Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mini-Review: Thieves' Highway

Recently, I took a trip into the world of film noir, courtesy of Thieves' Highway (1949). I was drawn to watch this film mostly due to its director, Jules Dassin. After viewing Riffifi (1955), another of his films, I became curious about the director's other work. Dassin helmed several films set in this dark, gritty genre and each one seems worthwhile. The story of Thieves' Highway centers on Nick Garcos (Richard Conte) as he returns home from his travels abroad. His pleasant homecoming becomes spoiled when he discovers his father has been crippled; the result of his dealings with a shady businessman, Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb). Nick swears vengeance on behalf of his father and sets out to confront Figlia.

Thieves' Highway represents a very solid entry into the film noir genre. The performances from the leading actors serve the film well, especially Cobb as the heavy. He's great at parts that require intimidation along with some wormy charm. Cobb's performance here reminded me of his role in On the Waterfront (1954) where he famously played a mob boss. The story combines the essential elements of the genre, but, at the same time, there's more humanity on display than in most noirs. There's some social commentary on capitalism that stands out from most films of this era. (Perhaps this kind of material contributed to Dassin's trouble in the 1950's McCarthy era when he became blacklisted.) Only a couple of factors detract from an otherwise fine film - the major factor being the ending. Without giving anything away, I'll say that it felt off tonally from the rest of the film and could have had more of an impact. There's an element of it that feels tacked on and easy. In fact, Dassin did not approve of the ending; instead it was the result of studio interference. Otherwise, I really have no other complaints about this film. Thieves' Highway makes for some solid entertainment - with a bit more than meets the eye.

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