Filmsite Movie Review
The Asphalt Jungle (1950)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
The Story (continued)

After he has had a night of sleep on the sofa in his own apartment, Doll mentions that Dix talks in his sleep, and she heard one word clearly: "Corncracker." He muses about his vivid love and warm memory of horses he rode as a boy (especially a "tall black colt" named Corncracker). He tells Doll two versions of a boyhood tale: one a falsified aggrandizement of his horse-riding skill, the other a more honest assessment. Trouble came in one "rotten year" - the family lost the farm, and more bad luck at the race track determined Dix's fate - a transfer to the city where he was cut off from his roots and therefore became an alienated, two-bit, horse-gambling hoodlum.

He tells sympathetic listener Doll about his family farm with horses grazing serenely in the bluegrass fields, his idea of the pure clean life after washing away the "city dirt," and his dreams of one day returning to and reclaiming (buying back) his family's Kentucky 160 acre horse farm in Boone County:

Dix: I was up on that colt's back. My father and grandfather were there, watching the fun. That colt was buck-jumpin' and pitchin' and once he tried to scrape me off against the fence, but I stayed with him, you bet. And then I heard my granddaddy say, 'He's a real Handley, that boy, a real Handley.' And I felt proud as you please.
Doll: Did that really happen, Dix, well, when you were a kid?
Dix: Not exactly. The black colt pitched me into a fence on the first buck and my old man come over and prodded me with his boot and said, 'Maybe that'll teach ya not to brag about how good you are on a horse'...One of my ancestors imported the first Irish thoroughbred into our county...Why our farm was in the family for generations, one hundred sixty acres - thirty in bluegrass and the rest in crops. A fine barn and seven brood mares...And then everything happened at once. My old man died and we lost our corn crop. That black colt I was telling you about, he broke his leg and had to be shot. That was a rotten year. I'll never forget the day we left. Me and my brother swore we'd buy Hickory Wood Farm back some day...Twelve grand would have swung it, and I almost made it once. I had more than five thousand dollars in my pocket and Pampoon was runnin' in the Suburban. I figured he couldn't lose. I put it all on his nose. He lost by a nose...The way I figure, my luck's just gotta turn. One of these days, I'll make a real killin' and then I'm gonna head for home. First thing I do when I get there is take a bath in the creek, and get this city dirt off me.

Dix pays off his gambling debt of $2,300 to Cobby in cash, who assures him that he should play his horse bets more smartly: "Save your money. The next time's a fix goin', I'll let you know." Doc Riedenschneider is impressed by Dix's cold-blooded temperament and reputation as a "hooligan" although Cobby tries to dissuade him from considering the small-time hood: "Little stick-ups, cigar stores, gas stations - and every cent goes to the ponies." Doc utters a philosophical truism:

One way or another, we all work for our vice.

Riedenschneider has heard rumors from his "dim-witted dame" of the previous evening that Mr. Emmerich may be in dire financial straits ("he's broke"), and he worries about the potential partner's viability: "Emmerich must put up before I can hire a crew." His lavish lifestyle has contributed to his bankruptcy: "He's got two houses, four cars, a half-a-dozen servants."

Lt. Ditrich visits Cobby and threatens his notorious patsy with jail-time, to make himself look good with the police commissioner. Cobby stuffs a wad of dough in his pocket to change his mind, and later assures Doc that the cop is both corrupt and trustworthy:

Doc: I can smell one [a cop] a block off.
Cobby: Oh, don't worry about Ditrich. He's on my payroll, practically a partner. Me and him - we're like that. (He holds up two fingers.)
Doc: (cynically and caustically) Experience has taught me never to trust a policeman. Just when you think one's all right, he turns legit.

In his city residence, Emmerich meets with Brannom after the detective has contacted all the debtors. None of them can pay up immediately according to empty-handed Brannom - to provide the cash for Emmerich's financial backing of $50,000 for Doc's burglary caper of Belletier's ("the biggest caper ever to be pulled in the Middle West"). Impoverished by his "whole way of life," Emmerich admits: "I gotta get out from under. And the irony of it is that I've got an opportunity - and I can't take it." The nearly-bankrupt lawyer lets Brannom in on his devious plan to double-cross the crooks - to promise to pay up shortly after the loot is delivered after the heist, but then disappear from the country with the jewels (and his mistress?):

I could tell them that I'd fence the stuff myself, you see, promise them cash on delivery. Then, when the time comes, I simply wouldn't have the cash, do you understand? I'd tell them it would take a few more days to raise it. I'm certain I could get them to leave the stuff with me while we're waiting...Well, then I'd disappear. I'd take a plane to another country, to another life. The gold and platinum, I could melt up and sell as bullion, you see. And the rocks - sell them one at a time. There'd be no hurry. They'd last a lifetime.

