Monday 14 January 2013

Thieves' Highway [1949]

Jules Dassin’ Thieves’ Highway was sandwiched between three of his greatest classic noirs, viz. The Naked City, on one side, and Night and the City and Rififi on the other. However, unlike the other two, this was as much a social melodrama as it was a crime film, and certainly no where as tar-drenched or nightmarish as them. This was also his final film in the US for a while on account of being blacklisted by HUAC. Richard Conte, in one of his rare good guy roles, essayed the character of Nick, an Italian American war veteran who returns from abroad to find that his father, who was a trucker, hasn’t just been cheated of money, but has also lost his legs, courtesy Figlia (Lee J. Cobb), a thoroughly corrupt fruits dealer. He cuts a deal with another trucker, puts all his money into it, and sets out to exact revenge and street justice – but not before he experiences numerous roadblocks on the way in the form of a perilous and incredibly tiring journey, a ruthlessly conniving Figlia, personal loss, and unlikely romance with a local prostitute as opposed to an all-American blonde. Dassin painted a very convincing picture of capitalistic exploitation of the working class and the reverse American Dream, as well as an accurate portrait of long distance trucking and the way California fruit wholesaling market worked then. The staccato dialogues and the sharp B/W photography ensured that this just about managed to contain the flavours of a noir, even if it lacked enough power, punch or fatalism. Conte gave a measured turn as the exasperated hero, while Cobb was quite terrific as the bullying, thuggish, slimy and quietly menacing antagonist.

Director: Jules Dassin
Genre: Crime Drama/Film Noir
Language: English
Country: US


Sam Juliano said...

One of Dassin's most revered works, and a noir benchmark, though yes it's a social work with the crime underpinning. Terrific capsule!

Shubhajit said...

Thanks Sam. Though I wouldn't keep this at par with his best works, this most certainly remains a highly competent crime drama, and boasts of a fabulous turn by Lee J. Cobb.