Heist movies are my comfort food. The first third is the gathering of the crew. The next chunk is the planning stage. Lastly is the heist itself and the coda. This is how these films are written. But can you imagine what it would be like to see the very first one of those that was ever made. How fresh and thrilling that would be? The Asphalt Jungle is that film. But it does something a bit different. The first third is indeed the gathering of the crew. Their reasons for pulling the caper - the clash of personalities, etc. But the second third is simply the heist. John Huston films this as an eleven minute, real-time experience. It’s quite riveting - even almost seventy years later. Then the final third is the aftermath. What happens to each of the characters after the crime is committed. And that’s what makes it really special. What these men do or don’t do that cause their downfall. Crime doesn’t pay here - and it’s fascinating to see how that all comes to fruition. The Asphalt Jungle deserves to be the granddaddy of all heist films.
The Killing, one of Stanley Kubrick’s early films, is another heist film. It stars Sterling Hayden, who, if you don’t know already, is also in The Asphalt Jungle. He’s great in both - playing two flawed, but completely different characters. The Killing is brilliant because it plays with the chronology of events. Now, we’ve seen this many times since then - Memento being my personal favorite. But again, imagine if you haven’t seen that before in a heist film. That’s what Kubrick does. The film is smaller, tighter than Asphalt, and that gives it a nerve-wracking tension. There are weird moments in it also, the pro-wrestler fight bit near the end is just off - but I’ll forgive that moment. Maybe Kubrick wanted to throw a laugh or two into the proceedings. Timothy Carey, who is just one of the oddest actors ever, plays a creep who barely moves his lips when he talks. I’m convinced Benicio del Toro channelled him when he acted in The Usual Suspects. And, lastly, the very end is just so damned good. I’ve mentioned it before as one of my favorite movie endings ever. Boom, it’s over.
Two great heist films that still seem fresh today. But imagine if you had seen them when they first came out. I’m sure it was an amazing experience. The Asphalt Jungle and The Killing - two classic B & W film noirs that you should see. Happy Heisting!