Dr. Rich Edwards

Daily Dose of Darkness #29: Noir City (Opening Scene of The Asphalt Jungle)

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This week's Daily Dose theme is "The End of the Heist."

 

This Dose will be delivered by TCM by email on Monday, July 27, 2015.

 

You can access this Dose in Canvas at: https://learn.canvas.net/courses/748/pages/daily-dose-of-darkness-number-29-noir-city-opening-scene-of-the-asphalt-jungle

 

Let the Discussions Begin!

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This scene from The Asphalt Jungle (1950) depicts the city as one of an industrial wasteland, with empty streets, dilapidated buildings and almost totally devoid of any people.   The Asphalt Jungle is the most appropriate title for the film because these barren, isolated streets and debris strewn alleyways look forbidding and dangerous even in broad daylight.  A wild and tangled mass of concrete structures, peeling paint, crumbling brick, intersecting rail lines and grids of overhead cables make this unnamed city a very gloomy and troublesome environment.

 

In style and substance we are viewing a landscape of dark shadowy visions in spite of being a daylight shoot.  The background score is used to accent the films tension as the police prowl car patrols through the deserted streets and the lone character on foot maneuvers the city "jungle" to avoid detection.  A low angle, long shot of the patrol car moving towards the camera becomes a close-up as the POLICE insignia fills the frame and the audio of the police radio becomes louder and louder and the music tempo picks up to a faster beat.  A deep focus shot inside the cafe includes the proprietor (James Whitmore), in foreground, the two police officers and the seated customer (Sterling Hayden). 

 

For character insight, during the police line-up we learn that Dix (Sterling Hayden) is a hardcore criminal who has been busted for possession of a firearm, has been sentenced to and escaped from prison, and even in police custody has no problem intimidating a witness against him with a stern glare.  He is one tough "mo-fo" and not to be messed with.    

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BEFORE I BEGIN, LET ME JUST SAY THAT THIS LEARNING EXPERIENCE HAS BEEN GRAND!!!  I AM GLAD IT HAS COME TO A SUPERB ENDING WITH ALL THESE FANTASTIC HEISTS; HOWEVER, MY LEARNING FOR THE SUMMER IS NOT OVER:  NEXT I TACKLE HOW TO IMPROVE MY SCRABBLE GAME.  I PLAY DAILY WITH ONE OF MY YOUNGER SIBLINGS, AND SHE CONSISTENTLY MOPS THE BOARD WITH MY WORDS SCATTERED; SECOND PLACE IS NOT MY NOIR STYLE.  LET THE GAMES BEGIN!!!  SPECIAL THANKS TO TCM, FOR THE SUMMER OF DARKNESS, WITH EDDIE MULLER, WHO LED ME TO DR. RICHARD EDWARDS AND SHANNON CLUTE FOR PODCASTS.  THESE 3 MEN ARE MY NEWEST BEST FRIENDS, AND I REALLY LOVE AND APPRECIATE YOU EACH FOR SUCH SUCCULENT DATA WITH WHICH I GO FORTH AND EXPLORE MORE FILMS, YET NOT APOLOGIZING AND FEELING GOOD ABOUT MY PICKS AND FAVORITES, EVEN IF I CAN'T ENJOY THEN ALL.  I AM JUST ABUNDANTLY GRATEFUL FOR THE ONES THAT I CAN ENJOY!!!  SINCERELY,  DIANE DYAN BIGGS/A.K.A. NOIR KNIGHT OWL, UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN, NOIR GOODNESS TO YOU!!!


Daily Dose of Darkness #29:


Noir City (Opening Scene from The Asphalt Jungle)


 


 


 


-- Discuss how this film depicts and utilizes this "unnamed city." Additionally, why do you think the film is entitled "The Asphalt Jungle?" 


The city is unnamed, houses, streets, lots of cement:   lots of buildings, like in a warehouse district of a city, and the man ducks inside a diner, in the middle of nowhere among all these warehouse type buildings.  You'd have to know that diner was there ahead of time....you'd never know it was there with just a mild look around...in the way that man was walking and then GOING right up to that diner door and went in.  He handed the gun to the man behind the counter without a word and the man behind the counter put the gun in his cash register.


