Saturday, July 27, 2019

THE NOIRATHON: Thieves' Highway (1949)


"All film noir are crime drama, but not all crime drama are film noir."
- Caftan Woman's number one movie rule

Maddy Loves Her Classic Films, especially her film noir, which brings us to The Noirathon on July 27th to the 29th. Click HERE to embrace the dark side.


Director Jules Dassin had a knack for bringing us into the surrounding dark world. Years ago, Cinematheque Ontario presented a double bill of Dassin film-noir with Night and the City, 1950 and Thieves' Highway, 1949. The theatre viewing of these films confirmed Dassin's genius with the style.

A.I. Bezzerides (The Big Valley), created stories from his working background in trucking which intrigued filmmakers and gave us They Drive by Night and Thieves' Highway. Being the right man for the job, Bezzerides wrote the screenplay from his novel Thieves' Market for this 1949 film. Dassin collaborated with cinematographer Norbert Brodine (Kiss of Death) to create an atmosphere of physical and emotional darkness.

Richard Conte, Tamara Shayne, Morris Carnovsky

Nick Garcos played by Richard Conte is incongruously impetuous and steady. Nick is impetuous in his sudden decisions and steady in the way he follows through once his course is set. Nick, a veteran of the European theatre in WW2 has returned to his Fresno home after traveling the world as a mechanic on a steamer. He plans to marry his girlfriend Polly played by Barbara Lawrence and go into business with her father. First, there is the long-awaited reunion with his beloved parents played by Morris Carnovsky and Tamara Shayne.

Tragedy has befallen the family during Nick's absence. His father, a produce trucker, has not only been cheated at the San Francisco market, but an unexplained accident resulted in the amputation of his legs. The man to blame is a known cheat named Mike Figlia played by Lee J. Cobb with his trademark relish. Nick seeks retribution.

Richard Conte, Millard Mitchell

Ed Kinney played by Millard Mitchell has bought Mr. Garcos' beat-up old truck and Nick joins him in transporting the first Golden Delicious apples of the season to San Francisco. Ed is hoping for a windfall, and Nick a chance to bring down Figlia. The road to the city is a long and a dangerous one even for men not seeking revenge. In the course of the route, the bond between these makeshift partners is strengthened when Ed saves Nick's life. Nick had been trapped while changing a tire on the unstable vehicle. Ed falls behind in the old truck while Nick races ahead to the market.

Ed is bedeviled all the way by truckers "Slob" played by Jack Oakie and Pete played by future director Joseph Pevney. They kibbitz and annoy Ed all the way up the highway in a half-serious, due to Ed trying to keep them out of the apple deal, and half-joking way because they are comrades in arms, so to speak.

Richard Conte, George Tyne, Lee J. Cobb

Once the weary and wounded Nick reaches San Francisco he finds nothing but trouble. He must get involved with Figlia despite warnings as it is his purpose. Figlia knows and uses every trick in the book to steal the desired fruit, and further gouge his own customers. Keeping Nick out of the way proves easy for Figlia as he uses a combination of Nick's exhaustion and the charms of prostitute Rica played by Valentina Cortese.

Valentina Cortese, Richard Conte

Rica and Nick spark off each other with an instant attraction and understanding that builds on the sarcasm in their words and the kindness in their actions. A one-sided phone conversation tells Rica more about Nick and Polly's relationship than even Nick realizes. Rica's quick action in dangerous situations presents an admirable fearlessness. She is as impetuous and steady as Nick.

More tragedy strikes our truckers when Ed is killed in a horrific accident, bringing Slob and Pete again into the orbit of Nick Garcos and of Mike Figlia. It is a bitter and unsentimental orbit and the end of this journey will only be reached with explosive violence.

Life is tough enough without some crook making it tougher; the trucking business in particular. The audience is taken on a whirlwind journey of revenge and justice, redemption and new beginnings in Thieves' Highway.


Connection:

Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb, Hope Emerson

Hope Emerson and Richard Conte's exchange in Thieves' Highway is brief and certainly more friendly in nature than their previous encounters in House of Strangers and Cry of the City.

















34 comments:

  1. I wrote about Joseph Pevney during my Star Trek month back in 2016; he directed some great episodes. How is he as an actor?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pevney certainly did direct some of my favourite episodes.

      As an actor, you can see he knows what he is doing and doesn't embarrass himself. However, his "look" wasn't distinctive enough to make him one of those character actor greats had he continued on that side of the camera. However, I always get a great kick out of seeing him.

      Delete
  2. Love your review of this great film. I consider this to be one Richard Conte's best performances. That scene in the bar between Richard Conte and Lee J. Cobb is electric! Thanks so much for joining me for this, Paddy.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Maddy. I appreciate your giving us this platform to share our love of noir.

      You know where Conte stands with me, and I agree that Nick is one of his great characterizations.

