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

Day 2: Saturday Morning

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: "Corn Cracker." He muses about his vivid love and warm memory of horses he rode as a boy (especially a "tall black colt" named Corn Cracker).

He tells Doll two versions of a boyhood tale: one a falsified aggrandizement of his horse-riding skill, the other a more honest assessment. 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. 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:

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 killing 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.

[Note: The irony of Dix's statement, "one of these days, I'll make a real killing..." foreshadowed Sterling Hayden's future film with director Stanley Kubrick The Killing (1956) in which he played a major role as a similar crook named Johnny Clay who was planning a racetrack robbery.]

Dix pays off his gambling debt of $2,300 to Cobby in cash (rolled up with a rubber band), 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 describes how he heard rumors the previous evening from his "date" - a "dim-witted dame," about Emmerich. [Note: The previous evening, "Doc" was meeting with Emmerich and was not with a date.] He suspects that the lawyer might 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 and spending on Angela's every wish has contributed to his bankruptcy: "He's got two houses, four cars, a half-a-dozen servants. And one blonde."

Lt. Ditrich interrupts, gets a glimpse of "Doc" in his presence, and calls Cobby aside. He threatens his notorious patsy with jail-time, in order to make himself look good with the police commissioner ("You're the biggest parlor in my precinct. The citizens know it, and the newspapers know it, and even I know it. And that Mr. Commissioner knows I know it"). Cobby stuffs a wad of dough in his pocket to change his mind. Ditrich is convinced, but urges Cobby to "close up tight. Keep the place dark. Don't answer any phones."

When Cobby goes back into his office, he reassures Doc that the cop he has just paid-off 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.

Day 2: Saturday Mid-Day and Late Afternoon

In his two-story 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. Emmerich is devastated and blurts out: "I'm broke!" Brannom assumes that his problems are due to Emmerich's mistress: "How could you let a dame like Angela take you this way?"; instead, Emmerich blames his impoverished state on other things: "It's not Angela. It's everything. It's my 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 is desperate 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"). He 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." After some discussion, 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 9 month-old 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."

Doll surprises Dix by announcing that her stay is ending and that she has found another place to live: "Girlfriend of mine's leaving town, and she's letting me have her apartment. The rent's paid up till the first of the month....I can't go living off you forever, can I?" She refuses his offer of a few bucks to help out, but offers him a goodbye kiss, and her new address: 42 Merton Street. Dix receives a phone call from Cobby to meet for something "real big" at 10 pm that evening at Gus' place.

Day 2: Saturday Late Evening

Beginning at 10 pm, "Doc" meets up with the selected burglars to plot out the timing of the heist and break-in over a diagram of the jewelry store Belletier's; they discuss Louis' descent down a manhole (at 11:45 pm) 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 exactly 11:54 pm.

As Ciavelli leaves, he tells everyone: "See you tomorrow night, 11:30."

After the meeting breaks up, "Doc" speaks privately to Dix, explaining how he doesn't trust Emmerich to deliver. "Doc" implies that Dix will be his strong-arm if Emmerich doesn't fulfill his part of the agreed-upon plan and provide them with the money for the jewels immediately:

But it's up to us to collect, you and me....We'll meet Mr. Emmerich after the caper, deliver the jewelry and get our money. The payment is to be immediate and in cash. After that, we pay off and scatter.

Day 3: Sunday, Late Evening

At 11:30 pm the next evening, Emmerich is seen packing and planning to leave the country (with his passport) after the caper. His bedridden, insomniac, invalid wife May (Dorothy Tree) begs her husband to stay. Although there are three servants in the residence, she is starved for his company to talk or to play a card game of Casino ("like we used to...(in) the old days"), 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 back 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. As Ciavelli opens the internal safe, "Doc" asks: "What's that?" and Dix replies: "Hey, Doc, alarms are going off all over the block. The blast must've shook up the whole system."

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, open the internal smaller safe, and dump the rocks into Doc's briefcase - later than they had expected (due to Louis' broken drill).

Day 4: Monday, Very Early Morning

The store's night-watchman appears as scheduled at 12:15 am. After Handley slugs the watchman 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 1:00 am, Dix and Doc immediately deliver the heavy cache of stolen gems to a worried and pacing Emmerich (waiting with an armed Brannom), at Emmerich's other 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 Brannom 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." Emmerich escapes being shot by accepting a deal 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 to act as a go-between with the jewellers’ insurance company to sell the jewels back for a percentage of their value.

Day 4: Monday, Early Morning

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, fear, blame and hate onto Gus and his physical deformity - blaming him for all of her husband's troubles:

You dirty cripple, you crooked back!

Maria then apologizes: "I'm sorry, Gus, but I gotta blame somebody." Gus responds: "What I carry on my back, I was born with it. I didn't grow it myself." As a police siren wails in the background, Maria aptly describes it: "Sounds like a soul in hell."

To cover up for the murder in his residence, before dawn breaks, Emmerich disposes of Brannom's body by dumping it from a bridge into the river. Cobby commiserates with Doc and Dix 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.

Day 4: Monday Mid-Day

The cops have deployed a dragnet of officers along the boulevard, and soon after, they arrest Gus. Needing cover the day after the heist, Doc and Dix hide out in an upstairs room at a grocery story known as Donato's down by the river, run by Eddie Donato (Alberto Morin). Doc is phoned by Cobby 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 in his home while he is playing cards at his crippled wife's bed-side, Emmerich is visited by two police officers - Detective Andrews (Don Haggerty) and Officer Janocek (James Seay), who question him 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 the debt-collection. Emmerich denies that Brannom was mixed up in any "big-time" jewelry store 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 that he was at the cottage with her the previous night: "Just politics, baby, good ol' dirty politics."

Recommencing his game of cards with May, she 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.

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