 


Well, it's a jungle out there.  It's either got nothing but miles and miles of trees and bushes and that kind of jungle (complete with wild animals and such) or, in this case it's got miles and miles of pavement, asphalt with miles and miles of buildings and A small diner in the middle of nowhere.....nowhere, in the midst of a jungle with wild men roaming around with guns, passing them to be hidden by other men, 'cause it's a jungle out there....."THE ASPHALT JUNGLE".  


 


THIS IS WHAT I THINK, WHY I THINK IT'S CALLED THE ASPHALT JUNGLE.


 


-- Describe the film noir characteristics, in both style and substance, of these opening scenes.


-- Why are these opening scenes an interesting choice for a "heist film?" What are we learning about one of its major characters (Dix) that might be important for later in the film (and I'm not asking for any spoilers, just character insight)?


I don't believe I have seen this film before.  If I did, it was quite awhile ago.  I thought the same about several films this Summer.  So, until I watch it this time, I really won't know.  Judging from this opening, I have not seen it.  


Well, DIX, must have done something with that gun.  The man at the diner is probably his friend, so he hid the gun for Dix.  I'm thinking Dix and the man at the diner are friends, like I said, and that they are gonna be in whatever comes up from now on together....the man at the diner might not know what got him to the diner this day....but from here on out, the guy at the diner knows everything.


I'm looking forward to seeing this film.  I recall hearing the title and I didn't know until now that it was a heist film.  I love a good heist film.  So, I can't wait!!!


 


#NOIRSUMMER


 


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It's an interesting opening in that the bleak urban landscape seems to presage the declining economy of the US in the 70s in so many mid-west cities rather than the more economically positive economy of the decade after the war. The rubble-strewn and empty streets also seem to suggest that there's not much available to the average joe in the legal job arena and to get out of the "jungle" you may have to break the rules. 

 

Interesting too to see the breakdown between cop and citizen here. No longer are the police seen as necessarily being good and incorruptible, but flawed and open to the kind of problems we see to this day. The police try to browbeat the witness into identifying the guy in the line-up (along with pulling in suspects off the street) and it was noticeable that, although the cafe owner doesn't go so far as to help the guy who sits at the counter, there's no way he's going to do anything either that could aid the police. 

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-- Discuss how this film depicts and utilizes this "unnamed city." Additionally, why do you think the film is entitled "The Asphalt Jungle?"


I actually suspect it's supposed to be Cincinnati, (especially later when we see the Roebling suspension bridge & the Ohio River levee). Anyway we are in a city, it's early morning we see the brick buildings the asphalt streets, used car lots, the rail spurs and back alleys of a business and industrial neighborhood. A gas holder towers in the distance. The streets are deserted save for a patrol car cruising slowly up the main stem. Its dispatch radio is blaring calls. 


-- Describe the film noir characteristics, in both style and substance, of these opening scenes.


Noir characteristics are the camera placements that enhance the rat warren aspects of the citys layout. We see the brick arches of a covered loading dock,its columns providing a hiding place for a man, a hoodlum possibly, who seems to have a reason to hide. He travels through the scene not on the sidewalks but through the less traveled paths that offer shelter from observers. Another low angle camera sequence shows the patrol car looming towards us then abruptly it makes a U turn as it responds to radio call. The low angle camera lingers on a dilapidated corner greasy spoon cafe, we see our man approach and enter. The cafe is obviously an underworld safe house of sorts, the man sits on a stool, extracts a revolver and passes it to a counter man, an ex con? a fellow miscreant?, who quickly hides it in the cash register. 


The cops arrive to roust the customer and ask the counterman how long has the customer been there. He replies he doesn't know. The cops frisk the customer then ask to search the premises. The counterman asks where is their search warrant. The cops are pulling in everyone in a brown suit wearing a fedora.


