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Thieves Highway


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      Hello to all you Noir aficionados, I am back with another Jules Dassin film-1949's "Thieves Highway."  I am enjoying my exploration of Dassin's' movies; the guy made some great  flicks and I am going to catch as many as I can.  Everything he did in Hollywood pre "Brute Force" seems pretty negligible ("Reunion in France"?); I know "The Canterville Ghost" is considered a good movie but is it a Jules Dassin movie or just a well made product of the studio system?  Someone with a little more knowledge on the subject can maybe help me with this.  I have seen "Brute Force" and "The Naked City"  but will watch them again and report back to you guys and hopefully gals (I hate to think film noir is a terrain just the male of the species trods).  I am loathe to admit I have never seen "Never on Sunday" or "Topkapi"'; that situation will soon be rectified.  As for "Rififi" I saw it a few years back and it is sitting (or reclining, DVD's don't sit do they?) at this very moment in my living room.  It will be viewed this weekend.  But let us move forward to..."Thieves Highway!"  This is an excellent film shot mostly on location in the San Francisco, Oakland area.  How can you include so much of sunny California and still remain a film noir?  I don't know if I can answer that except to say that the subject matter (revenge) keeps this picture in the film noir category.  Richard Conte plays Nick Garcos, a WWII vet returning home to find his father, a former truck driver, has been crippled by the ever heavy Lee J Cobb.  Cobb is  wonderful as Mike Figlia, a produce mob boss (who knew such a thing existed!) who tyrannizes and terrorizes all those decent folk trying to earn an honest buck hauling and buying apples, oranges and anything else the fertile soil of California grows.  Conte is bent on payback and decides to haul a truckful of apples into the market in order to facilitate a showdown with the nefarious Cobb.  That's the plot but there is a lot more going on here.  I like Conte in this; I always thought he played a villain better than a hero (I think he is hapless in "The Blue Gardenia") but he redeems himself nicely in this picture.  He is genuinely sympathetic and even may I say a little vulnerable.   Dassin shows as he did in "Night and the City" that he loves character actors. This movie is full of great performers all of whom make a lasting impression: Millard Mitchell, Jack Oakie, Morris Carnovsky, Hope Emerson!  These guys are good, they each in his/her own way is unforgettable (Mitchell: is it my imagination or is this guy channeling Charles Bickford).  What is the theme here: Honor!  We must all retain our sense of honor at all costs.  Without it life has no value.  Dassin retained his-he did not name names to save his own hide (Cobb unfortunately did ).  Instead he chose to carve out a successful career in Europe as a film maker.  I wasn't there when this country went haywire (HUAC, McCarthy, the Hollywood Ten) I don't want to cast aspersions on artists I admire immensely-Kazan, Jerome Robbins;  Lee J Cobb said he did to feed his family.  Maybe these guys are not the bad apples (keeping with our theme of produce) but the politicos in Washington who unleashed this madness.  Let's get back to what is really important: movies!   Dassin's film is about honor and the importance of maintaining it.  Don't be deceived by stereotypes: Valentina Cortese (still living) as the "bad" girl turns out to be more honorable than Barbara Lawrence as the "good" gal.  Cortese is fresh and brings a new slant on the **** with a heart of gold routine.  She should have been a bigger star than she was.  I am going to close with a Cortese story which is also about honor. Nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actress in 1973's "Day for Night" (A Truffaut flick I caught on TCM not too long  ago) she lost to Ingrid Bergman in "Murder on the Orient Express."  Upon accepting her award Ingrid apologized saying she believed Valentina more richly deserved the prize!  Gottta love that broad (my highest term of endearment for a woman) she was as honest as the day was long and when her **** was on the line by the powers that be she displayed incredible honor (wish Miss B did some film noir "Gaslight" doesn't count).  I am going to continue to pursue Jules Dassin a man of honor who happened to make some great films.  PS: Is there a biography about Mr. Dassin?  Does anybody know the answer? 

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  • 8 months later...

Thanks for mentioning this GREAT movie!

I love all the wonderful ambience of THIEVES' HIGHWAY, no matter what, but Dassin takes the visuals to a whole other level because of his beautiful "framing" of every shot.


My fave star of all time is Richard Conte. And I feel he is one of the very few actors who could do a villain AND a kind man with equal skill, in so many films.


In NEW YORK CONFIDENTIAL, he's a professional (and non-feeling) mob hit-man.

In FULL OF LIFE he's a kind, adorable, proper husband to Judy Holliday.


My big beef with THE GODFATHER is that Al Pacino just could not play the cruel man he became. He just did not have the presence for the level of that character.


But Richard Conte could. And, THE GODFATHER was based on 3 of his films: THE BROTHERS RICO, NEW YORK CONFIDENTIAL, and HOUSE OF STRANGERS.



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