"There was only meanness and hardness lumping like grief in his chest..." that's one of my favorite lines from A. I. Bezzerides' underrated masterpiece "Thieves' Market", the novel which this movie is based. As much as I like this movie, the novel is even better. It's darker (pretty much pitch black), more violent, there's foul language, it's gritty, brutal, nasty and most importantly Bezzerides is an amazing writer. His naturalist style here is like a mixture of Zola's "Germinal" and Steinbeck's "In Dubious Battle"...two of my absolute favorite books.
The movie's no slouch though. The story is about Nick Garcos. He comes home from the military to find his father has two bum legs from an accident. Thing is he doesn't remember the wreck, all he remembers is trying to get the money owed him by a scumbag produce wholesaler in San Francisco by the name of Mike Figlia. Nick teams up with a truck driver Ed Kinney (played by one of my favorite actors, Millard Mitchell) to take the season's very first load of apples down to Figlia and get their money, plus the money owed to Nick's father. That's the plan anyways.
The direction by Jules Dassin is masterful. If you look at his resume between 1947 and 1955 he just made one impressive movie after another all in a row: BRUTE FORCE, THE NAKED CITY, THIEVES' HIGHWAY, NIGHT AND THE CITY and RIFIFI. He might have made some other great films (I'm positive that he did), but the rest of his films are kinda hard to find...I'm working on it though, so be patient.
All the performances are great, but the standout to me is Lee J. Cobb. This guy is a real slimeball! As soon as the first words out of his mouth you just want to vomit and beat the shit out of him, then he talks some more and you want to murder the fucking prick just to make the world a better place. What an asshole!
Like I said earlier, the novel is much better. It's more realistic and [SPOILERS!!!] it doesn't have that tacked on shitty ending. What a letdown after such a great film. Honestly, it's the only thing keeping it from being selected as on of Dymon's Favorite Movies. I haven't seen such a horrible, tacked on happy ending since MY DARLING CLEMENTINE.[END OF SPOILERS!!!]
If you like realistic, bleak noirs then I think you'll enjoy THIEVES' HIGHWAY, but do yourself a favor a read the novel also.