Sunday, May 31, 2009
THIEVES' HIGHWAY (1949) - Jules Dassin
After seeing Naked City, Brute Force, Topkapi, Rififi and now this, I'm under the distinct impression that Jules Dassin did not know how to make a bad movie. I came to this one expecting more of a crime plot given that's what Dassin's known for, but in truth Thieves' Highway is more of a social conscience pic. There are crimes here, but they are small and everyday -- namely, those perpetrated by big money produce men on freelance "wildcat" truckers.
In a nutshell, Richard Conte takes over his father's rig after he loses both his legs in a suspiciously calculated highway "accident" and starts running apples from San Diego to San Francisco in order to get in close to produce boss Lee J. Cobb (who he believes was behind the crash). When Cobb gets wind of the new wildcat in town, he puts hot-to-trot streetwalker Valentia Cortese on Conte for the full femme fatale treatment in order to keep his buy price on the truckers' apples low and his corruption quotient high.
Dassin's directing is top-drawer film noir as always and the script by A.I. Bezzerides (who obviously had seen some white lines of his own his day) is filled with crackerjack '40s trucker lingo and few nice twists and turns. And nobody but nobody plays an unrepentant sleazebag like Lee J. Cobb.