Movie Diary 1/31/2018

The Asphalt Jungle (John Huston, 1950). A good movie to revisit every few years. It gets more exquisitely fatalistic each time, although the fault is always in our selves. The way Louis Calhern plays the scene where he doesn’t have the money when Sterling Hayden and Sam Jaffe come with the stolen diamonds is an absolute master class. But then so is the entire film.

The Badlanders (Delmer Daves, 1958). A free-handed Western remake of The Asphalt Jungle (both based on W.R. Burnett’s novel). Alan Ladd plays Jaffe’s mastermind character, here called the Dutchman, and Ernest Borgnine plays Hayden’s role, the plain-spoken hooligan. After being released from prison, they both head to a mining town and yank big bags of gold out of an unused mine. Very vigorously directed by Daves, and the heist sequence is quite striking. The film settles for sentiment and the triumph of the little guy against the corporation (also the triumph of exploited Mexican laborers over the white bosses), in contrast to Asphalt Jungle‘s ironies. Ladd looks bad (he was only in his mid-40s), but he catches a humor that is really quite engaging, including a moment where he is asked to hoist a hatbox over a transom and takes a moment to savor his vertically-challenged position – audiences of the time must have chuckled over the joke. One thing the film has going for it is a developed relationship between the hooligan and his hooker girlfriend; Katy Jurado is touching in the role, and Borgnine brings pathos. Widescreen photography by John Seitz. Weirdly, the music seems to consist of recycled themes from other movies.

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