Thieves’ Highway was Jules Dassin’s last real Hollywood film before he was one of the first people blacklisted during the McCarthy era in Hollywood. He would later make his name in France and is often mistaken as a French or Greek director but in reality was American. A. I. Bezzerides wrote the screenplay and in turn was based on his novel which titled Thieves’ Market, Bezzerides is a fascinating figure in noir and he even wrote the screenplay for the most nihilistic of all noirs Kiss Me Deadly.
Richard Conte stars as a war vet turned truck driver Nick Garcos. Noir often was about the male experience in a post-war America. Garcos comes back and his father is a fruit farmer but finds out he is now crippled. His father was crippled by the crooked produce dealer Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb) and naturally in pure noir fashion he vows to get his revenge. He teams up with Ed Kinney (Millard Mitchell) who bought his father’s old truck and they bring a truckload of apples up to San Francisco to possibly sell to Figlia.
The film is often labelled as film noir and it certainly follows many of its conventions. As Frank Krutnik says in video essay on this release it actually falls more into the sub-genre known as film gris. This sub-genre of film gris mainly dealt with social issues within a crime film setting often with the proletarian heroes fighting corrupt capitalist villains of some kind. The run of these films were very specifically made during 1947 to 1951 and many of the directors or writers had links with left-wing groups sometimes communist or not. The run of these films pretty much ended because many of the writers or directors (rarely ever actors) were blacklisted including Jules Dassin.
Thieves’ Highway remains a jewel in Dassin’ American films it may not have the hard-hitting location photography of his previous The Naked City or the mixture of naturalism and expressionism in his next Night and the City but it remains probably his most political film. A. I. Bezzerides adapts his sadly now out of print and hard to obtain novel with his characteristic no-nonsense politically conscious screenplay and is brilliantly paced which is down to both Dassin’s direction and the Bezzerides script. Conte and Lee J. Cobb both veterans of the film noir are outstanding as usual.
The disc Arrow has compiled is one of their leanest but most impressive in recent months not unlike the film itself. The real meat of the package is The Long Haul of A.I. Bezzerides which is an excellent documentary on the writer. Frank Krutnik’s video essay is full of interesting detail of the film and where it fits in the genres of film noir and film gris and his also does short commentaries on selected scenes. To round everything up the theatrical trailer is included along with a booklet on the film with new writing on the film.