Doc Erwin Riedenschneider (Sam Jaffe) has just gotten out of prison and already has a master plan for his next heist. Doc goes sees bookie Cobby (Marc Lawrence) and Cobby introduces Doc to high priced lawyer Alonzo Emmerich (Louis Calhern) who has been dabbling in other activities on the side.
Doc needs some money in advance, $50,000 to be precise to hire three men to help pull off a million dollar jewelry heist. Emmerich agrees to give Doc the money for a piece of the action but instead of using a fence for the jewels Emmerich insists on cutting out the middle man and letting him fence the loot.
The three men that Doc needs for the job are a box man, a driver and a hooligan. The box man (safe cracker) Louie Ciavelli (Anthony Caruso) will only use Gus Minissi (James Whitmore) as the driver and Gus is friends with Dix Handley (Sterling Hayden) who fills the role of the hooligan (the muscle). Dix needs the job so he can finally buy back his family farm. Dix also has a girl, Doll (Jean Hagen), who loves him no matter what.
The job was meticulously planned and almost goes off perfectly except that while cracking the safe Louie accidentally used too much explosive and sets off the alarms of the nearby businesses. While fleeing with their loot, Dix kills a guard and Louie accidentally gets shot. To make matters worse Emmerich is broke and doesn’t have their money, he’s planning a double cross.
Made in 1950 by writer/director John Huston The Asphalt Jungle helped change the crime/heist genre. Huston told a crime story with criminals and made them sympathetic without letting them get away the crime (one of the rules of the production code at the time). The movie would go on to influence several crime films including the masterpiece 1955 Rififi. The Asphalt Jungle also helped kick off the acting careers of Sterling Hayden and in a supporting role as Emmerich’s mistress, Marilyn Monroe.