      Delete
  3. I looked up VALENTINA CORTESE on imdb-I don't think Ive ever seen her in anything. However, she was once married to RICHARD BASEHART-for 9 years(1951-60). Two things I know him from are an ep of COLUMBO(with HONOR BLACKMAN) and one of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. It says VALENTINAS passing was July 10, 2019-just this month. As I mentioned on a different page DAVID HEDISON died this month. HEDISON and BASEHART were co-stars on VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA. By the way, I said David died on July 18, it was July 19-which was 9 days after VALENTINA died. They both lived past 90. P.S. Do you know RICHARD BASEHARTS work very well?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have seen Richard Basehart in many roles. I admire his work in He Walks by Night, Moby Dick, and La Strada. He was terrific opposite Valentina Cortese in The House on Telegraph Hill. The only time I didn't like his performance, in fact I hated it, was in the Gunsmoke episode Captain Sligo.

      Delete
  4. Another noir I've not heard of. I need to find it and give it a viewing. I've been watching The Virginian this year, a new to me tv show(I was a baby and preschooler when it originally aired.) Imagine my surprise to see Lee J. Cobb as the wise ranch owner, Judge Garth, in 3 & 1/2 seasons. I'm thinking he was tired of playing baddies?? He gave the show gravitas, certainly!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Indeed, all I have read and heard points to the fact that Lee J. Cobb's presence decided the network on The Virginian. Extras on the DVD (as I recall) James Drury saying that Cobb simply got restless, but left them a strong foundation.

      Eventually, I got used to the changes on the favourite series. It kept things interesting and fresh.

      Delete
  5. Thanks so much for your insights into this excellent film, which should be much more well known. It's also a timely post, as the film is being featured on TCM's Noir Alley this very weekend!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I saw Thieves' Highway on the July lineup, my jaw hit the floor. My selection for the Noirathon and Noir Alley collided!

      Delete
  6. Conte is always good. Loved him in the Untouchables TV series "the Chess game" and his guest appearance in the Twilight Zone "perchance to dream". And of course, there's the "big Combo". Looking at this films, I thought he was a bigger star then he actually was. Seems to have been mostly B movies and 2nd lead parts. But Sinatra liked him. Good in the "Godfather" too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Perchance to Dream is one of the nightmarish of The Twilight Zones. I haven't seen The Untouchables in ages, but it has been on my mind lately.

      Conte is a particular favourite of mine. I crowned him my King of Noir: https://www.caftanwoman.com/2012/06/richard-conte-king-of-noir.html

      Outside of crime pictures, he is charming as an expectant father opposite Judy Holliday in Full of Life, 1956.

      Delete
  7. I didn't see that TWILIGHT ZONE ep but it also guest-starred SUZANNE LLOYD who was a guest-star on BONANZA, GUNSMOKE and PERRY MASON. She was born in TORONTO, CANADA in 1934. Her daughter is TRACEY E. BREGMAN who has been on THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS for about 35 years. Tracey plays LAUREN FENMORE BALDWIN. Her mother Joanna was played by SUSAN SEAFORTH HAYES best known as Julie Williams on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Tracey is only 56 now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I sometimes catch the last five minutes or so of The Young and the Restless before the evening news starts here in Toronto. I'm so "mature" that I remember Tracey Bregman as a teenager on Days of Our Lives.

      Delete
  8. SUSAN SEAFORTH HAYES also guest-starred on BONANZA. If MISS BREGMAN is aware of the fact she could say that her real-life mom and also her TV mom both guest-starred on BONANZA. PLUS in 2010 it was revealed on Y&R that Lauren has a half-sister-they have the same dad-and it turned out to be JILL FOSTER ABBOTT-played by JESS WALTON. Jess did two eps of GUNSMOKE (as different characters). P.S. TRACEY BREGMAN is the daughter of BUDDY BREGMAN who was a producer and composer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember many of Susan Seaforth Hayes primetime guest spots: Bonanza, Ironside, Adam-12 etc. Jess Walton was raised in Toronto, so she has a connection with Suzanne Lloyd.

      I have a couple of Buddy Bregman albums in my collection, my favourite being Bing Sings While Bregman Swings.

      Delete
  9. Speaking of soap operas former soap star LISA PELUSO, who played WENDY WILKINS on SEARCH FOR TOMORROW, is 55 today. On the show her mother was STEPHANIE(MAREE CHEATHAM). Later Lisa was on LOVING as AVA and ANOTHER WORLD as LILA. I watched SFT for about 5 or 6 years until it switched from CBS to NBC(opposite THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS). I saw Lisa on a DESIGNING WOMEN rerun where she was working with REESE(HAL HOLBROOK) and his girlfriend JULIA(played by DIXIE CARTER, HOLBROOKS real-life wife) knew she had DESIGNS on Reese. HA HA! Lisa was very pretty and a good actress. She was nominated for one SOAP OPERA DIGEST AWARD.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember Lisa and Maree well from Search for Tomorrow. Maree is still working today and that makes me happy.

