Sunday, 22 November 2015

Blu-ray Review: Thieves' Highway

Hazardous long-haul trucking; the shady, double-dealing world of produce supply and distribution; rage, revenge and romance.... they're all to be found in AI Bezzerides' screenplay which was based on his own "Thieves' Market" novel.
Directed by Jules Dassin, "Thieves' Highway" terlls the story of Nick Garcos (Richard Conte); a ships mechanic who returns home bearing gifts for his parents and the girl he hopes to marry. In a highly emotional scene, Nick discovers his father is wheelchair-bound, having fallen foul of duplicitous produce dealer Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb).
Soon, Nick is on the road, leaving girlfriend Polly (Barbara Lawrence) behind, with Figlia firmly in his sights.
A new partnership with trucker Ed Kinney (Millard Mitchell) sees nick bound for San Francisco - a 400 mile journey without sleep - transporting a coveted early crop of golden delicious apples.
War veteran Garcos comes over as a decent man, driven to exact revenge for his father's condition and prepared to do whatever it takes in the process, which also involves falling for a wily female.
Valentina Cortesa's Rica is another well-drawn character in a film brimming with them, bringing a continental feel to proceedings.

It's certainly an absorbing journey; mean and moody with shocking violence and lifts the lid on a business not commonly associated with heavy-handed tactics to a surprising degree.
There's real pleasure to be drawn from watching the plot unfold in a shadowy world where loyalty and disloyalty are separated by a wafer-thin line and if none of the characters emerge with any real credit, maybe that's part of the appeal of "Thieves' Highway".

The Blu-ray presentation from Arrow Academy looks terrific,from a new 4K digital restoration from Twentieth Century Fox. The film looks crisp, with real depth and there's a fine level of grain beautifully preserved.
An enthralling documentary is first amongst the supplementary material.
"The Long Haul Of A.I. Bezzerides" (55m 42s) was shot in 2001, and provides an intimate portrait of 'Bezz' with contributions from the man himself, Jules Dassin, Mickey Spillane, Barry Gifford and George P. Pelecanos.
Gifford recalls Bezz was haunted by the flaws of common people, and this is certainly highlighted in "Thieves' Highway". Bezz talks about his work ethic; what made him want to become a writer; penning screenplays for Warner Bros; his opinion on the art of directing and his thoughts on Spillane's "Kiss Me Deadly" novel: Spillane returns the 'favour' elsewhere in this documentary. Clips from "Juke Girl", "On Dangerous Ground" and "Thieves' Highway" are included, but it's Bezzerides himself who gives this peice its heart and soul, talking with passion about his work and movingly, about the loves of his life. A very special guy.

"The Fruits Of Labour" (33m 39s)
This is a new video essay about production, reception and politics from Frank Krutnik, author of "In a Lonely Street".
Frank looks at the theme of the exploitation of labour; talks about the similar backgrounds of Bezzerides and Dassin; title changes; script revision, casting and labels "Thieves' Highway" a 'film gris'.
The 1949 opening in LA and audience and critical reaction are also covered in an essay that really does increase appreciation of this film.

"Commentaries By Frank Krutnik" takes 3 scenes from the film, and offers real insight with regard to mood and motivation.
"The Homecoming" (12m 19s) looks at nature and culture; the central theme of cash in a money-obsessed world and the fate of Nick's father in the novel.

"Delicious Golden" (7m 48s)
Frank highlights the labour behind the produce, the numbers behind the cash and Nick's desire to stop hard working men being cheated. Here, monetary value over nutritional value is what drives the likes of Figlia and his battle with a decent man is part of an age-old duel between right and wrong.

"Rica" (10m 46s)
Frank notes how Rica changes the films' direction; her interaction with Nick and how "Thieves' Highway" launched her career in the US.

A stills gallery comprising 43 photos can be accessed, including several fetching shots of Barbara Lawrence, and there's a theatrical trailer (2m 6s) which begins with the line "Your high road to an explosive human experience".
Arrow have included an excellent collectors booklet which features new writing on the film by Alastair Phillips (co-author of 100 Film Noirs).

A must buy if you're following Arrow's marvellous Jules Dassin collection and if you're not, this is a great place to start.

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