asphalt jungle

The Asphalt Jungle

The Asphalt Jungle (1950) is a 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 Marilyn Monroe.

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


Recently paroled from prison, legendary burglar "Doc" Riedenschneider (Jaffe), with funding from Alonzo Emmerich (Calhern), a crooked lawyer, gathers a small group of veteran criminals together in the Midwest for a big heist.

The film was shot in Los Angeles and Cincinnati, but the name of the city is never mentioned, giving the impression of an "urban jungle," rather than of a real location. Doc's gang consists of: Dix (Hayden), a hooligan from Kentucky with a gambling problem who sees the upcoming jewel heist as a means to finance his dream of buying back the horse farm that he lost during the Great Depression; Gus Minissi, a hunchbacked diner owner (Whitmore), who is hired as the getaway driver; Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso), a professional safecracker, and Cobby, a bookie (Marc Lawrence) acting as the go-between.

In a tense scene during the well-planned crime (an 11-minute sequence in the film), the criminals confidently carry out the heist in a patient and calm manner. Ciavelli climbs down into a manhole, pounds his way through a brick wall, climbs the basement stairs to the jewelry store, deactivates the door's alarm and lets in the other thieves, and 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 jewelry store 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. Another mishap occurs at the end of the caper when a security guard drops his gun as he's being hit by Dix, whereupon the gun fires and wounds Ciavelli.

Under increasing pressure from his commanding officer, a corrupt cop (Barry Kelley), angry that his "patsy" (Cobby) didn't let him in on the caper, beats the bookie into confessing and fingering the other criminals involved.

From this point on, the meticulously planned crime falls apart as the cops begin closing in on the gang one by one. That includes Emmerich, a double-crosser and an adulterer, who ends up cornered with his much-younger mistress, played by Monroe.



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."


The film spawned a television series that ran in the summer of 1961 on ABC. The series, however, resembled the film in name only; with none of the film's characters appearing in the scripts and the plots devoted to the exploits of an NYPD major case squad. One of the series' most notable features was the theme song written by Duke Ellington.

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




  • 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.


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