We cut to a dark lineup room, seats are facing a lit stage backed by a wall demarcated by height lines. Three men matching the description of a robbery suspect are led to the stage. A victim and a police officer in the darkness view the suspects.


-- Why are these opening scenes an interesting choice for a "heist film?" What are we learning about one of its major characters (Dix) that might be important for later in the film (and I'm not asking for any spoilers, just character insight)?


We are learning that Dix is not a lobo, he's not a lone wolf, he's smart and cautious and he's apparently well enough connected in the city's underworld to know where to go how to get there and cover himself.


 


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In the opening of "The Asphalt Jungle" we are shown a maze of decayed, urban streets, filmed in a part of 1950's Cincinnati.  There is one scene where the buildings are crumbling and it is reminiscent, to me, of Vienna in "The Third Man".  A lone man is making his way through the streets and rubble when a police patrol car arrives, looking for someone, but making no attempt to hide it by blaring their radio. 

 

When the character of Dix is arrested at the diner it appears to be an expected event.  Then there is the lineup.  His rap sheet is read, which tells us a lot about the character.  Per the witness, the police are looking for a "tall" man.  Sterling Hayden standing next to Strother Martin?  Really?  Dix intimidates the witness just by looking at him.  Tough guy.

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This "unnamed city" is utilized through its look. There is nothing particularly magnificent about this location; no lure of skyscrapers or bright lights, no hustle and bustle of people, which are all indicative of a big city. Its design is that of the typical, and seemingly benign small town/city. Its appearance is desolate, possibly forgotten by most for whatever reason(s). Therefore, places such as these do not usually attract such crimes more prone to occur in a metropolis.

 

The Asphalt Jungle does reference this particular film narrative, but it also speaks to any city/town anywhere. The title conveys the dangers of the night, its shadows, and its bleakness and cynicism. This all ultimately arrives to the dangers within a film noir, and how its elements can occur in any place. No specific location is immune.

 

The Asphalt Jungle's substance is reflective of the attitude harbored during this time period. Although this scene was shot in daylight, there is still a feel of dread. The buildings are abandoned, appearing ominous and creepy. The bleak look in the style also indicates a negative perception of society, even of life in general. Lacking in population, the town proves to be near empty, which again mirrors the feeling of emptiness embodied by many people.

 

It's rather unusual for a heist film to open in such a desolate area. What exactly is there steal? Most people envision a robbery occurring at a bank involving an elaborate scheme. Therefore, The Asphalt Jungle is likely going to employ numerous twists and turns involving its main character, Dix.

 

Dix is a very effective, intimidating man. He basically will be able to skip right out of his police lineup, due to the witness fearing for his life if he identifies Dix as the suspect who committed the crime. Dix also has help in his efforts of eluding authorities. While slinking through the town in broad daylight, he purposely seeks out a bar. Upon entering, he hands off the gun used in his crime to the bar owner. Maybe the two are working together on the heist. Maybe the bar owner is just a friend providing a favor. Regardless, Dix is clearly a character with weighty influence.

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This clip utilizes the city to give us a bleak feeling. The buildings are uncared for and stark. Like a jungle they rise up out of the ground sometimes even blocking out the sky. We see a man roaming in this jungle trying to hide from the patrol car, like a prey hiding from a hunter . With its speed and stealth patrol car is like a predator, searching. From this clip you can tell that "Asphalt Jungle" is a great name for this movie.

 

This short clip tells us a lot about Dix in very creative ways. The police radio tells he's wanted in a hold up. When he goes into diner it appears he has a friend there. Did I see him hand off a gun to the diner owner? Then in the lineup we learn that he had been in jail and his name. We also see the police in an unfavorable light. They tried to bully the witness into making an identification. Also in the lineup they have a man that doesn't even fit the description of the suspect (a tall man). Instead they have a 5'7" Strother Martin - not considered tall for a man. But I was glad to see him because Strother Martin is one of my favorite character actors. I love the way he rubs his neck when they talked about his attempted suicide by hanging. Strother Martin was always great about putting those little details into his acting.

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Love the police car!  Looks like it could be a Texaco corporate vehicle.  