Brannom suggests, for a 50/50 split, a way to quickly raise the $50,000 start-up funds - ask Cobby to "dig up" the funds as an advance: "Cobby wants to feel big - here's his chance. Advancing money for the great Alonzo D. Emmerich...He'll sweat, but he'll do it."

In Cobby's company (he has already assented to serve as "paymaster" for Emmerich), Doc carefully interviews and recruits a trio of local, semi-professional criminals for the robbery. He chooses safecracker Louis Cavielli after thoroughly questioning and screening him about his skills:

Doc: What boxes have you opened?
Louis: Cannonball, double-door, even a few Firechests, all of 'em.
Doc: Can you open a vault with a time-lock and a re-locking device?
Louis: Sure.
Doc: What do you use? Lock or seam?
Louis: Seam...
Doc: How good are you as a pick-lock?
Louis: (boasting) I can open anything in four minutes.

The expert boxman is offered $15,000 down, $25,000 total for the job. As Cobby counts out the cash payment, his forehead is drenched with perspiration: "Money makes me sweat."

Both Cobby and Louis recommend Gus as the reliable wheelman or getaway driver: "He'll take all the heat and won't flap his lip." The chosen gunman is the Southerner - the tough killer "hooligan" Dix Handley. Doc describes drifter Dix as a possible hit-man: "He impressed me as a very determined man and far from stupid." Ciavelli disapprovingly describes hooligans:

I never saw a hooligan I did like. They're like left-handed pitchers, they all have a screw loose somewhere.

As "family man" Ciavelli leaves, he proudly shows Doc a picture of his young child and describes his rotten existence in the crime-ridden city:

If you want fresh air, don't look for it in this town.

Cobby is pleased with the choice of Handley: "You can get him for nickels and dimes."

The burglars plot out the timing of the heist and break-in over a diagram of the jewelry store early in the evening: they discuss Louis' descent down a manhole (at 11:45 pm later that evening) into an underground steam tunnel, the breaking through of the soft wall into the jewelry store's basement furnace room, the deactivation of alarms, and the opening up of the back door for Dix and Doc. At eleven thirty pm that same evening, the night of the theft, Emmerich's bedridden, insomniac, invalid wife May (Dorothy Tree) begs her husband to stay. She is starved for his company to talk or to play a card game of Casino, but he declines and leaves for his "business" engagement.

In a tense, memorable scene of the well-planned, authentically-executed crime (a long, eleven minute sequence), the criminals confidently carry out the jewel heist in a very calm and patient manner. Ciavelli climbs down into the manhole, walks along a tunnel-passageway filled with a labyrinth of piping, pounds his way with a chisel through a brick wall, climbs the basement stairs to the upstairs jewelry store, deactivates the outer door's alarm and lets his partners in, and then proceeds with them to the main safe. With extreme care, he slides flat on his back under the electric eye detection system, picks the gate's lock, drills holes into the safe's solid door, gingerly opens a corked bottle of "soup" (explosive nitroglycerin), and sets off a charge on Belletier's safe.

Things start to go wrong - the circuit to the burglar alarms in the district goes off from the explosive force of the blast. Unrattled, Doc smokes a cigar even though he should be panicking. Police cars with sirens blaring converge on the street outside to locate the source of the alarm, as they hurriedly finish the caper and dump the rocks into Doc's briefcase. When Handley slugs the store's nightwatchman and knocks his gun to the floor, it goes off and a bullet hits the safecracker in the stomach. Ciavelli insists that Gus take him home rather than to a doctor.

After one a.m., Dix and Doc immediately deliver the stolen gems to a worried and pacing Emmerich (waiting with an armed Brannom) at his second residence. As earlier decided, Emmerich claims, with his carefully-planned alibi, that he doesn't have the money to pay them, and suggests having the jewels entrusted to him while the money is raised:

Doc: I'd just like to see the color of the money.
Emmerich: Gentlemen, I must admit at this moment, I, uh, I'm embarrassed.
Doc: (astonished) You mean you haven't got the money, Mr. Emmerich!
Emmerich: Oh, I have it - that is, I have the assurance of it...No, I haven't got the currency right here in my hands. But it's promised by an unimpeachable source. Gentlemen, I'm afraid we were a little hasty. We, uh, we moved too fast...So I'm afraid a few days more are needed to raise it...It wouldn't be safe for you to carry that stuff around...They're certainly gonna be looking for the big-timers, like yourself. Some smart cop might even connect this burglary with your release. Well, there you are.

