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Thieves' Highway is set in San Francisco and the surrounding countryside. Richard Conte plays Nick Garcos, an American GI who returns from WWII to find that his father Yanko (Morris Carnovsky), a produce trucker, has lost the use of both legs because of a fight with crooked truck driver Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb). Nick is a clean-cut guy who was set on marrying his sweetheart Polly Faber (Barbara Lawrence). Instead, Nick gets embroiled in his father's feud with Mike, buying a truck and falling deeper into racketeering. He ...

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Sep 13, 2020

Noir In The Embarcadero

Every October, the American Film Institute in Silver Spring, Maryland features a film noir festival called "Noir City DC." The movies in this year's festival [2012] include "Thieves Highway", a 1949 movie directed by Jules Dassin and based upon the book "Thieves Market" by A.I Bezzerides. Bezzerides also wrote the screenplay. The 2012 Noir City Film Festival in San Francisco, where "Thieves Market" is set, also featured the movie. Dassin was blacklisted following this movie and never made another film in the United States.

The movie is set in the frequently brutal world of marketing and trucking. It includes a spellbinding performance by an Italian actress Valentia Cortese, as Rica, a femme fatale prostitute. The primary character is Nick Garcos (Richard Cobb) who has just returned home from WW II, to learn that his father, who is in the business of trucking fruit to the wholesale San Francisco markets, has lost his legs in an accident caused by a crooked wholesaler, the wonderfully named villain, Mike Figlia (Lee Cobb). Determined to make a success of himself and to avenge his father, Nick takes a partner and hauls a large truckload of apples to market.

The movie has a strongly proletarian theme about the corruption of business and the exploitation facing workers at all levels, from the farms to the drivers to laborers in the cities. Most of the movie is set onsite at San Francisco's then-lively produce market called the Embarcadero district, with workers in the district used as extras. The major attraction of the movie is the opportunity to see this world in all its bustle, rawness, and frequent sleaziness. Nick tries to sell his truckload of apples to Figlia and is in the process of being cheated and seriously injured, as was his father. In the process, Figlia uses Rica to get at Nick. He falls for her at the expense of his then girlfriend, Polly, (Barbara Lawrence).

The story is taut and well-acted, particularly by Cortese and by Cobb.The film is in effective, clear black and white. "Thieves Highway" displays the harsh character of lower class California life and the obstacles standing in the way of success. Besides the scenes at the Embarcadero, its adjacent hotels, bars, and railroad facilities, the movie captures the harsh, dangerous world of long-distance trucking with its hard competition to bring the produce to the market.

This is a fine period noir film. I am pleased to have the opportunity to get to know noir on film in a large theater setting after getting to know something of noir through reading.

Robin Friedman

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