James Whitmore AND Frank Cady - two of my favorite character actors!!!  What a nice surprise.  This is classic stuff!  Did Frank Cady ever have hair!  Definitely going to watch this one!

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Discuss how this film depicts and utilizes this "unnamed city." Additionally, why do you think the film is entitled The Asphalt Jungle?

 

  • I don't recall seeing a number of city streets that desolate - no cars, no people - almost like a cat and mouse game between patrol car and man, or Dix like a rat in a maze looking for escape before he encounters trouble.
  • Asphalt is material used for paving streets, and the jungle is a wild and unfamiliar place where danger lurks in unexpected places. So basically it's a city, where anything can happen.
  • Sidebar - one of my favorite comments about NYC (as a former resident) was when a friend described the combination of honking horns and police sirens as "urban nature sounds".
  • Interestingly Dix walking down the alley with its rubble and debris reminded me of a similar scene (Cotten's early chase of Welles) in The Third Man, while Dix entering the diner recalled Mitchum entering the cantina in Out Of The Past.

 

Describe the film noir characteristics, in both style and substance, of these opening scenes.

 

  • The combination of the urgent music and the police radio chatter lets us know something is going on
  • Bleak, empty streets, buildings in disrepair - this is clearly not the good side of town.
  • Dix walks down a long alleyway (into the unknown?) and makes an unforeseen turn
  • Dix ducks into a place of supposed safety (even emblazoned as "American" and with "home cooking")
  • The cops can't pick Dix up for being armed, so they pick vagrancy. Yet they respect the demand for a search warrant. So the cops, like the city, live in that "gray area". We later see them rig the lineup and try to intimidate the witness.

 

Why are these opening scenes an interesting choice for a "heist film?" What are we learning about one of its major characters (Dix)

that might be important for later in the film (and I'm not asking for any spoilers, just character insight)?

 

  • He is literally looking over his shoulder as he hides behind the post when the police car comes by - he's either wanted or he doesn't want his presence known. He takes the back roads and alleys - not the main streets. We soon learn he's a repeat felon.
  • Dix wordlessly hands the gun to Gus, who hides it in the register without saying a word. They know each other. Dix knows he's being followed. (Gus doesn't seem surprised by any of this but obviously has had his own encounters with the cops.) Dix trusts Gus - will that be good or bad?
  • The cops run Dix in on "vagrancy" charges but never ask for his ID or whether he has a job. Dix doesn't resist or complain - or speak. He's been through this before. He knows smart men keep their mouth shut.
  • Dix is confident, even though he's in a rigged lineup (other two are not thieves, he's placed next to a short man to accentuate his height). He stares down the cops and intimidates the witness, and when the witness declines to identify him, he smirks. Maybe he's overconfident?
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Discuss how this film depicts and utilizes this "unnamed city." Additionally, why do you think the film is entitled The Asphalt Jungle?

 

The opening really showcased the city scape while also having Hayden in constant movement except to dodge out of sight from the law. The buildings, the contrast between the foreground road, the archway, angular power lines, and signage all made this type opening iconic in terms of film noir. Asphalt jungle in my opinion is associated with thick highly dense surroundings with BLACK paved road instead of organic foliage.

 

as·phalt\ˈas-ˌfȯlt also ˈash-, especially British -ˌfalt\

noun

: a black substance that is used for making roads

 

jun·gle\ˈjəŋ-gəl\

noun

: a tropical forest where plants and trees grow very thickly

: a harsh or dangerous place or situation in which people struggle for survival or success

: a confusing or complex mixture of things

 

I wouldn't have taken the definition so literally if it did not define both the subject and identify film noir so well.

 

Describe the film noir characteristics, in both style and substance, of these opening scenes.

 

I enjoy these additions to the daily doses because it allows us to try to regard our impressions of film noir. So in this one contrast plays very well between the title, the streets, the characters, the music, and even the movement from scene to scene. I'd say substance and style can be seen and felt in the setting.

