Jules Dassin’s Thieves’ Highway was released at a time when Noir was going strong, and fits the mould of what is expected of the genre. In truth though, it is something much different and more human proving the audience with an insight into the dirty tricks of market life controlled by mobsters.
In this Arrow Academy release we are introduced to A.I. Bezzerides world of crooks and fall guys where the nice guy is normally the fall guy. In this case Richard Conte plays Nick Garcos a soldier returning from the war to find his father crippled by mobster Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb) in a deal gone wrong. Looking for revenge Garcos sources some apples, taking them to the market in an attempt to get the kingpin’s attention and force him to pay for his past wrongs.
In much the same way as Noir films work, Garcos is the fall guy in this situation, and a particularly stupid one at that. Finding himself in situation after situation that sees him losing out every time he never has much luck. Though his friendship with wannabe femme fatale Rica (Valentina Cortese) brings him some success. For the most part though he is an annoying character as he falls for all the ploys set to trap him. This is probably because of the fact that he is an extreme version of the “fall guy” persona.
After watching the film, the special features provide an education as to exactly where the story of Nick Garcos came from, and the story of writer A.I. Bezzerides. In many ways his story makes the film much more interesting. While there is an aim in some of the features to call Thieves’ Highway a “Proletariat drama” and not Noir, I tend to feel that there are enough similarities to Noir…that it fits better in that drama, and proletariat drama sounds just a little pretentious for my liking. We have the fall guy who loses out, we have the mobsters who dominate and for most of the film win out, and this just feels like a Noir, we even have a memorable femme fatale in the form of Cortese.
One thing noticeable with Thieves’ Highway is that Valentina Cortese steals the film with her character Rica. The femme fatale with a heart starts out by conning Garcos, but ends up as his protector and this is where the film really comes alive. It is the relationship between the two and the budding friendship that not only saves Rica, but also Garcos and pull them both out of the hell they have found themselves in.
Thieves’ Highway is an interesting film to watch because the dark world of the fruit market isn’t really a scenario you would think is interesting. What we find instead is a tale that focuses more on the human condition than fruit itself, and shows how a lost soul can be redeemed even in the darkest world. If you are looking for something different, and further education about the films of Jules Dassin, this is a very good release and strangely for a film from 1949 doesn’t seem to have aged that much at all.
Thieves’ Highway is available on dual format DVD and Blu-ray in the UK now.