47 FILMS: 55. THE ASPHALT JUNGLE

In our increasingly innumerate series of 47 films to see before you are murdered in your dreams, we present John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle.

Noir doesn’t get much more Noir than this. John Huston’s crime thriller is dark, doomed, and damned beautiful. Sterling Hayden plays Dix Handley, a career criminal who gets caught up in a robbery job master minded by a recently released criminal genius Doc (Sam Jaffee).

The plan is smart, ingenious in points, but cupidity and stupidity and the vagaries of chance will stymie mere intelligence at every turn. And so it proves here.  The criminals themselves are their own worst enemies, not only in terms of their penchant for double crossing, but even their humanity and loyalty will act against their best interests. 

Hayden is amazing as a thug with a heart of gold. There’s something seething in his proletarian criminal, ready to burst into violence at the drop of a fedora.

Marilyn Monroe has a small role that cigarette burns through the screen. Huston directs everything with an eye to the severe austere beauty of black and white.

This is an art film that brings alive the economically deprived urban margins of postwar America with a street photographer’s skill. Compare with his first film The Maltese Falcon and you’ll see a director who’s matured and is more interested in the rooms and the streets than the plots and capers his doomed characters wish to pull.

For more of our 47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams CLICK HERE.

47 FILMS: 13. FAT CITY

In our continuing series of  ’47 Films to see before you’re murdered in your dreams’, we look at John Huston’s grimly brilliant boxing picture Fat City.

The fact of the matter is there have been more decent Boxing pictures than there have been decent boxing matches and John Huston’s Fat City is one of the best. Stacey Keach is the man who wakes up in his underwear in a flea pit boarding house, his bottle down to the dregs and unable to find a light. As Kris Kristoferson – who was legally required to write a song for every US film from 1971 to 1974 – croons about headaches, Billy Tully (Keach) stumbles out onto the street and heads for the gym where he is hoping to perhaps pick up the pieces. Here he meets young Ernie (Jeff Bridges) and the two spar. Tully’s comeback seems already over when he pulls a muscle but on his advice, Ernie goes to the local gym where he is taken on by Tully’s old coach Ruben (Nicholas Colasanto, who played coach in Cheers).

This is no Rocky, or Million Dollar Baby, or Raging Bull, or Southpaw. Those films all follow a similar trajectory, a rise and fall. They all perceive their particular fighter as in some way special – a contender. In Fat City, both Ernie and Tully are nothing special, except for the novelty that they’re white fighting among the black and Mexicans who make up the circuit. Ernie is particularly inept as a boxer and gets himself knocked out in his first bout, his nose broken badly in the next. When he does win a fight by a decision, we don’t even see it. Tully’s belated comeback fight is a brutal affair against another old fighter who is a similarly aging slugger and who pisses blood before the fight.

This is John Steinbeck country, or something Charles Bukowski might have written if he’d stopped for a second writing books about himself. Poor Californians – both Ernie and Tully end up fruit picking at one point – along with the poverty and possible brain damage, Tully has the additional abuse of alcoholism to contend with and a relationship with fellow boozer Oma (a magnificent Susan Tyrell), who for a moment gives him companionship but ultimately torments him. Ernie also has a girl Faye (Candy Clarke) and things seem more hopeful when he gets her pregnant and marries her.

Adapted from his own novel by Leonard Gardner, Fat City is a film that refuses the glamour of the usual boxing pic. There’s no escape from poverty – Cinderella Man – there’s no redemption or defeating of demons, no glory and no glamour. In the end there’s a brutal honesty and a small perfect epic about the losers who never get to Fat City.

 For more of our ’47 Films to see Before you are Murdered in your Dreams’ Click Here.

THE ORSON WELLES DIARIES II

 

March 17th,1942

The preview screening of The Magnificent Ambersons was an unmitigated disaster. Not only did several members of the audience fall asleep but a loutish city type approached me after the credits, unbuttoned his fly, and proceeded to urinate on my handmade Italian brogues.
As the scallywag was relieving himself I considered grabbing him by his lapels, marching him out into the alley and subjecting his ears to a severe boxing and yet part of me respected his unorthodox protest.

I recalled a quote from Churchill who said “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” Wise words indeed dear Winston, though I suspect you might not have been so eloquent if you were writing that line in boots sodden with piss.

I had roast Poulet with Paprika for supper followed by a generous slice of Treacle Tart.

March 22nd,1942

Bogart and Huston invited me to a game of Poker and after several hours and several more glasses of Scotch I found myself holding a Royal Flush. I placed a small but inciting wager, and I was delighted when Huston decided to place the remainder of his chips in the middle of the table and invite me to call.

I nonchalantly revealed my winning hand and John immediately took umbrage. “You’re a lousy cheating bastard Welles”, he said bitterly. I gave a wry smile and casually called the waiter over. “Champagne for everyone” I exclaimed “, “And make sure it’s a cheap bottle. Mr. Huston seems to enjoy the taste of sour grapes.”

The Moussaka I had for supper was a little too lubricious but the Lemon Sorbet cleansed my palate sufficiently.

March 28th,1942

I spent the afternoon watching William Wyler’s Mrs Miniver starring Greer Garson and Walter Pigeon before returning home to find Rita splayed on the bed wearing her finest lingerie. I decided to indulge, as any hot-blooded man would; but all the while I was wondering what aspect ratio William had used on Miniver? It was only when Rita and I reached the apex of our lovemaking that I determined it was definitely 1.37:1.

I had several Hamburgers for lunch that were exceptionally unpleasant, but the strudel was so divine I am considering writing to the Pope in order to have it canonised.

REMAKE WATCH: VICTORY

LONDON – Francis Ford Coppola‘s long awaited Escape to Victory reboot will replace soccer with golf.

The original John Huston original from 1981 featured a Michael Caine and Sylvester Stallone who team up with a cast of similar non-actors, in the form of professional footballers: Ozzie Ardelese and Pelé and who have to plan an escape (via soccer) to victory, or possibly instant recapture and firing squad. Max Von Sydow, an actual actor, played the sympathetic Nazi commandant.

For Coppola, the gestation of his remake actually began in 1968, before the original was even thought of. ‘I always wanted to remake a film called Escape to Victory,’ the bearded vintner squirmed. ‘But until 1981, no such film existed.’

‘A disgrace to the noble art of adultery’


Defending his tampering with the original story – which was ludicrous enough already – Coppola took out a gun and started firing at the journalists. Once disarmed, he argued more cogently and legally, ‘Golf if a traditional Prussian game and it will give the POWs more scope to escape. I have a hilarious scene where one of the Nazis kills himself in a bunker, a sand bunker (or sand trap). Okay maybe it isn’t that funny.’

Tom Hardy will play the Michael Caine role, Michael Caine will play the Sylvester Stallone role and Tiger Woods will play the Pelé role. All the ‘actors’ will be shaving their body hair in preparation for filming due to begin in 2015.