 

Why are these opening scenes an interesting choice for a "heist film?" What are we learning about one of its major characters (Dix) that might be important for later in the film (and I'm not asking for any spoilers, just character insight)?

 

The heist seems to be within the city like it always coexisted. Seedy (heist as a metaphor) already clings to the interiors and exteriors of the setting. I believe we are learning his seedy influence is established. He has underground connections that go against the law. A gun is hidden and a seemingly upstanding business owner lies and covers for him. He has enough of a threatening presence to intimidate the witness from identifying him properly likely out of fear from what could happen if he talks. Dix grimace changes into an almost satisfied smile once he becomes aware he will not be framed.

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One of my favorites film noir, this classic brings richness both in characters and settings.  Isolation, desperation, and toughness that mirrors earlier noir.  Dix will forever live in my memory, a viable and long lasting figure that cements even bad guys are not all bad.

Although a good name to describe the scenery/action, I never liked the name of this movie.  Too late to find out one now, but the name of this movie could have been so many more interesting ones.  

 

Also thought that this cast of supporting actors are one of the best in noir.  Are there better??????  Wow, what a cast, MGM did have alot of stars........................

 

No other movie, has made me feel like i was in on it, part of the gang, than this one.  Enjoyed the ride and the feel of pure guilty pleasure of suffering with the cast.  So many dead ends, so many dreams that died, one of the best noir's todate.

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      The opening scene in keeping with the title shows a police car prowling the city streets.  We know we are in the Asphalt jungle because the police car's prey, a man moving amongst the columns of some kind of overarching building flits in, around, and then behind tree-like posts to stay just out of the view of the police.  The cityscape easily becomes the metaphorical jungle in the viewer’s eye and the man is trapped to be served up as an American meal to the audience. Huston clearly wants to make the viewers think about the comparison between the city and the jungle right from the start of the film. 

        The  noir characteristics are everywhere, the radio chatter as voice-over setting the action, the looming buildings in the foreground of various low-angle shots, the American-food diner sign front and center as though “this ain’t no foreign place here” needs to be made clear from the outset; in media res placement of the viewer is Iverstown all over again, the staccato music in the background, pacing the action and mimicking some kind of heart-throbbing drama, and of course Dix and Gus played by two actors immediately identifiable in the noir canon; these things are all present and signaling a film noir in action.

        

      

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As the Asphalt Jungle opens we follow a police car slowly going through the area, looking for someone, hearing over the anticipation music (almost like the theme from Jaws) the dispatchers voice giving out the search description.

 

Then we follow a man Dix through the side walks, moving along columns, along streets with large poles, and over hanging wires giving the look of a jungle, with trees and the canopy overhead, though this is all man made. Moving along and over the streets of a city, streets paved with asphalt. Along alleys that have the rubble from crumbling buildings along the side. Like the fallen leaves of the jungle turning into decaying jungle floor, where little can live far from sunlight. Despite the sunlight we can see the decay of the forest, The Asphalt Jungle.

 

Dix goes into a diner, not a Hopper type, but one decaying falling apart, where the poorest element would be it's patrons. Gus the owner hides his gun and turns up the radio, jazz playing loudly, “jungle or monkey music, as Buzz in The Blue Dahlia would call it, and even other people of that era. When the police come in and Gus won't allow them to search his place without a warrant they pick up Dix for vagrancy. A charge that allowed them to pick up most anyone they wanted to.

 

Then at the police station, once again we see police who use tricks to do their job. They are looking for a stick up man and put in the line up a man who claimed to have killed his wife, a narcotics user, and Dix. Dix's list of violations are given for firearms, escape from prison, arrested again. Why can't the witness pick him out, the robber was tall, and the other two men with Dix are much shorter. A typical lineup of cops looking for a quick close to the case.

 

The decaying city is analogous to a jungle, but even more so, to survive is fight the jungle that Dix lives in.    It is a life of pure survival.

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Well, it's the last week of this course and the Daily Doses. I'm certainly gonna miss it, and all this nice discussion we're making two months now about these films.