      Delete
  10. By the way, what soap operas were your favorites when you were growing up? I didn't watch DAYS OF OUR LIVES(I watched it a little years later.) But I read that they did singing at a club. GLORIA LORING(Liz) and PATTY WEAVER(Trish) did some singing. I know Patty from Y&R where she played GINA ROMA and she was engaged to Neil Fenmore(Laurens dad). Also BILL HAYES, the husband of SUSAN SEAFORTH HAYES, has a musical background. I cant recall if Susan does. Gloria Loring is the ex-wife of the late ALAN THICKE and the mother of ROBIN THICKE. She was once romantically involved with DON DIAMONT from DAYS OF OUR LIVES, Y&R, and THE BOLD AND THE BEAUTIFUL.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My favourite soaps growing up were Search for Tomorrow, The Guiding Light, As the World Turns and especially The Edge of Night. General Hospital, Days of Our Lives, Another World and One Life to Live were others I enjoyed from time to time. Of course, thanks to Soap Opera Digest I knew a lot about even the shows I didn't watch.

      Delete
  11. Dassin is a very nice filmmaker - Night and the City and, in special, Never on Sundays, are two of his films that I enjkoyed a lot. I added Thieves' Highway to my watchlist - a chance to see Valentina Cortese in another film besides Day for Night.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!
    Le

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Along with those films, I have a soft spot in my heart for Dassin's Topkapi. I love a movie with a strong punchline.

      Thank you, my friend.

      Delete
  12. Have you ever seen any of the daytime soap stars in any plays-musical or otherwise? I know that there are different CDs that were available that were compilations of songs by soap stars. I read that GENIE FRANCIS replaced LINDA PURL in a production of THE BABY DANCE. I mentioned one time that I like Genie on her 3 eps of MSW where she played VICTORIA, the niece of JESSICA. Also I am a big fan of LINDA PURL from MATLOCK and HAPPY DAYS. I know her from TV-Movies also. She did MURDER, SHE WROTE 3 times also. I didn't see them but MISS PURL was on two soaps including one very early in her career. P.S. Have you seen any TENNESSEE WILLIAMS plays?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I saw Tribute by Bernard Slade in 1978 at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. It starred Jack Lemmon and in the cast were Larry Haines (Stu Bergman, Search for Tomorrow) and Rosemary Prinz (Penny, As the World Turns).

      There was a tour of Plaza Suite at the O'Keefe Centre that featured daytime stars, but for the life of me I can't remember who was in it! I think there were some cast members from All My Children.

      Delete
  13. Do you know BILL HAYES from anything other than DAYS? I remember him from a MATLOCK ep where he was a former law school classmate and BEN MATLOCK mentioned that he(Ben) was nine years older than the other guys because he had to go to work to save up the money for school. Did you get to see/hear very many of the musical performances on DAYS? P.S. I really enjoy SOAP OPERA DIGEST.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I recall those days when they did musical performances on Days of Our Lives. A favourite was Fran Ryan singing the Oceana Roll. Funny the things you remember.

      I know of Bill Hayes musical career. Did you know he hosted the Tony Awards back in 1961? They didn't broadcast the event but gee, I wish they had recorded it. Mr. Hayes toured nightclubs with Ann Blyth and very kindly gave an interview to the author of a book on Ms. Blyth.

      Regarding an earlier question. The only Tennessee Williams play I have seen staged is Orpheus Descending. It was filmed as The Fugitive Kind. While I appreciate a good drama, I'm more a girl who goes for Neil Simon.

      Delete
  14. Oh, this sounds juicy! Richard Conte was such a good actor and combined with Jules Dassin's talents, this must be a winner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it is memorable. The performances really get under your skin.

      Delete
  15. How many NEIL SIMON movies have you seen? Speaking of JACK LEMMON earlier Ive seen him in two Simon movies-the one with ANNE BANCROFT, was it titled PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE(maybe Ive got the number wrong) and THE OUT-OF-TOWNERS. I liked the last one best. Ive only seen parts of THE ODD COUPLE. I did see the end once. What are your fave Simon movies? What are your fave JACK LEMMON movies?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A check of the IMDb shows that I have seen 19 of Simon's 30 movies, and many productions of his plays. A particular favourite is The Sunshine Boys.

      I suppose The Apartment is my ultimate favourite Jack Lemmon film as I appreciate both his comedy and dramatic talents and both are on display in that movie.

      Delete
  16. This noir is new to me, too, and I can't believe I've never even heard of it with a cast like this. It sounds like a haunting and memorable film.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The funny thing is that until my first viewing I hadn't heard or read anything about it either. Sometimes movies slip through the cracks and sometimes it is their turn to shine.

      Delete
  17. I read on imdb today that JACK LEMMON and FELICIA FARRS daughter COURTNEY LEMMON is married to PETER MCCRAE, the son of JOEL MCCRAE and FRANCES DEE. They married in MARCH 2001 so they have been married 18 years. (Jacks passing was in June of that year.) Jack played the piano, composed a song for one of his movies and loved golf.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I only own one of Jack's albums but it is the pride of my collection. Two of musical movie moments that I love are from It Should Happen to You with Judy Holliday, and The Wackiest Ship in the Army with Ricky Nelson.

      It is always nice to hear of a marriage succeeding in this day and age.

      Delete

FAVOURITE MOVIES: The Bishop's Wife, 1947

Robert Nathan's ( Portrait of Jennie ) 1928 story The Bishop's Wife became the movie project of independent producer Samuel Gold...