Director: Jules Dassin
Starring: Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese & Lee J. Cobb
Synopsis: A war veteran turned truck driver attempts to avenge the crippling and robbing of his father at the hands of an amoral produce scofflaw.
Rating: 12 Run time: 94 minutes Release date: 19 October (UK)
One might struggle to get along with Thieves‘ Highway. A film noir shot in 1949 and concerning a man out for revenge against a crooked produce dealer is hardly something that would get a modern audiences juices flowing, but will likely please film studies students who are looking for something to write their next essay on.
Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) returns home from the war to find that his father, a produce farmer, has become the victim of slimy fruit merchant Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb) and has had the misfortune of losing his truck and his legs at the hands of Cobb’s wretched dealer.
Garcos vows revenge, and teams up, for want of a better term, with Ed Kinney (Millard Mitchell) who happens to be the current owner of Nick’s fathers truck. Nick, along with Ed and a few more characters of questionable moral standards head to San Francisco to seek out Figlia so Nick can have his revenge.
Thieves’ Highway, especially nowadays, plays out in the way one would expect a film noir to do so. We have the main character in over his head, a strong femme fatale, the bad guy who takes what he wants through as many dirty needs as possible and a plot that runs as naturally as you would expect.
To a modern audience, Thieves’ Highway has all the traits of a film noir and perhaps does little that hasn’t already been done. Looking a little deeper though, it would seem that in 1949 Thieves’ Highway was as daring then as say making a film that isn’t part of a shared universe would be today. Of course, that particular example is a little crude, but Thieves’ Highway was, and in a way still is, a film that pushed the genre’s boundaries.
The action, which yes does look silly now, was tightly shot and undoubtedly tension filled for a 40’s audience, yet doesn’t necessarily carry the same weight now. The same could be said for the general delivery of the film; it’s well acted and has a general believability to it, but does feel cartoon like in places, almost as if you are watching a modern pastiche on what films were like in the post war era.
The film studies students previously mentioned will likely find an abundance of political and religious allegories here, and if you want to look deep enough they probably do exist, but taking the film at face value you do wonder whether Thieves’ Highway quite stands up in the way other films of its ilk would. Solid, but unspectacular and interesting if never quite compelling.
Fans of Thieves’ Highway will find a lot to love on this Blu-Ray release from Arrow. Chief among those is a 55 minute documentary titled The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides. Here the career of A.I. Bezzerides is detailed at length by the likes of the films director; Jules Dassin and such esteemed writers as Mickey Spillane, Barry Gifford and George P. Pelecanos. Their collective love for the film noir genre is clear, as is there admiration for Bezzerides and Thieves’ Highway in particular.
Film expert Frank Kutnik appears several times throughout the films various extras and he does so firstly in Fruits of Labour in which he talks passionately about the films production, its perception in the public realm and how it was received critics and audiences. While Kutnik does indeed talk warmly about the film and what impact it had, his views are completely dependant on how you view the film. At times it feels as if Kutnik is almost trying to hard to convince you of the films qualities, but it’s hard to dislike him when he talks so vigorously about a film that he clearly adores.
Kutnik also appears on three commentaries that explore various scenes and characters in Thieves’ Highway. The length of which he talks about the different aspects of the film is quite something, and is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that he has to pause the film at several points in order for him to make his point before the scene moves on.
A theatrical trailer is also available, while the case has a reversible sleeve showcasing new artwork by Graham Humphreys. A collector’s booklet also contains production stills and newly written material from Alastair Phillips (co-author of 100 Film Noirs).
In summary: Fans of Thieves’ Highway will be very pleased with the work Arrow have done here and will need no recommendation in purchasing this disc, others may need a little more persuading.