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Sunday, 3 June 2012

The Asphalt Jungle (1950) - Star of the month... Marilyn Monroe

The Asphalt Jungle is a film noir film crime caper directed by John Huston (father of Angelica Huston). Based on the novel by W.R. Burnett, it tells the story of a group of criminals planning and executing a jewel robbery. The film stars Sterling Hayden, Louis CalhernJean Hagen and in a very small but important role, Marilyn Monroe in one of her early films.

The supporting cast includes James Whitmore, Sam Jaffe, John McIntire, Marc Lawrence and Teresa Celli. 

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." It was also nominated for 4 Oscars (Best direction; Best Supporting Actor - Sam Jaffe; Best Cinematography - Black & White; and Best Writing - Screenplay). 

It is still regarded today as one of the most important and influential crime films ever made.

Although primarily shown in black and white, a computer colourised version of the film was shown on TV in the 1980s and 1990s. Here is a brief clip of Marilyn from the colourised version of the film: 

Marilyn Monroe

Re-issue poster giving Marilyn top
billing despite her small role
Marilyn Monroe appears as Angela Phinley, mistress of Alonzo D. Emmerich (played by Louis Calhern), whom she calls "Uncle Lon".

Marilyn was still an unknown at the time of the film's release. She had only appeared in a small number of films in very small roles. And although her name was not listed on the original poster, following her rise to fame, film posters were redesigned to include a prominent picture of her and even included her name. 

Despite appearing in the film for about 4 minutes, Marilyn steals the film from the very first shot of her laying on the couch. This film got her noticed by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who cast her in her next important role in 'All About Eve' (1950).

Use of sound rather than music

A technique which John Huston has used in this film, is to use sound rather than music. This technique is particularly effective during the 11 minute robbery sequence, adding to the naturalistic style of the film. There are moments of silence in between sounds of drilling, bricks smashing and dynamite exploding. We hear the police siren in the distance, which gradually gets louder and louder as the police car gets closer. This helps in building up suspense, and the viewer sympathises with the crooks, wanting them to get away.

The music score by Miklós Rózsa lasts for about 6 minutes. After the main titles,  there is no music until approx. 100 minutes into the film.

Did you know...

Marilyn Monroe as Angela Phinley
  • Georgia Holt (mother of Cher) was considered for the role of Angela Phinley
  • The role of Angela Phinley (played by Marilyn Monroe) was originally intended for Lola Albright
  • A spin-off TV series followed in 1961, lasting only 13 episodes
  • The film features the film debut of Jack Warden

Concluding remarks

The Asphalt Jungle is a great crime film, and definitely worth watching to see Marilyn Monroe in the role which first got her noticed.

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