Earlier this week, we released our edition of John Huston’s 1950 heist film The Asphalt Jungle, whose combination of meticulous plotting and sympathetic characterization remains a blueprint for the genre. Set amid the smoky streets of an unnamed city in the American Midwest, this breathlessly paced thriller centers on an aging ex-convict who hatches a plan for a robbery and enlists a band of outlaws to join him in pulling it off. With the help of a powerhouse cast, including Sterling Hayden, Sam Jaffe, and Marilyn Monroe in an early film role, Huston creates one of Hollywood’s rawest portraits of the criminal underworld and the moral disillusionment at its heart.
Essential in establishing the film’s gritty urban atmosphere is the expertly crafted cinematography of Harold Rosson, whose work can also be seen in The Wizard of Oz, Singin’ in the Rain, El Dorado, and other Hollywood classics. In the clip below, excerpted from a program on our release, cinematographer John Bailey analyzes the emotional power of The Asphalt Jungle’s visual style, which brings a new level of psychological rawness to the formal elements of film noir.