Sunday, September 20, 2009
Day 226: Thieves' Highway (1949) - Rank 4/5
Jules Dassin, the master behind "Rififi," presents his own take on Frank Herbert's "Dune." That is, if "Dune" had been written prior to 1965...and had been set on Earth...and if apples too the place of spice...yeah. Clearly, the informational shorts that Mr. Rogers aired on his show between hallucinatory expeditions to the realm of Lady Elaine and King Friday were nothing but lies. I was raised to believe that apples were harvested in halcyon orchards and brought to market by grandfatherly farmer stereotypes. But Dassin's portrayal take on how fruits come to market is scarcely kid-friendly, marred with rackets and murder.
Nick Garcos (Richard Conte - who followed his performance here with "Whirlpool") returns home from his tour of duty in the armed services only to find his father, a lowly trucker who tried to make it peddling fruits, now a poor cripple. Nick suspects the shady fruit vendor, Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb), to be the individual responsible for both stealing a large sum of money from his father as well as handicapping him, so he enters the trade by purchasing a large sum of apples and teaming up with one of his father's former partners, and heads to San Francisco to outsmart Figlia. Figlia, however, is far craftier than Garcos could foresee, employing hookers and hoods alike to take away Garcos' money and stock.
Mike Figlia is possibly one of the great, unsung villains of cinema history. I'd never heard of the character prior to watching this film, and he definitely has unsavory moments borne out of greed that rival the actions of Gordon Gecko. Lee J. Cobb is utterly intimidating. Granted, the character actor made a career out of playing surly, obnoxious rogues, but his portrayal of Figlia makes his heated Juror #3 from "Twelve Angry Men" seem like a pacifist. He runs the open farmer's market like a mob boss, squashing vendors and sending his thugs on missions to incapacitate their drivers. It's his hatchet-wielding character and performance alone that make this a worthy investment of time.
Watch the Trailer