Emmerich's shakedown aide pulls a gun and demands the jewels when they don't buy the alibi. Dix and Doc both suspect that Emmerich and his private detective are sabotaging the fencing operation. There is an anxious standoff and shootout - when Doc tosses his satchel of jewels at Brannom, Handley shoots and kills Brannom with a bullet in the chest, but he is badly wounded on his right side. Dix sneers angrily and shouts at the sniveling Emmerich for his aborted double-cross, and threatens to shoot him too:

Are you a man, or what? Trying to gyp and double-cross with no guts for it. What's inside of you? What's keeping you alive?

Still, Doc argues for calmer heads to prevail, now that the diamonds are suddenly worthless: "We are in trouble with this satchel full of jewels. As things stand, it's just so much junk." A deal is made with Emmerich to dispose of the jewels. Doc proposes that the jewels be offered back to the jewelry store through the store's insurance company for 25% of their value:

They'll listen to reason. This is a very bad jolt for them. And it's possible they'll be willing to buy the jewels back, no questions asked, for as high as twenty-five percent of what they're worth.

Emmerich accepts the deal.

The reverberations of the heist are both tragic and deadly, and everything slowly unravels. At the Ciavelli home, Gus lies about the cause of Louis' gunshot wound, and denies him the care of a doctor, telling his wife Maria: "You take him to a hospital, they wheel him into an operating room. You'll never see him again." She projects her anger, blame and hate onto Gus and his physical deformity:

You dirty cripple, you crooked back!

To cover up for the murder in his residence, Emmerich disposes of Brannom's body in the river. Cobby commiserates about the failed robbery:

How can things go so wrong? How is it possible? One man killed, two others plugged. I'm out thirty grand. We got a load of rocks we can't even peddle...I must be awful stupid. Here I am with a good business, money rolling in, I-I gotta get mixed up in a thing like this. I ought to have my head examined.

The cops have deployed a dragnet of officers along the boulevard, and they arrest Gus. Needing cover the day after the heist, Doc and Dix hide out in an upstairs room at Donato's grocery store down by the river. Doc is phoned that Emmerich came through on the deal with the store's insurance company: "It's two hundred and fifty thousand, which is not bad." The same day, Emmerich is questioned by police, Detective Andrews (Don Haggerty) and Officer Janocek (James Seay) in his home, after they have found Brannom's corpse in the river with a list of Emmerich's debtors in his pocket (written on the lawyer's stationary). According to the cops, he was murdered - shot "about one or two o'clock this morning, not much after the Belletier job was pulled." They ask Emmerich about his whereabouts when he last saw Brannom - he remembers seeing the detective the previous Wednesday evening to discuss debt-collection. He denies that Brannom was mixed up in any "big-time" burglary and then shamefacedly confesses to being at his "cottage on the river" during the robbery with mistress Miss Phinlay: "She'll verify this, of course." When the detectives leave, he phones Angela and prompts her to provide an alibi to the police for his whereabouts the previous night: "Just politics, baby, good ol' dirty politics."

Recommencing the playing of cards at his crippled wife's bed-side, May questions the "awful" people her pale-faced husband deals with. The shallow-minded husband describes his associates to his wife (in a marriage that was a sham for twenty years) - he states that straights aren't much different than crooks:

May: Oh Lon, when I think of all those awful people you come in contact with, downright criminals, I get scared.
Emmerich: Oh, there's nothing so different about them. After all, crime is only a left-handed form of human endeavor.

At Donato's, Doc envisions reaching Mexico with its many attractions: "It's eight thousand feet up. The air is very pure. Many first class clubs and restaurants, a horse track, and girls, beautiful young girls." Wanting to return home to Kentucky and recapture the beauty of his childhood, Dix isn't interested in joining Doc to Mexico to retire. The police link Doc's release from prison with the heist ("somebody in the department with a few brains has decided I'm the guy"), and place his "wanted for theft" mug shots on the newspaper's front page, with headlines:


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