Doc Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) has just been released from prison. Before being sent away for seven years he had been planning a heist. A big one. Doc is a criminal mastermind. His first stop is to see a bookie named Cobby (Marc Lawrence). Doc needs some backing to get the caper going. Cobby recommends Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern). Emmerich is a lawyer with no scruples but plenty of money. Doc needs $50,000 to hire three guys to help with the heist. They get a flat fee. The money gained from fencing the stolen goods would be split three ways between Doc, Emmerich and Cobby. The caper should net a half million or more in gems.
The crew Doc needs to hire is a “box man”or safe cracker, a getaway driver, and some muscle. Cobby recommends Louis Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) as the safe cracker. Gus Minissi (James Whitmore) as the getaway driver and Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) as the muscle. Everybody knows their job and everybody is good at what they do.
Even the best laid plans are at the whim of chance. Louis needs to use more nitro to blow the safe than expected. The explosion causes an interruption in the local power source setting off alarms all up and down the street. A security guard arrives at the Jewelry store. When Dix knocks him out the guard's gun discharges and hits Louis.
Gus takes Louis home and Doc and Dix head for Emmerich’s. Turns out Emmerich is broke and had planned on cheating the guys out of their share. Cobby had footed the money for the job. Emmerich’s enforcer, Bob Brannom (Brad Dexter), gets killed. Emmerich is stuck getting rid of the body, but the body doesn’t stay gotten rid of. With there being no honor among thieves everything that hasn’t hit the fan, does so now.
“The Asphalt Jungle” was released in 1950 and was directed by John Huston. It is a crime film, sub-genre heist film or caper film and was based on the 1949 novel by W. R. Burnett. It is also a film noir. “The Asphalt Jungle” was nominated for four Academy Awards. In 2008, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".
Although the caper is a big one that will net a huge profit, it is being run by a posse of losers. Not that they’re bad at their craft but that they have not had the same benefits in life that the middle class has had. What they all want is to fulfill some dream. Doc wants to live in Mexico City with dancing girls all around him, Dix wants to return to his home town and buy back the farm he was raised on, Emmerich wants to gain back his grand style of living with money and prestige, Louis Ciavelli wants to take care of his family, Cobby wants to play with the big boys and Gus just wants respect. Nobody gets what they want.
The Production Code had a couple problems with some key scenes in the film, in particular the details of the heist and the suicide of a character, however, the censors allowed them to stay but with a little tweaking.
At first Huston wanted Lola Albright to play Angela Phinlay but she was either unavailable or turned it down, depending on who you ask. He interviewed Marilyn Monroe and gave her a screen test but, at first, felt she wasn’t right for the part. He changed his mind when he watched her leave the room. According to film noir authority Eddie Muller, Huston later said that Monroe was "one of the few actresses who could make an entrance by leaving the room." The part wasn’t large but it was enough to spur her career.
Sterling Hayden is a big deal due to politics. He was a sailor, a decorated Marine Corp officer, an OSS agent (Office of Strategic Services) while in service during the war. He received the Silver Star, The American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and the Order of Merit. And in 1946 was a member of the Communist Party.
Sam Jaffe is not without his problems with the House Un-American Activities Committee. For a time he was blacklisted for supposedly being a Communist sympathizer. Despite being on the list he was hired by Robert Wise for “The Day The Earth Stood Still” 1951 and eventually by William Wyler for “Ben-Hur” 1959.
In 1961 there was a short lived television series called “The Asphalt Jungle”.