|The Asphalt Jungle (1950)/ John Huston|
At their most vital, Huston’s films are about the nature of ambition. His is a conservative view of it: he looks at ambition as a fallacious occurrence, and at his most vindictive, as an act worthy of condemnation. Huston seems to believe that each man has been pre-assigned a role, and that it is imperative that he honour the demands the role makes out of him. It is the approach of a right-winger, also of a Catholic conservative; which is strange because Huston’s approach to cinematic form is that of a noninterventionist. His ‘aesthetic’ is defined by a lack of one, because as it stands, his body of work features films that are directed by a free-hand, a liberal artist. As such, his what is always at loggerheads with his how. Huston applies a radical aesthetic to conservative matter. No film of his is more symptomatic of such contempt for unhealthy ambition than his best, The Treasure of Sierra Madre, but then again, one could argue that Bogart always had it coming. He deserved it, and the shock-ending to his character was justifiable moral retribution. In his latter film, The Asphalt Jungle, however, no character deserved their eventual fate – most of them only victims of circumstance, or as Huston would have it, victims of man’s worst vice – ambition (interchangeable in a Huston film with desire). Hayden’s character Dix Handley has only one sole ambition – that to resettle in his backwater hometown and lead a quiet life – and it comes under strict Hustonian ridicule. He is supposed to lead an entire life as a low-life, a peddler on the streets of the city, with no hope of either quite or a life, and thus, such violation of the rules set by his supposed role can onlylead to stern punishment in a Huston film. He is what Tully in Fat City is, or Johnny Rocco in Key Largo is – men who are victims of their own ambition.