Everyone likes apples - Except doctors.
Thieves' Highway is directed by Jules Dassin and adapted to screenplay by A. I. Bezzerides from his own novel Thieves' Market. It stars Richard Conte, Valentine Cortese, Lee J. Cobb, Barbara Lawrence, Jack Oakie and Millard Mitchell. Music is by Alfred Newman and cinematography by Norbert Brodine.
A war-veteran returns to the family home to find his father has been left wheelchair bound by a amoral produce dealer in San Francisco. Swearing revenge he sets himself up as a truck driver and heads off to Frisco with a truck load of Golden Delicious apples...
Revenge, hope and desperation drives Dassin's intelligently constructed noir forward. It's a film very much interested in its characterisations as it doles out a deconstruction of the American dream. The familiar noir theme of a returning war-veteran kicks things off, with Nico Garcos (Conte) finding a crippled father and a money hungry bride to be waiting for him; welcome home sailor! From there Dassin and Bezzerides push a revenge theme to the forefront whilst deftly inserting from the sides the devils of greed and corruption of the California produce business.
The trucks journey is brilliantly captured by the makers, both exciting and exuding the menace of the hard slog for truckers. Once Nico and his partner, Ed Kinney (Mitchell), get to Frisco and encounter bully business boy Mike Figlia (Cobb), underhand tactics come seeping out and the appearance of prostitute Rica (Cortese) into Nico's life adds a morally grey area that pings with sharp dialogue exchanges. Real location photography adds to the authentic feel of the story, and cast performances are quite simply excellent across the board.
The code appeasing ending hurts the film a touch, inserted against Dassin's wishes, and there's a feeling that it should have been more damning with the economic tropes; while the fact that Nico's father is more concerned about being robbed of money than losing the use of his legs - is a bit strange to say the least. However, from a graveyard of tumbling apples to the fact that more than money is stolen here, Thieves' Highway is sharp, smart and engrossing stuff. 7.5/10