 

The Asphalt Jungle is perhaps the best heist noir made in the classical period. A great ensemble cast, colorful characters, all masterminded by the great John Huston. Although it's one of the first pure heist films ever made, it seems quite mature in its plot and storytelling.

 

In the opening scene we're introduced to the main character, Dix, a typical noir anti-hero portrayed by talented actor Sterling Hayden. He's been a suspect for a crime, and these three and a half minutes are full of noir elements: police cars, sirens and chasing, a diner with radio music accompanying the policemen's entrance, and something we rarely watch in a film noir: a police lineup. Of course you can't tell it's a heist film or a film noir by just watching this scene, but you can definitely predict there's gonna be a lot of police, crime and chase in this one.

 

I think Hayden was ideal for this kind of roles, and he proved it by playing an almost identical one in another heist film noir, Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. You can't hate this guy, only feel sorry for him. His face expression towards the end of this opening scenes proves it in the most convincing way.

 

As for the title The Asphalt Jungle, it's without doubt the unnamed, probably Midwestern, US city the films takes place, an urban jungle when the main characters desperately try to survive by any means possible. As you can perhaps predict, they usually don't.

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Personally I always get the title of this movie mixed up with Blackboard Jungle.  There are a lot of things happening in this 3:46 minute opening.  You see the industrial side of the city with the oil tanks, train tracks, and warehouses.  Every city has a section that looks like this.  You see the sections where Dix is walking.  First it is archways; next it is through a walkway with buildings that are partially destroyed (like Europe).  I do not know where the cafe owner fits in, but he hid the gun.  The way Dix was looking at his accuser, he might have a hold on him somehow.  Dix has a long rap sheet. 

 

James Whitmore talked about this picture.  Huston got him to talk above a loud radio, and Whitmore said he had been had.  But Huston was looking for an effect.

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      The opening scene in keeping with the title shows a police car prowling the city streets.  We know we are in the Asphalt jungle because the police car's prey, a man moving amongst the columns of some kind of overarching building flits in, around, and then behind tree-like posts to stay just out of the view of the police.  The cityscape easily becomes the metaphorical jungle in the viewer’s eye and the man is trapped to be served up as an American meal to the audience. Huston clearly wants to make the viewers think about the comparison between the city and the jungle right from the start of the film. 

        The  noir characteristics are everywhere, the radio chatter as voice-over setting the action, the looming buildings in the foreground of various low-angle shots, the American-food diner sign front and center as though “this ain’t no foreign place here” needs to be made clear from the outset; in media res placement of the viewer is Iverstown all over again, the staccato music in the background, pacing the action and mimicking some kind of heart-throbbing drama, and of course Dix and Gus played by two actors immediately identifiable in the noir canon; these things are all present and signaling a film noir in action.

        

The actors in the line up are also in the film noir cannon (I get disappointed that I cannot locate their names).  One of them starred in episodes of Perry Mason.  The guy identifying the burgler is Frank Cady (later in Petticoat Junction);

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Discuss how this film depicts and utilizes this "unnamed city." Additionally, why do you think the film is entitled "The Asphalt Jungle?"

- Is that some slight morning fog in the initial shot?  The day is overcast, helping define the tone of the picture.  The director has found lots of bold straight lines in the existing landscape; horizontal porch beams on the apartment buildings, the railroad tracks at an angle to the columns on the train station; the maze of electrical lines; the buildings flanking the alley create several lines almost converging on each other toward the turn; the café and the buildings behind it are of the basic box type. The title readily depicts a difficult struggle in a dangerous ecosystem.


 

Describe the film noir characteristics, in both style and substance, of these opening scenes.

