Thieves' Highway

"Excellent"

Thieves' Highway Review


If one were to imagine a list of promising setups for films, the one that backgrounds Jules Dassin's 1949 film Thieves' Highway - a pair of men racing to get a load of apples to market - would be near the bottom... and yet Dassin pulls it off, with a vengeance.

Army vet Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) has just come back to his hometown of Fresno, bringing with him presents that he acquired working as a mechanic on a ship in the Far East. Everyone's happy to see him and receive his shower of gifts and cash from his beaming-with-pride parents to his extremely blonde girlfriend Polly (Barbara Lawrence), who's upset initially to only receive a doll and then beams with joy when Nick points out the ring the doll is holding. Then Nick mentions the Mandarin slippers that he brought for his dad and everyone goes quiet. Turns out there's a reason that his dad hasn't stood up since Nick got home, he delivered a truckload of produce to a produce dealer in San Francisco, Mike Figlia, who refused to pay, got Papa Garcos roaring drunk, and sent him on the road, where he crashed and had to have his legs amputated. Nick vows to get even if he has to "gouge the money out of Mike Figlia's corpse."

But as this is far from a straight-arrow kind of film, Nick doesn't just hightail it to the Bay Area to exact revenge, he has to find a way to gouge Figlia financially as well. So he hooks up with Ed (Millard Mitchell), a Fresno guy with a connection to a harvest of golden delicious apples - which will go for a high price in San Francisco - and the two of them concoct a scheme whereby they'll drive a pair of trucks up there, 36 hours straight, and make a killing. Then Nick will get what Figlia owes his dad. To say things don't go according to plan would be an understatement. Nick gets a flat tire and is almost crushed trying to fix it, while Ed's truck is a wheezing heap of junk that barely makes each hill, and he's got a pair of drivers on his tail, looking to get a piece of the apple action. Once in San Francisco, Nick finds Figlia (a cigar-chomping, corkscrew crooked Lee J. Cobb) all right, but being somewhat wet behind the ears, it's not long before he's getting scammed by the same guy that scammed his dad.

This is not just a drama about the lengths a man will go to in order to get revenge, it's about capitalism as blood sport. Practically everyone in Thieves' Highway is a chiseller or operator to some degree, from Ed trying to cheat a poor farmer on his apples, to Polly's nakedly mercenary attachment to Nick, to Figlia's relentless scheming and haggling. There's little room for love, though plenty for badinage, as with the introduction of Rica (Valentina Cortese), the Italian hooker who entices Nick back to her flophouse room (being paid to do so by Figlia) and whom Nick tells, "You look like chipped glass." Even in a cast as effortlessly talented (and little-known today) as this, Cortese stands out. Jaggedly beautiful and yet possessed of a warm wit, she fluctuates from animal seduction to cozy repartee in the blink of an eye. "Soft hands," Nick tells her. "Sharp nails," she replies.

A film that could literally never be made today (truckers? apples?), Thieves' Highway is a tight, taut, no-nonsense piece of work that functions equally well as revenge drama, moral fable, and no-holds-barred condemnation of dog-eat-dog capitalism.

The Criterion Collection DVD of Thieves' Highway contains a restored, high-definition digital transfer of the film, audio commentary by film noir historian Alain Silver, and an interview with Dassin. It's not quite the full monty, as Criterion discs go, but given the exceptional quality of the film itself (fullscreen only), that's hardly a complaint.

Now how about that shot?



Thieves' Highway

Facts and Figures

Run time: 94 mins

In Theaters: Monday 10th October 1949

Distributed by: Criterion Collection

Production compaines: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 6

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Nick Garcos, as Rica, as Mike Figlia, as Polly Faber, as Slob, as Ed Kinney, as Pete, as Yanko Garcos, Tamara Shayne as Parthena Garcos, as Mrs. Polansky, the Apple Farmer's Wife, Norbert Schiller as Mr. Polansky, the Apple Farmer, Hope Emerson as Midge, a buyer

Also starring:

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Cars 3 Movie Review

Cars 3 Movie Review

It's been six years since the last Cars movie (there were two Planes movies in...

The Beguiled Movie Review

The Beguiled Movie Review

In her inimitable loose style, Sofia Coppola remakes the 1971 Clint Eastwood movie from a...

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

War for the Planet of the Apes Movie Review

The surprisingly thoughtful prequel trilogy comes to a powerful conclusion with this robust, dramatic thriller,...

It Comes At Night Movie Review

It Comes At Night Movie Review

This sharply original horror film not only approaches its premise from an unexpected angle, but...

Okja Movie Review

Okja Movie Review

As Tilda Swinton reteams with her Snowpiercer director, Korea's Bong Joon Ho, it's perhaps unsurprising...

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

Spider-Man: Homecoming Movie Review

This may be the third reboot of this franchise in 15 years, risking audience exhaustion,...

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Despicable Me 3 Movie Review

Actually the fourth film in the series (don't forget the prequel Minions), this animated super-villain...

Advertisement
Baby Driver Movie Review

Baby Driver Movie Review

Wildly energetic and so cool it hurts, this action movie has been put together in...

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

All Eyez On Me Movie Review

There's a clear sense that this Tupac Shakur biopic is hoping to build on the...

Hampstead Movie Review

Hampstead Movie Review

Deliberately appealing to older audiences, this undemanding comedy-drama comes with a hint of social relevance...

The Book of Henry Movie Review

The Book of Henry Movie Review

Apparently, this offbeat script had been making the rounds in Hollywood for some 20 years...

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review

With this fifth Transformers movie, it seems clear that Michael Bay is still trying to...

Churchill Movie Review

Churchill Movie Review

This drama about the iconic British prime minister tells a darkly personal story set over...

Gifted Movie Review

Gifted Movie Review

This is one of those films that dances right up to the edge of soapy...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.