John Huston Gavin Lambert - Essay

Gavin Lambert

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[In The Asphalt Jungle, as] in nearly all his previous films, Huston has selected a group of people whose conflicting motives and ambitions set the course of the story, and provide a dual tension, since their activities are usually illegal and the relations between them constantly changing. In The Asphalt Jungle, as in The Maltese Falcon and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, the people are brought together by common greed. But whether the motives are noble … or debased, Huston's attitude remains objective. His observation is sharp, and the characters here … are as brilliant as any he has presented. But a refusal to identify himself with any character, to show compassion, to leave the outside view, requires a complete power of analysis that the film does not wholly sustain. It falls short of a cruel, definitive picture of the squalor and corruption of a big city as well as of a humane one. The portrait of the hoodlum who at moments regrets his lost innocence is drawn with no more sympathy than the others, and yet it is on his fate that the film concludes, building up rather protractedly to his death in the fields. This final stroke is highly effective, but its emphasis also sums up the limited human approach.

The strong, confident style, the presentation of duplicity seasoned with irony, leaves one in no doubt of the force of personality behind The Asphalt Jungle. (pp. 287-88)

Gavin Lambert, "Writer and Director: 'The Wooden Horse' and 'The Asphalt Jungle'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1950 by The British Film Institute), n.s. Vol. 19, No. 7, November, 1950, pp. 286-88.∗