Thieves’ Highway, 1949. 9/10

A very highly regarded film noir. In Thieves’ Highway, it’s Lee J. Cobb’s racketeer Mike Figlia and his mob-run trucking outfit up against regular- guy trucker Nick Garcos (Richard Conte), just back from the war, and ready to go to work. But, Nick’s dad Yanko (Morris Carnovsky) has been crippled by Figlia’s gang, so Nick’s out to square things with them.

Barbara Lawrence plays Nick’s fiancee Polly, Tamara Shayne is his mother, Parthena. Backing up Figlia is Rica (Valentina Cortese). Ed (Millard Mitchell), Pete (Joseph Pevney) and Jack Oakie, nicely known here as just “the Slob”, are other truckers caught up in hauling apples and looking out for each other.

Nick’s festive homecoming is shattered by the realization that his father’s disabled. Nick plans to look up Figlia; but first he finds Ed, who has Yanko’s old wrecked truck. Ed’s seems like a good guy, in cahoots with Pete and the Slob. Nonetheless, Ed’s not above trying to cheat the growers.

On the road from Fresno to San Francisco, Nick nearly gets crushed while fixing a flat. In the City, the wholesale produce market is a fascinating warren of trucks, streets, and tons of veggies stacked all over. Figlia’s hoods give Nick another flat tire, and he gets a low-ball bid on the load. Then, waiting for Ed, Rica chats him up in a bar. He goes up to her place.

“You look like chipped glass” he tells her, somewhat ambiguously. Anyway, after a lot of tough bargaining, Nick gets a straight deal out of Figlia. But that night he gets rolled by Figlia’s goons. No money now, but thanks to Nick’s boastful phone call, proposal included, Polly is on her way. Spectacularly, back on the highway, Ed’s 1920’s rig gives out, and he wrecks in flames. Dead Ed.

Back in the City, Figlia’s got the nerve to get some guys together, including Pete, to retrieve the apples from Ed’s wreck. Polly arrives, but since Rica picks her up, she knows that something weird is up. Nick, despite the fact that Rica has set him up twice now, actually doesn’t much mind losing Polly.

Nick is so amped up when he hears about Figlia’s ghoulish jaunt after the apples that he immediately seeks him out–with our old pal Slob. Great revenge scene in a bar, as Nick beats up Figlia more thoroughly than Marlon Brando’s job on Lee J. Cobb’s character in On The Waterfront. Nice last scene too. Nick, apparently in the clear with the law, spirits Rica off to the altar leaving the gang behind.

This is great film noir. The atmosphere is always tense; you wouldn’t expect a produce market to make a menacing setting, but it sure does. For one thing, the market’s proximity to train tracks, bars, and roach hotels helps layer the noir touches on thickly. The road scenes are well-done too, and make an apt change of pace from the creepy urban confines.

I do find it a bit puzzling why Nick would so nonchalantly toss off Polly for Rica; she could’ve gotten him killed. Plus, of course, why take up with someone associated with the mobster who crippled your father? It would add up better if Nick figures that Polly is too conventional or whatnot for him, and also walks away from Rica, but for the opposite reason–she’s too dangerous.

Believe that Farmermouse, no rookie with the orchard business himself, gives this nine crates of Golden Delicious apples. 9/10.

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