Vultures prey upon the dead, as they are a vital part of the ecosystem that helps with environmental sanitization. Humans, however, are a different story, as they prey upon the living, the dead, and sometimes kill to accomplish their desired result. The reasons to why a person would go to great lengths to achieve desired results varies from person to person, but it often has to do with money. Jules Dassin's story Theives' Highway is an illustration of humans and their greed, which appears to be the motivation factor to break the compassionate fabric of moral value, ethics, and kindness in the true spirit of film noir.
Unlike film noir Thieves' Highway opens with Nick Garcos' (Richard Conte) homecoming during a sunny afternoon accompanied by hearing his father singing in the kitchen. Nick has brought presents to all of his family members and a bundle of money, which he has earned in order to settle down. The money should help Nick get married to Polly (Barbara Lawrence) and go into business with her father. However, this joyous moment is suddenly halted, as Nick finds out that his father has lost his legs.
Nick's father informs him of how he lost his legs, as he had done business with a certain Mr. Figlia (Lee J. Cobb). The story that Nick hears makes him cringe in anger, as he understands that Mr. Figlia had set up his dad through a dubious plan. When Nick heard the whole story he decides to return to his father's truck, as the man, Ed Prentiss (Millard Mitchell), who bought it had not yet paid for the truck. However, Nick goes into business with Ed and together they pick up some Golden Delicious apples that he intends to take to Mr. Figlia.
The life of a trucker means long hours, deadly and financial dangers, and very little sleep, as life on the road cuts between the driver and their family while they try to find a way to make a buck for their near and dear. Nick decides that this is what he wants to do, as Ed and he pick up two trucks full of apples in Fresno. The apples are to be taken to the wholesale produce market in San Francisco, which is described as a 36-hour drive.
In San Francisco the audience gets to follow Nick on his quest to find Mr. Figlia, an idea that never seemed to be fully thought through. Eventually he finds him and discovers that he is the man that he suspected him to be, a ruthless businessman that shows no consideration for anyone. The only thing that he seems to care about is the money he makes, which he is not willing to part with.
They Drive by Night (1940) offers a similar cinematic experience as Dassin's film, as it also depicts the struggles of truck drivers. However, Raoul Walsh's story is more glamorous, as the tale slowly drifts away from the tough life of being a truck driver. Dassin's story focuses on the job and on the characters within the environment in which they exists. They cannot escape to a better place, as it is their destiny to be where they are while they have to make the most out of it
A valuable side note is that the year after Thieves' Highway was released Jules Dassin was identified as communist by Edward Dmytryk, which made him blacklisted. As a result Hollywood lost one of their most promising directors and Dassin decided moved to France where he continued to make films. He made great films such as Rififi (1955) and Never on Sunday (1960). In the awareness of Dassin being blacklisted the audience gets to experience the films he made prior being blacklisted, which have terrific cinematic value. Thieves' Highway is one of these films that he left for coming generations to enjoy and ponder.