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Thieves' Highway (The Criterion Collection)
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The rugged world of long-haul trucking knits perfectly with classic film noir dynamics in this sizzling, underrated picture. Navy veteran Richard Conte returns home to California, only to plunge into a revenge scenario and a scheme to haul the season's first apples to the teeming San Francisco fruit market (a place seen as a nocturnal jungle for the survival of the fittest). Lee J. Cobb enjoys himself enormously as the chiseling boss at the Frisco market, Millard Mitchell is wry as Conte's angle-playing trucking partner, and Valentina Cortese adds a bright, sexy exoticism to the multi-layered duplicitous dame. Director Jules Dassin, in his last American-shot film before blacklisting, shows his expressive abilities with shadowy interiors and road-movie exteriors alike. The punchy screenplay by A.I. Bezzerides, whose trucking experiences also fueled They Drive by Night, is a textbook case for the complexities of pulp--not apples, fiction. --Robert Horton
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Top Customer Reviews
Some tense scenes between Conte and Cobb, doesn't get any better than this with two pro-actors trading jabs.
A classic noir from Dassin!
Under the production staff of:
Jules Dassin [Director]
A.I. Bezzerides [Novel & Screenplay]
Robert Bassler [Producer]
Alfred Newman [Original Score]
Norbert Brodine [Cincmatographer]
Nick DeMaggio [Film Editor]
1. Jules Dassin [Director]
Date of Birth: 18 December 1911 - Middletown, Connecticut
Date of Death: 31 March 2008 - Athens, Greece
2. Richard Conte
Date of Birth: 24 March 1910 - Jersey City, New Jersey
Date of Death: 15 April 1975 - Los Angeles, California
3. Lee J. Cobb [aka: Leo Jacoby]
Date of Birth: 8 December 1911 - New York City, New York
Date of Death: 11 February 1976 - Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California
the cast includes:
Richard Conte ... [Nick Garcos]
Valentina Cortese ... [Rica (as Valentina Cortesa)]
Lee J. Cobb ... [Mike Figlia]
Barbara Lawrence ... [Polly Faber]
Jack Oakie ... [Slob]
Millard Mitchell ... [Ed Kinney]
SPECIAL FEATURES [BONUS]:
1. New, restored high-definition digital transfer
2. Audio commentary by Alain Silver, editor of Film Noir Reader and author of Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles
3. New video interview with Jules Dassin
4.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Silver does a great job of pointing out the thousand details that make the movie work as a movie, the turns of plot that are typical of film noir, the use of darkness and shadow, the framing of scenes and placement of the actors, etc., etc.
Other reviewers have put in their vote for the quality of Thieves' Highway as a compelling and well made movie. I'd like to add my plug for the commentary track. In addition to being darn good entertainment, this is a movie that rewards careful examination and thoughtful reflection. Silver's comments are terrific guide to that reward.
The documentary clip tells us Bezzerides worked as a trucker for a while, and I believe it. This one feels like it was written from the inside. Nick, along with veteran trucker Ed Prentiss (Millard Mitchell) buys a load, a first-of-the-season load, of golden delicious apples and points his truck towards San Francisco and an appointment with Figlia. Trailing them is a couple of mercenary truckers played by Jack Oakie and Joseph Pevney. In San Francisco Nick will meet the good bad-girl Rica (Valentina Cortesa,) who will play a pivotal role in the fight between Nick and Figlia.
This is Jules Dassin's last American film, and it's a beauty. There are some great shots - Rica being chased through a dark alley, a loaded truck rolling over and spilling its load over a wide-angle hillside - and more than a few outstanding performances. What sets this one apart, and above, most of its competitors is the realistic treatment it applies to the characters. Save for Figlia, who is pure evil, the people in this one grow and change and shift allegiances. Film historian Alain Silver provides a pertinent and informative commentary.
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.
Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) returns to his family after traveling the world as a sailor, bearing gifts from abroad for everyone, including an engagement ring for his girlfriend Polly (Barbara Lawrence). But he finds that his father was crippled in an accident shortly after a San Francisco wholesaler, Mike Figlia (Lee. J. Cobb), got him drunk and neglected to pay him for a load of tomatoes. Determined to avenge his father's injuries, Nick visits Ed Kinney (Millard Mitchell), who now owns his father's truck. Ed proposes that Nick go in with him in purchasing 2 loads of the first crop of golden delicious apples, which they can truck to the city and sell at great profit. Nick agrees, as long as the city is San Francisco. Nick arrives in San Francisco several hours before Ed, and finds out quickly that Figlia plays dirty.
Lee J. Cobb and Richard Conte both turn in charismatic, emotionally energetic performances. Conte, something of a sex symbol of the day, plays Nick as a determined, tough, and angry proletarian hero, whose determination almost turns to mania. Lee J. Cobb is really something to see. He embraces Figlia's villainy and seems to be having a great time being a liar and a crook. Figlia's unhesitant corruption is captivating. The female characters are to some extent plot devices, but they're not easily forgotten. Italian actress Valentina Cortesa plays Rica, a woman employed by Figlia. Rica initially has all the markings of a femme fatale. She is very forward, mocking, world-weary, but somehow sympathetic as we get the impression she is used to being treated badly and expects nothing else. The audience is clearly supposed to dislike Nick's fiancée Polly. But she is only looking out for her interests, and Barbara Lawrence was so good at playing self-possessed but unlikable women.
The DVD (Criterion Collection 2005): This is a digitally restored print of the film. Bonus features include 2 featurettes, a theatrical trailer (2 minutes), and an audio commentary. "Dessin Interview" (10 minutes) is a recent interview with Jules Dessin in which he talks about story, cast, and making the film. "The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides" (4 minutes) is a trailer for an as yet unfinished documentary about Bezzerides. It includes some interview footage with the author. The audio commentary is by author and film noir theorist Alain Silver, who delivers a nonstop scene-by-scene analysis of the film's style, themes, characters, and comparisons to the book. The commentary is packed with information, and there is a scene index for the commentary as well as the film.