The Movie Waffler Blu-Ray Review - <i>THIEVES' HIGHWAY</i> (1949) | The Movie Waffler

Blu-Ray Review - THIEVES' HIGHWAY (1949)

Jules Dassin's gritty truckin' drama hits blu-ray from Arrow Films.

Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Jules Dassin

Starring: Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese, Lee J. Cobb

"Thieves' Highway is a movie in which 'cost' takes on dual meanings - financial and human - and unlike most films noir, the protagonist's loss of money makes for a positive outcome here. The film deserves the recognition of Dassin's more popular work."

Arrow Films have previously awarded blu-ray releases to a trio of films by director Jules Dassin - Rififi, Brute Force and The Naked City - and they now add a fourth in the form of 1949's Thieves' Highway (scripted by AI Bezzerides from his novel Thieves' Market), a lesser known title that deserves the recognition of Dassin's more popular work.
After serving a stretch as a ship's mechanic, Nick Garcos (the ever affable Richard Conte) returns home to small town California, weighed down with gifts for his Greek parents (Morris Carnovsky and Tamara Shayne) and his WASPy sweetheart Polly (Barbara Lawrence). When he presents his old man with a pair of slippers, Nick discovers his father has lost his legs. A long haul trucker, Nick's pop was swindled out of a deal by produce wholesaler Mike Figlia (the great Lee J Cobb in one of his first substantial roles), who plied him with drink, causing him to crash his vehicle. Initially attempting to retrieve his father's truck from haulier Ed Kinney (Millard Mitchell), who hasn't made any payments, Nick is convinced to join Ed on a trip to buy two truckloads of golden delicious apples. Nick later arrives in the San Francisco market, where he encounters Figlia, who, with the aid of Italian hooker Rica (Valentina Cortese, billed here as 'Cortesa'), attempts to cheat Nick, just like he did his old man.
Something we've lost to a large degree in modern movies are stories that provide an insight into a particular world- in this case the milieu of fresh produce wholesaling. It doesn't sound like the most exciting backdrop for a movie, does it? But the verisimilitude of Dassin and Bezzerides' work here plunges us into the middle of this world, and makes it thoroughly fascinating. You may never eat an apple again after viewing Thieves' Highway, given a glimpse into this nasty, backstabbing trade. Here, men treat the humble fruit like some Sierra Madrean treasure, driven to extremes of violence and personal risk-taking. Early on, Kinney attempts to cheat a family of Polish apple growers by leaving them $300 short of the agreed price. As the patriarch angrily pulls crates off Kinney's truck, we see apples roll down the hill towards the man's children. Later, this image is repeated when Kinney's rickety truck finally gives up and careens wildly off the road, spilling its golden load across a field.
Given the role it plays in all of our lives, it's odd how few movies address the subject of money. Thieves' Highway is explicit in its examination of the corrupting influence of cash. When Nick arrives home in the opening scene, he spills a wad of cash onto the kitchen table. The notes are crisp, fresh and smooth. Later, he hands over the same money to Kinney to pay the Polish apple grower, who crumples up the cash in disgust upon realising he's been swindled. Every time we see money for the remainder of the film, the notes are crumpled, their sheen lost by the dealings that acquired them. Nick's girlfriend, Polly, is similarly bitten by the greedy bug. Initially Nick presents her with a gift of a geisha doll (an early hint at his later relationship with Rica) and her face betrays her disappointment. When she discovers the doll conceals the real gift, an engagement ring, Polly blurts out, "It must have cost you a fortune!" Thieves' Highway is a movie in which 'cost' takes on dual meanings - financial and human - and unlike most films noir, the protagonist's loss of money makes for a positive outcome here.
The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides is an engrossing hour long look at the career of Thieves' Highway's screenwriter, a classic old school tough working class scribe, clad in docker's hat, who recounts his life through a series of interviews.
In The Fruits of Labour, film noir expert Frank Krutnik discusses the film's background and themes. Krutnik also provides commentary tracks for three key scenes.
A trailer, image gallery, reversible sleeve and booklet with an essay by Alastair Phillips (co-author of 100 Film Noirs) completes another great Arrow package.