- Style: As stated in the previous question, clever use of existing locations in the city.  The (“shoebox” Ford) police car drives up a hill, fronting horizontal porches creating divergent lines pointing right.  Before we even know it is Sterling Hayden (in real life an OSS operative with an assumed name in WWII) we can tell this man is disheveled; crumpled hat, tie at an angle.  Hayden leaves the station platform at angle and to the right.  The police car turns right under the power lines, the sun catching it, throwing a shadow to the right.  [As the clip progresses, the radio gets louder as the cops close in].  The light is overcast again at the cut to the alley where Hayden walks – you guessed it, to our right – to a turn in the alley, and possibly danger.  He turns left into the café, where things are nicer, for a moment.  The volume of the radio with the close up of the café owner creates tension and disorientation.  The master shot of the line-up is shot placing the aisle way by the desks at an angle and lines across the wall in close-up of the guys in the line-up.  The nervous witness is first revealed in a shadow.

  Substance:  Hayden, though the main focus, says not one word in this 3½ minute clip.  The police, who should be the good guys, are anything but likeable and trustworthy.  The (innocent?) café owner has no inherent trust of the police and seems to have prior knowledge of Hayden.  Hayden, the café owner, and the witness are Regular Joes surviving the city and overbearing police tactics.


 

Why are these opening scenes an interesting choice for a "heist film?" What are we learning about one of its major characters (Dix) that might be important for later in the film (and I'm not asking for any spoilers, just character insight)?

- [NOTE: I have not seen this movie, yet]
An incident occurred, perhaps a heist. Dix is evading, not running; managing not panicking.

Dix Handley, a guy with troubles, is confident, connected and perhaps important, in his circle, however small that circle may be.  He knows, or knows something about, the witness.  He might be a slick, bad guy or the good guy in a corrupt world/situation.  Regardless, he is skilled, dangerous, and maybe even likeable.

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The actors in the line up are also in the film noir cannon (I get disappointed that I cannot locate their names).  One of them starred in episodes of Perry Mason.  The guy identifying the burgler is Frank Cady (later in Petticoat Junction);

The Line up actors were Henry Cordon as Karl Smith "killed wife" and Strother Martin as William Doldy "narcotics".

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I think the title "Asphalt Jungle" implies that even though the film is taking place in a city, there is a "survival of the fittest" theme.

 

As for aspects of his character:  We see him hiding from the cops.  We know that he has been in trouble with the law before.  He was smart enough to have escaped from prison even though it didn't stick.  The smirk at the end, shows he thinks he's smarter than the cops and can get away with anything.

 

I had to smile when James Whitmore turned up the music just to be annoying.

 

As for 50's noir themes, the cops didn't seem to be any more honest than the perps. They picked him up on a bogus charge.  The line-up was certainly loaded against Hayden.  The fact that the cops told the witness that the other two were there for completely different crimes.  The fact that Strother Martin wasn't even vaguely close to him in height and neither looked like Hayden.  This was definitely before "Miranda Rights".

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Noir City (Opening Scene of The Asphalt Jungle)

 

We think of a jungle as sort of a tropical forest with lots of trees and wild animals.

 

In this scene we see an urban city made of asphalt streets, concrete columns, high wires, tall towers, buildings with concrete facades and what’s striking is there are no trees, grass or other signs of vegetation- truly an urban jungle made of concrete and asphalt.

 

What we learn about Dix in this short clip is that he may have committed a crime involving a gun. He has people helping him like the diner owner stashing his gun away before the police arrest him. And finally, Dix may have intimidated a witness if we look closely at the glances between them in the police lineup. He stares and smiles when he is not identified.

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-- Discuss how this film depicts and utilizes this "unnamed city." Additionally, why do you think the film is entitled "The Asphalt Jungle?"

 

​It's amazing to see a city so deserted.  I have the feeling this is very early morning although I don't recall the time being established.  The deserted city starts as the stage for two players.  A patrol car and an unknown man in a suit.

 

The patrol car passes the unknown man who, almost instinctively hides behind a column as the patrol car passes.  We see the many continuing to walk down a rubble strewn alley. The patrol car gets it's closeup as radio dispatch sends out a bolo for a man fitting the walker's description.

 

The city is a place where predator and prey play cat & mouse.  It's an Asphalt Jungle.

 

-- Describe the film noir characteristics, in both style and substance, of these opening scenes.

