The film is beautifully photographed. Huston's direction is masterful. Such a formative director: The Maltese Falcon is one of the earliest film noirs — The Asphalt Jungle comes later, maybe at its peak? My only knock on the film is its somewhat lack of suspense. I wish Huston had strung us along a little bit more. But then it might have wound up a different movie, and not the interesting character study it is now.
John Huston is a master of melodrama and fine character development, but when it comes to the idea combine heist story and elevate it to noir thriller area, it flops and lacks some suspense and tension. Aside from that, great cast and entertaining (even leading to predictable finale) story still allows to enjoy some great moments depicting early 1950s American life.
I never quite fell asleep, but I believe I was too tired to appreciate this in full, and so feel a little guilty rating it. But I did stay awake, and while I had a hard time following it, I gleaned enough to be able to say I enjoyed it. Specific moments stick out, like an excellently shot, very brief moment of violence, or even just the general smoggy atmosphere.
Huston's is still one of the great noirs, a near perfect balancing act between expressionism and on-the-streets realism. Note how tenderly he sketches what makes his crooks tick. Note how low he keeps the camera, how often the ceiling is visible, as if it's closing in. And note that a never-sexier Marilyn Monroe was so pre-fame she's not even in the opening credits. I can only go so long without cinema this good.
"Money makes me sweat." The influence on Kubrick and Scorsese is undeniable. I'll take this any day to Treasure of Sierra... it's in the eyes. This is a character-driven caper, but what makes it great is the way what's being stolen keeps being debated, keeps changing on hearsay, keeps in the dark. Whose money is it anyway? Whose jewels? What's the plan? Doesn't matter. These characters get what they want.
Some debate persists about whether ASPHALT is a B-picture or an A-picture. Come on. This is primo A stuff, kids. This is Hollywood movie factory perfection. Huston resembles his friend Orson Welles not just because he is a towering cult of personality, but because he is a outsider within the system and in possession of a similarly versatile visual sensibility. They also both provide ground for actors to excel.
Despite the stuff about Doc and girls being not really the sort I don't know endearing quirk Huston imagined, this is still a really affecting movie about like 'criminals as human beings' as well as a heist movie, in that instead of say slick glam (which isn't a knock on fun heist movies or anything) is more sad. I liked it a lot, especially Sterling Hayden and Jean Hagen but also everyone else.
Family Movie Night: We're running a Sterling Hayden retrospective all summer! Film acting wasn't Hayden's main thing; he was an adventurer. A secret agent for OSS before it became CIA, he parachuted behind enemy lines and ran guns to Partisans in WWII, on a boat he piloted, and he sailed from S.F. to Tahiti in defiance of a court order. 6'5" tall, he didn't just play a tough guy in the movies, he was one for real.
A good film, but doesnt really start to get going plot wise for some time. However, the great B&W cinematography pulls you in almost instantly after the opening credits. Monroe gives a great early performance here, probably her best early work besides Dont Bother To Knock. Hayden is badassery personified, channeling much of the same energy he employed in Johnny Guitar. Not a perfect noir, but a great one. 4.5 stars
An interesting, if pretty standard heist movie, its strength lying in the unique casting, including Sterling Hayden as a paid thug, Sam Jeffe as a German ex-pat on the run, Louis Calhern as the front man for the job, as well as John McIntire, James Whitmore and a young Marilyn Monroe, among others. The way each character played off each other was fun to watch, and the twists in the plot were entertaining enough.