Rediscovered: W. R. Burnett on Defund the Police

A few weeks ago I finally got around to reading the heist-gone-wrong classic The Asphalt Jungle from 1949 by W. R. Burnett.

With his first novel in 1929, Little Caesar, Burnett made his name. A cornerstone of crime fiction, the 1931 Warner’s movie version gave Edward G. Robinson his star-making role. “Mother of God, is this the end of Rico?”

Jungle rolled right into the film production mix, of course, with the 1950 version directed by John Huston. Early Marilyn Monroe. Saw it years ago.

In the novel, the planning, assembly of the crew, botched robbery and aftermath, remain definitive. Poetic descriptions of the rainswept metropolis, the alleys and dives, underscore a mastery of craft.

The flaw for me in Jungle are the various scenes centered on the police commissioner, which only slow the action. If I ever reread the book I’ll skip those pages as I come to them and get on to the meat.

However, I did notice some lines by the commish that might interest some of you, where he says:

“The worst police force in the world is better than no police force. . . . Take the police off the streets for forty-eight hours, and nobody would be safe, neither on the street, nor in his place of business, nor in his home. . . . We’d be back in the jungle. . . .”

Yeah, the asphalt jungle. . . .

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