by guest writer
Thieves Highway (1949) marks Jules Dassin’s last movie in the US under 20th Century Fox Darryl F. Zanuck’s production. Part of the three pillars of his American career together with Brute Force (1947) and Naked City (1948), Thieves Highway is in itself a model film noir. The screenplay was adapted by the writer of the novel “Thieves’ Market”, A.I. Bezzerides. The Turkish born novelist had a large experience working as a script writer on film noir material, including such classics as They Drive By Night (1940), Action in the North Atlantic (1943), Desert Fury (1947), Sirocco (1951), On Dangerous Ground (1951) and Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Thieves Highway is somehow related or a sort of companion, in my opinion, to Raoul Walsh’s They Drive By Night (1940), another exceptional movie of its genre, probably the first in American cinema, although, on many levels, the two movies are different.
Thieves Highway sees our main character, Nick Garcos (Richard Conte), an ex-Army hero back home, learn an awful truth about one of his parents. The tension built up by Dassin bears his mark as a filmmaker. He choses simple things and situations that are exploited to a verge, as for example the ride Nick has to make to the market in order to sell the apples. With a wonderful cast of secondary characters, including Lee J. Cobb, Valentina Cortese and Millard Mitchell, the film is an intense and dynamic experience. With his usual craftsmanship, Dassin is, as always, a visual director, putting his best efforts in delivering an entertaining, full of action product. The cinematography by Norbert Brodine is as plain wonderful as in his other movies involving a lot on angles and chiaroscuro elements.
The producers decided to change the end of Thieves Highway with ‘a standard American flop’, the happy end and a case study of social consciousness, thus ruining the director’s intention of a ‘reality grip’ finale. Jules Dassin always blamed Zanuck for this and declared it many times through his interviews and letters to the studio.
photo: still from the film | Twentieth Century Fox