The film opens using the city as a realist, documentarian setting.  Although it appears to be daytime there is a pervasive shadowing darkness.  We immediately have a sense of criminality when Dix hides behind the post.  That moment has a pathological and surrealist quality with the arch and columns looking like a DiChirico painting.

Nightclubs, bars, restaurants and diners are often the neutral zone for counters between the high and low in Film Noir.  At the diner we get a sense of the pervasive corruption of this jungle.  Gus wordlessly takes Dix's .38 and hides it in the cash register.  He turns up the radio, maybe solely to needle the cops.

The cops enter and Gus confirms he knows nothing.  The cops can't find a gun on Dix but they arrest him on a trumped up vagrancy charge.  They're corrupt.

We switch to a line up.  It's nice to see Strother Martin.  The lineup further establishes the immoral atmosphere of this jungle.  The lineup is obviously fixed since Dix is the tallest man in the lineup.  Our witness, however, is easily cowed by Dix's sinister stare pretty much establishing he doesn't expect safety if he fingers Dix.  This is a world completely at odds with conventional  morality, but in synch with the laws of a corrupt urban jungle.

 

-- Why are these opening scenes an interesting choice for a "heist film?" What are we learning about one of its major characters (Dix) that might be important for later in the film (and I'm not asking for any spoilers, just character insight)?

We learn that Dix is wily, sinister, threatening, connected and at home in his jungle. He may not be the biggest predator, but he's a predator with pals.  Also, these guys are pros. Gus wordlessly and efficiently takes and stashes Dix's .38 before the cops come in.  

 

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The actors in the line up are also in the film noir cannon (I get disappointed that I cannot locate their names).  One of them starred in episodes of Perry Mason.  The guy identifying the burgler is Frank Cady (later in Petticoat Junction);

Thanks for identifying Mr. Drucker.

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Foreboding music and broken-down desolate streets.  This could be any city and that could be why it has no name. The maze of alleyways, rundown train cars, a mangerie of wires over the city streets, and criminals running loose....it's a jungle out there.

 

A patrol car is looking for anyone they can, all the while a man (Dix) is lurking down a train platform and hides at the sound of the police radio. Then a call comes in over the radio, a hold up. Dix marches a narrow, claustrophobic alleyway to find solace in a ramshackle of a diner. He hands a gun to Gus to hide in the cash register. Gus turns up the radio, why? Is it a signal to the police or is it to make it look as though Gus wasn't able to pay attention with the radio so loud? The whole time the police are dealing with Dix, Gus just looks the other way. Then as soon as they leave, he turns the radio back down. The city is in a sad state of affairs. There is so much crime and everything is completely rundown, that you have to just deal with the cards that are delt to you and there doesn't seem to be anything that can change it.

 

Back at the station there is a line up and Dix is part of it.  As a gallery of people watch, Dix stares down the victim.  If looks could kill and because of that, the man couldn't pick him out. It seems as though Dix knows this man and maybe he has something on him. "No, isn't him."  A smirk from Dix. The whole time, Dix was calm and calculating.

 

 

 

Side note:  I've been watching Hills Street Blues and it's a good example of an "unnamed city."

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The empty streets, with the police car rolls by and the man (whom I am assuming is Dix) walking around the corner, give an immediate weird vibe.  Not only does the music raise the tension, the unsettling emptiness of the visual scene does the same.  And how the police car missed Dix is beyond me.  He is the only person on the street!  Anywhere!

 

“Hey, Frank, dispatch says they're looking for a guy in a dark suit.”

 

“I bet it was the only other human being we saw today! Let’s go!”

 

And sweet Freya Almighty, the cops went from the door to Dix pockets without a fine how-do-you-do!  Neither Dix nor Gus thinks anything of it.  Could a guy get a greeting first?  A little kiss before roughing him up and taking him in?

 

I feel sorry for William Goldie; busted first time ever for narcotics and ends up in a line up between a murder and a known felon.

 

Is Dix staring death at the witness?  That’s funny.  “Rat on me and I’ll kill you.”

 

“No, that isn’t him.  The man that held me up didn’t kill me.  This guy wants to kill me.  May I go now?”

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