The Asphalt Jungle: Criterion Collection (Blu-ray)

December 15, 2016 7 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton and Christopher Bligh

Plot: What’s it about?

He has his fans and he has his detractors, but director John Huston was entering another decade and gearing up another crime tale, but this time of the caper kind. There are characters and a whole lot of loot at stake but when push comes to shove, it can take a struggle to escape from the streets and the hustle and bustle of the city that can also be known as The Asphalt Jungle.

It’s the street in the daytime and Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) has been pulled over and the subject of a police lineup where the accuser fails to identify either of the lined up. It’s not until after this that a mysterious individual named Doc (Sam Jaffe) comes along with a proposal that he proclaims is the “fool proof” plan. He devises a plan of valuable jewels and a worth of a half a million dollars. The money is tempting and the plan is even more so, but complications arise and things don’t end up so fool proof.

Here is what started it all in the caper genre and what better way to start than with The Asphalt Jungle. There is mostly about the characters and less about what is stolen and what is recovered and how the police will react to it. There is no cliches of this. There is no predictability. From seeing many caper films, this ranks very well as it doesn’t take the direction the viewer expects.

The characters are desperate misfits and everyone has an agenda and everyone has their own idea of what they want to do with their share. Little by little, the flaws of all of these characters show and what seems to be fool proof at the start slowly but surely falls apart and Huston captures this very well similar to the environment he presented to us earlier in the previous decade with Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

With all of it’s gritty environment and it’s less than stylish atmosphere, The Asphalt Jungle has it’s share of animals and exotics even in the confines of the big city and it succeeds very well.

Video: How’s it look?

Criterion continues to impress with their new 2K restoration of this classic film. They give a solid full frame treatment to The Asphalt Jungle as the print of the film has it share of specks every five minutes but for the most part, it retains a lot of clean images and gives a nice look whether it’s the closeness of Sterling Hayden’s stubble or the beauty of a young Marilyn Monroe (in a small part). Criterion retains a nice image that have it’s own share of little flaws now and then but the positives outweigh the negatives visually and the image stays solid throughout.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The included mono track is all geared toward the center channels whether it’s of dialogue or Miklos Rosza’s memorable score filled with many strings and the occasional horns now and then. All the activity comes out clear as the track comes out nicely and muted despite the limitations of the source materials. Overall a good track. this disc also has a French mono track as well as English French and Spanish subtitles.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Audio Commentary – This is the same audio commentary from the Warner DVD. Film-Noir specialist Dr. Drew Casper who gives a great commentary feeling like a lesson in film history up to this period in film dealing with studios and his own take on Huston’s caper. This viewer felt like he was taught very well in Dr. Drew’s class and it made for a very good commentary track complete with inclusions of seperate soundbites from actor James Whitmore who gave his brief feedback of his experiences on the film. Great things never change and through the years, Whitmore’s voice has never changed and his voice is much welcomed on this track.
  • John Huston – An all too brief (1 minute) interview with John Huston as he comments on the film.
  • Pharos of Chaos – We get a look at actor Sterling Hayden (who was just as good in Dr. Strangelove, in my opinion). Running nearly two hours, you get all you ever wanted to know about the man…and more!
    • A Second Birth
    • Wanderer
    • The Barge
    • The Sea
    • Late Afternoon
    • Alcohol
    • Pharos of Chaos
    • River and City
    • The Committee
    • Hollywood
  • Eddie Muller – Film noir historian Eddie Muller gives us his insight into the film, what makes it so great and why its appeal is enduring even today.
  • John Bailey – Cinematographer John Bailey gives us his input on some of the unique camera angles, lighting and so forth that make The Asphalt Jungle such a visually-aggressive film.
  • City Lights – Circa 1979, this is an episode of the show City Lights in which director John Huston discusses his career.
  • The Huston Method – Film critic Gideon Bachmann explains, though a series of old footage, the approach that John Huston took to his work.
  • Trailer
  • Leaflet – Film critic Geoffrey O’Brien’s essay “A Left-Handed Form of Human Endeavor” is featured.

The Bottom Line

Criterion continues its top notch work on classic titles and The Asphalt Jungle is no exception. The sheer amount of work on the audio and video along with the new supplements makes this yet another jewel in their crown. Highly recommended.

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