Thieves' Highway [1949]

The rugged world of long-haul trucking knits perfectly with classic film noir dynamics in this sizzling, underrated picture. Navy veteran Richard Conte returns home to California, only to plunge into a revenge scenario and a scheme to haul the season's first apples to the teeming San Francisco fruit market (a place seen as a nocturnal jungle for the survival of the fittest). Lee J. Cobb enjoys himself enormously as the chiseling boss at the Frisco market, Millard Mitchell is wry as Conte's angle-playing trucking partner, and Valentina Cortese adds a bright, sexy exoticism to the multi-layered duplicitous dame. Director Jules Dassin, in his last American-shot film before blacklisting, shows his expressive abilities with shadowy interiors and road-movie exteriors alike. The punchy screenplay by A.I. Bezzerides, whose trucking experiences also fueled They Drive by Night, is a textbook case for the complexities of pulp--not apples, fiction. --Robert Horton

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