The Asphalt Jungle appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.37:1 on this Blu-ray Disc.
Sharpness looked terrific. Only the slightest smidgen of softness ever interfered, and those instances virtually always related to the source material; otherwise the image was precise and well-defined. I saw no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes were absent.
Print flaws failed to appear. Grain could be somewhat heavy, but that was connected to the original photography and looked perfectly natural for a gritty old movie like this.
Blacks came across as deep and rich, while shadows seemed superb. The film opted for quite a few low-light interiors, and these demonstrated surprisingly solid clarity and definition. I felt totally satisfied with this strong presentation.
While not as impressive, the film’s LPCM monaural audio held up perfectly fine for its age. Speech worked well enough. The dialogue lacked notable edginess and remained intelligible and relatively warm along the way.
Music could be a little bright but appeared reasonably full, and effects fared the same way. Louder elements tended to be a tad distorted, but most effects were acceptable to good. The track didn’t show any source defects like noise or popping. Nothing here excelled, but this was a solid “B-“ mix given its era.
When we shift to extras, we start with an audio commentary from film historian Dr. Drew Casper. Recorded for a Warner Bros. 2004 DVD, Casper offers a running, screen-specific chat that also includes archival material with actor James Whitmore.
The piece covers aspects of the studio system in place at MGM and the movie's roots/development, cast and crew, story, characters and themes/interpretation, the work of director John Huston, music, genre elements and the film's reception. Whitmore throws in a handful of thoughts about his experiences, but Casper heavily dominates.
Casper throws out a good array of notes, but I think he focuses too much on analysis of the film. Some of that information works well, but I'd like more details about the production itself, especially because the commentary's opening discussion of MGM works so well. Still, even with ups and downs, this becomes a largely engaging chat.
More archival material comes via a brief interview with director John Huston - and I do mean brief, as the clip lasts a mere 50 seconds. Huston just gives us an overview of the story and characters in this fairly useless snippet.
With Pharos of Chaos, we find a 1983 documentary about actor Sterling Hayden. It runs one hour, 59 minutes and two seconds as it shows time the documentary crew spent with the actor not too long before his death.
Don’t expect a concise overview of Hayden’s life and career from “Chaos”. Instead, we get never-ending sequences in which an often drunk and apparently mentally-unbalanced Hayden babbles and rants. Sure, we get the occasional nugget about Hayden’s life and career, but most of the show focuses on his sad state of affairs toward the end of his life.
To what end? I don’t know, as I can’t figure out what the filmmakers hoped to achieve with “Pharos”. The documentary feels cruel and exploitative, as it does little more than show us how far Hayden fell.
Frankly, if there’s anything useful to take from “Pharos”, I can’t figure out what that might be. Hayden simply babbles and tells nonsensical stories about nothing, and the film also tosses in endless shots of the actor as he wanders aimlessly.
I was ready for this painful enterprise to end after 15 minutes, but I stayed through the whole two hours. I thought that perhaps the program would build toward a finish that tied up the film and gave it purpose.
This doesn’t really occur. Hayden does eventually talk a little about his career, but these nuggets add little. Add to that Hayden’s incessant verbal tics and “Pharos” becomes a difficult piece to watch that serves no purpose.
Next comes a 2016 interview with film historian Eddie Muller. In this 24-minute, 10-second piece, Muller discusses novelist WR Burnett and his work’s adaptation as well as Huston’s approach to the material and various production notes. Muller delivers a solid overview of these movie topics and makes this a good synopsis.
Another modern clip, we find a 2016 chat with cinematographer John Bailey. This reel lasts 20 minutes, 12 seconds and provides his thoughts about the visual styles favored by Huston, with an emphasis on the photography of Jungle. Bailey delivers an insightful take on the material.
From October 1979, an episode of City Lights looks at John Huston. In the 48-minute, 28-second show, Huston talks with host Brian Linehan about his life and career. I can’t claim Huston reveals a ton of useful notes, but I like this chance to hear him look back on aspects of his work.
By the way, SCTV fans may enjoy City Lights because Martin Short lampooned the series. And he did so well – going into Lights, I didn’t realize it was the inspiration for SCTV’s “Stars in One”.
However, after about 30 seconds, I realized that Linehan inspired Martin’s character. As an old SCTV lover, it’s fun to see the reality behind “Stars In One”.
The Huston Method delivers a short compilation of audio interviews with the director. The clips last a total of six minutes, one second and cover Huston’s approach to movie-making. Though general, Huston’s comments add a few interesting thoughts.
In addition to the film’s trailer, we get a booklet. This foldout piece provides photos, credits and an essay from critic Geoffrey O’Brien. It concludes the package well.
Unusually character driven for a “heist movie”, The Asphalt Jungle uses its expository time well. It also comes to life with excitement when necessary to create a vivid, involving drama. The Blu-ray boasts excellent picture along with age-appropriate audio and a mostly positive roster of bonus materials. As both film and Blu-ray, this Criterion release satisfies.