(Open Thread) Noir Side Street — “Thieves’ Highway”

Incoming Day. Photo by Emanuele Toscano.

Happy Father’s Day! Today’s film is a story about a son who avenges a wrong done to his father, and what more fitting plot could we have for a Father’s Day noir film than that?

20th Century Fox’s 1949 classic “Thieves’ Highway” stars Richard Conte (Nico “Nick” Garcos), Valentina Cortesa (Rica), Lee J. Cobb (Mike Figlia), Barbara Lawrence (Polly Faber), Jack Oakie (Slob), Millard Mitchell (Ed Kinney), Jospeh Pevney (Pete), Kasia Orzazewski (Mrs. Polansky), Norbert Schiller (Mr. Polansky), and Hope Emerson (Midge, the buyer). Directed by Jules Dassin; director of photography (cinematography) Norbert Brodine. Produced by Robert Bassler. Edited by Nick DeMaggio. Music by Alfred Newman. Screenplay by A. I. Bezzerides, based on his novel “Thieves’ Market.”

The story opens with Nick Garcos returning home after having been gone for some time working on a ship as a mechanic. Along with his parents, he’s welcomed by his girl, Polly Faber, who seems to give him a rather cool reception. As he’s handing gifts to everyone, he offers Polly a doll, which she clearly is underwhelmed by. It’s only when Nick tells her to check out the fingers of the doll that she notices the ring its wearing as a bracelet. Suddenly, she’s all warm to him. (Polly doesn’t seem like quite the catch Nick later makes her out as being. I wonder why…?) Then Nick hands his father a pair of slippers, encouraging him to put them on. Everyone becomes quiet, making Nick wonder what wrong thing he’s said. His father says he can’t try on the slippers. Nick asks, “Why not?” and pulls back the blanket over his father’s legs, which had concealed the fact his lower legs are gone. Nick demands to be told how this happened.

It seems a few months previous, Mr. Garcos had delivered an early crop of Earliannas tomatoes to the produce market in San Francisco, dealing with a man named Mike Figlia. It turns out Mike promised to pay Garcos a top price for his load, but then offered him wine, drink after drink of it. That’s the last thing Papa remembers. Papa says Figlia didn’t pay him for the load before the accident, but Mama says he must’ve. Polly pipes in that a lawyer reported there were two witnesses (both worked for Figlia) who claim Figlia paid Papa for the load. Nick agrees his father was cheated out of the money and probably had the accident to cover the theft, all at the hands of Figlia and his men.

Then Nick asks what happened to Papa’s truck; since he no longer had legs, he decided he didn’t need it anymore, so he sold it to a man named Ed Kinney who hadn’t yet paid him for it. Nick is told where Kinney is and goes to demand the keys to the truck. Kinney tells Nick he has the inside line on a farmer who has an early crop of Golden Delicious apples ready to be picked up right now, and if he only had someone who could put up the $1200 to pay the farmer, they could beat everyone else to the market and get top dollar for the load. Kinney currently has a deal with two guys he doesn’t really trust who will provide the money and they show up, but Kinney tells them the deal’s off just after he makes an agreement with Nick.

At Kinney’s suggestion, Nick gets a truck of his own and the two set out for the farm to get a double-load of apples that they can take to market. Kinney tries to cheat the farmer out of $300, but Nick insists they pay him all of what Kinney had originally agreed to. What they don’t realize is that the two men Kinney’s cheated out of his previous deal followed them to this secret farm, and if the four men show up at the same market together, their loads won’t be worth nearly as much. The two teams agree to go in different directions, but Kinny and Nick know the other two won’t head south as they agreed to do but will also head for San Francisco. At least Nick and Kinney will leave at least half an hour ahead of them and can beat them to the market. Kinney has to work on his truck, but Nick leaves with his load; Kinney assures him he’ll only be 40 minutes behind his partner.

One of Nick’s tires blows out on the road, so he has to stop and repair it. But as he’s jacking up the truck to change the tire, it collapses on him, pinning him under it. Luckily for him, Kinney soon pulls up and manages to free him by digging him out. Nick’s suffered an injury to his neck, but seems otherwise alright. Nick gets to San Francisco ahead of Kinney, whose truck has once again broken down.

Can Nick avoid being cheated by Figlia? Can Kinney get to the market to help Nick? You’ll have to watch the film to find out!

For the TCM Noir Alley host Eddie Muller, this was the start of his love of film noir, and it’s obvious why. You have a likeable hero who’s trying to set a wrong right. He’s torn between two women and facing stiff odds as he goes up against the man who cheated his father. The director, Jules Dassin, makes great use of locations in San Francisco and elsewhere to tell the story. (And, sadly, by the 1960s, many of these locations were gone.) The movie even features the sexiest game of Tic-Tac-Toe you’ll ever see! I give it 4 (out of 5) unfiltered cigarette puffs.

Next week’s film is “Down Three Dark Streets.” Sounds like we’re going to the bad part of town!

As always, this is an open thread, so talk about what you like in the comments section down below.

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