The Asphalt Jungle Secret Cinema* Intro
Tonight’s film is one of my favorites & I’m excited to present it to you tonight. The film is a genre picture, but only because it helped create rich generic codes that have been ripped off, duplicated & remade for more than 70 years. That those codes could easily be located within a western, a war movie, a comedy or a thriller only adds to the legacy of this film. In fact, the film has been remade 3 times, but the central story element of the film has been used in hundreds of movies & TV shows. While it was produced by a major Hollywood studio, the film received no special treatment, with the president of the studio proclaiming his disdain for the film by saying “the picture is filled with nasty, ugly people doing nasty ugly things. I wouldn’t walk across the room to see something like that.” His displeasure notwithstanding, the film did help launch the career of one of the most beautiful actresses in Hollywood history, so you have to take his sentiment with a grain of salt. In her little more than 5 minutes of screen time, the actress would announce herself as a force of nature & although she appears no higher than 11th out of 15 named cast members, the theatrical poster was changed just after the film released to feature her image.
The film’s leading man, on the other hand, had seen combat in World War 2 & served in the OSS, but by the time the film was cast he had been branded a malcontent, had considered giving up acting & was ready to leave Hollywood for good. The director came from good Hollywood stock & had been churning out important work for almost a decade & is often credited with launching a film movement with his first film, made in 1941. By the time of the film’s release, he had been nominated for 4 best screenplay Oscars, winning once & 2 best director Oscars, also winning once. The novelist, whose book was the source material for our film had helped create the Gangster genre in the 1930’s & had been selling books to Hollywood for almost 2 decades. The book that is the basis for tonight’s film was purchased before publication, which was a rarity in risk averse Hollywood, but spoke to the power of the author. He would move to another genre all-together to write The Great Escape in 1962.
Set in an unnamed Midwestern town, several location exteriors reflect the Italian neo-realist movement that was made popular by directors like Vittorio DeSica & Roberto Rosselini, while the claustrophobic interiors create a dynamic counterpoint to frame the characters. The screenplay, co-written by the director is a masterclass in concise dialogue, specific character motivation & movement within the frame. Released during the height of the red scare in Hollywood, this rare ensemble picture came out 71 years ago this past Tuesday, June 1st 1950. I hope you enjoy the show & stick around afterwards for a short discussion.
*Secret Cinema is a twice monthly program offered by our local arthouse theater (TheMapleTheater.com) where patrons don't know the film being shown until the lights go down. Local film folks give a brief clue-filled intro, then a Q&A happens after the showing.