Thieves’ Highway

I enjoy watching movies that feature San Francisco, especially ones that show authentic scenes from a former era.  I recently watched “Thieves’ Highway,” a 1949 film directed by Jules Dassin and starring Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb and Valentina Cortez.  Conte plays Nick Garcos, a tough war vet and trucker who delivers a load of golden delicious apples from the central valley in California to the San Francisco produce markets.  Lee J. Cobb plays the corrupt fruit and vegetable dealer  Mike Figlia, who uses tricks and thuggery to swindle, steal and cheat the hard-working truckers.

Richard Conte meets Valentina Cortez on the docks of San Francisco.

Besides wanting to make a quick profit on the apples, Nick seeks revenge against Figlia, who he blames for a road accident that crippled his father.  Dassin shows some wonderful road scenes of Nick and a colleague hauling their load over the mountains to San Francisco.  He then takes us to the very atmospheric fruit and vegetable docks of San Francisco, where the dock workers and produce vendors warn Nick about dealing with the crooked Figlia.

Besides the excellent characterizations by Conte and Cobb, Cortez does a good portrayal of Rica, a prostitute who works for Figlia.  She’s a wonderful film noir heroine, working earnestly for the crook but eventually making a stand for what’s right.  Her Italian accent makes her intriguing, although the script provides no backstory for her.  Overall, the editing, cinematography and film technique, along with the fascinating view of the San Francisco produce district in 1949, make this a very interesting film.  The studio, Twentieth Century-Fox, tacked on a happy ending, which Dassin did not approve.  Nevertheless, it’s an impressive film.

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