Film Noir The Asphalt Jungle


John Huston directed The Asphalt Jungle and Stanley Kubrick made The Killing. Despite his convincing performance as the evil Noah Cross, in Chinatown, John Huston likes people. His films, although often genre based, are concerned with character. In Fat City, Huston is sympathetic to the bruised boxers obliged to prevail despite their failure. Poverty does not offend Huston but defeat and the tragedy of individual lives, either poor or rich, draw his compassion. Kubrick responds to concepts more than people. The crooks that perform the heist in The Killing are deluded, selfish and flawed. The Kubrick film is based on a novel by the great gifted misanthrope, Jim Thompson.   The Asphalt Jungle is taken from a book by W R Burnett. Thompson is at his best writing about the paranoid and vicious. Burnett feels for the powerless victims of an oppressive alienating urban society.

There are no bad people in The Asphalt Jungle, which makes it unique amongst film noirs. It qualifies for the genre because it recognises the capricious demands of fate. We need to conquer, which is why endeavour, even when it is crooked, is important, but only fate triumphs. In Singin’ In The Rain, the acting talents of Jean Hagen are used to create a character that we can all hate with pleasure. In The Asphalt Jungle, Hagen plays Doll Conovan, girlfriend of Dix Handley. She begins the film as a burden to tough guy Dix but at the end of the film Dix needs Doll even though she is pathetic and undesirable.   When endeavour fails or is no longer enough, we recognise our limitations in others no matter how pathetic we once thought they were. Dix is the muscle that the planning brain of Doc Erwin would prefer not to need but Dix is a victim farmer of the depression and avaricious bankers. In another time, Dix could have been an upright yeoman. Now the demands of the urban world have corrupted his heroic strength into mercantile violence.

A heist that goes wrong requires betrayal, and in The Asphalt Jungle it is the criminal lawyer to blame. Louis Calhern provides the required sympathetic interpretation. He is betraying his sick wife but who can blame him for being unable to resist Marilyn Monroe who is fabulous as the beautiful young girl. She promises the lost innocence that men with a conscience inevitably regret losing. Indeed, Calhern is patient with both his wife and mistress, and, whilst his morality is inadequate, we are obliged to acknowledge his capacity for compassion and sympathy.

Doc is smart enough to survive the betrayal but he has a voyeuristic weakness for young women, and a harmless dalliance is his undoing. We are not exceptional promise as the fascists proclaim but our own burden. Endeavour is undermined by a perspective framed by our limitations and dependency. W R Burnett understood this well, and if the pastoral paradise is an illusory escape, the yearning it inspires in human beings is what makes them sympathetic.

Howard Jackson has had 3 books published by Red Rattle Books. His collection of horror stories called Nightmares Ahead will be published by Red Rattle Books in 2015.   If you want to read more about American culture click



bob hoskins


Bob Hoskins was working class and uneducated and the actor that Michael Caine could never be. THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY may or may not be his finest film. None can deny it contains his best moments. Hoskins captures brilliantly internal rage rooted in a contradictory mix of incomprehension, revelation and understanding. THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY is a gangster film with a political message. It anticipates the triumph of Thatcher with dread. The social and political despair and the realisation that Harold the gangster, like the economic miracle of Thatcher, is doomed qualify the film as film noir. Harold is taken silently to his death. The balance of payments deficit reaches record levels.

Harold is top man in the London underworld.   Inevitably, other human beings disappoint him. Like any capitalist, he assumes the contracts that he makes with people, often under violent threat, should be honoured. He has Thatcher type ambitions. He wants to be and stay rich and to make Britain great again.   Like Thatcher, Harold is deluded. He assumes that greed, or the free market, will reclaim the glorious past. Instead, it merely drives change and encourages usurpers.

Harold is complex. He is loyal to his wife and mother and is capable of love. So that police scrutiny can be avoided his dead friend is taken away in an ‘ice cream van’.

‘There’s a lot of dignity in that,’ says Harold. ‘Colin on top of a Raspberry Ripple.’   But Harold is driven by his will to rule and he has appetites. He is a brutal animal who relishes the ambitions of Thatcher. In her Britain the strong brush aside the weak soft centred products of social democracy.

‘We need the right people to mastermind the new London,’ shouts Harold from the back of his yacht as they sail down the Thames. The gangsters and paid lackeys see opportunities for making money and the land that they will soon own.

The London of THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY has none of the smug sentimental cool of the city adored in SHERLOCK. The gangsters drive Mercedes Convertibles and are oblivious to the grand architecture facilitated by the robberies of imperial conquerors.   Their ignorance mocks the romance of the British Empire even though Harold shares those pretensions.  None of the gangsters drink beer. They drink whisky or vodka. These brutes have aspiration and realise that something has been denied them. Such men always believe that it can be claimed through money and power.

Although Hoskins dominates the film, Helen Mirren is perfect as the bright girl who knows how to appear classless. Singer, Dave King, was always seriously underestimated and he is equally fine as the policeman, Parky, who believes that law exists to maintain order rather than respond to crime.

‘We can’t have bombs going off,’ says Parky.

Harold is defeated finally by the IRA. Although crucifixion occurs, there is no resurrection in the Easter of THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY. Irish memories of other crimes prevail. But, at least, here, the victims do avenge.


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