“Thieves’ Highway” – Jules Dassin (1949)

Richard Conte drives a truckload of apples to “Frisco” and all hell breaks loose. Between its fond look back at They Drive By Night (the great A.I. Bezzerides was responsible for both stories), Lee J. Cobb playing Johnny Friendly’s mercifully toned down Doppelgänger, the pre-Interstate views of California highways, an unostentatious solidarity with the working stiff, and half the movie being shot at the corner of Washington and Davis, where S.F.’s chaotic old produce market has long given way to anonymous concrete nothingness, there’s a lot of texture and richness here. Also notable for the hero dumping his killjoy fiancee in favor of a streetwalker who sketches out a game of Tic-tac-toe on his bare chest with her fingernails—clearly the right choice. (Valentina Cortese handles a shot-glass with panache to spare.) Jack Oakie was stone-deaf by ’49 but he too is pitch-perfect when breaking the news that a friend’s been killed in a trucking mishap: “He broke down alright, but he didn’t send any word.” And bonus points for the pair of farmer’s kids who try to halt an avalanche of spilled apples—a financial disaster—by throwing throw their bodies onto the ground, as if covering live grenades. It’s a beautiful but futile effort, as so many efforts are.


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