August 26, 2005
Based on A.I. Bezzerides’ novel, Thieves’ Market, Jules Dassin’s Thieves’ Highway (1949) offers a glimpse into the world of truck drivers risking their lives on the open road, having to deal with their vehicles breaking down and pushing themselves to the point of exhaustion to get their cargo to its intended destination on time.
Nick Garcos (Conte) is an ex-G.I. turned truck driver. He returns home from a stint as a ship’s mechanic in World War II to shower his family with presents only to find out that his father lost his legs after crossing paths with market operator Mike Figlia (Cobb). Garcos becomes partners with veteran trucker Ed (Mitchell) and decides to track down the man who double-crossed his father and get revenge.
Richard Conte, with his rugged good looks, is well cast as the naïve trucker bent on revenge and clearly out of his depth. Nick is a typical tragic film noir figure. He makes $3,900 from a job only to be mugged by Figlia’s thugs. Lee J. Cobb gives a memorable turn as a hardened businessman. Figlia is a cigar-chomping fixer not above sabotaging his rivals for profit.
Dassin captures the loud hustle and bustle of a San Francisco pier-side marketplace. It anticipates the East Coast counterpoint depicted in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (1954). Ultimately, Thieves’ Highway demonstrates the fact that there are worse things then losing all your money. Some men lose their lives in the pursuit of it. Dassin presents a gritty, vivid world that is governed by harsh, unforgiving rules.
In “Dassin Interview,” the veteran filmmaker says that he was fascinated by the humour and vitality of markets. He recounts anecdotes (like realizing after weeks of shooting that Jack Oakie was deaf!) and recollections on the movie and the performances of the actors.
There is a trailer for “The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides,” a feature-length documentary on the screenwriter of such classics as Kiss Me Deadly (1955) and the author of The Long Haul, which became the movie, They Drive By Night (1940). The likes of novelist/screenwriter Barry Gifford speak highly of the man in this tantalizing teaser.
Alain Silver, editor of The Film Noir Reader, contributes an informative audio commentary. He offers some good observations about what is happening on-screen. For example, he points out the details of Nick’s parents’ house as that of a Proletariat background. Silver also dissects the film’s style, drawing attention to framing and camera techniques. He is also quite adept at examining the movie’s themes. For example, he describes the role of money as “an emblem of the dark universe that underlies this whole movie.” Silver is obviously well-versed in the Noir genre and this results in a very knowledgeable track.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.