Metro and the studio system at their last peak with an ace team of producer Arthur Hornblow and DP Harold Rosson with material and craft so perfect Huston is able to deliver a seamlessly fluid mise-en-scene and a firm narrative tonal line that both encapsulates and in some ways ends the Noir cycle, With similalrly effortless style, he also announces the end of his own thematic and formal redirection from the crime related genres which he explored so successfully (Maltese Falcon, Sierra Madre, Key Largo) into several more decades of initially shaky but ultimately productive and expressively personal literary adaptations of material that chimes close to his bones. (Fat City, Wise Blood, Man Who Would be King, The Dead, Prizzi's Honor, Reflections in a Golden Eye.) Meanwhile Asphalt Jungle delivers a hard eyed view of a rotten society, operating outside the small criminal milieu who should but don't get away with a near perfect heist, in a manner that casually throws the notion of wider corruption and bastardry into the ring as an afterthought to the central game of mutual engagement between determined, specialist men that simply goes wrong in every possible way for no reason other than bad luck. 
The new Criterion Blu Ray is one of their first licensing deals with Warner HV and the new 2K master for this is a thing of breathtaking beauty. The opening sequence of Dix (Sterling Hayden) gliding along magic hour Cincinnatti streets and colonnades in open air had me gasping for breath at the sheer quality of light and dust. B&W movies don't get better than this.

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