Thieves' Highway

Opening his week-long Noir City film/lecture series is one of Eddie Muller's personal favorites: the 1949 Thieves' Highway, directed by Jules Dassin. "It's set in downtown San Francisco, my hometown," says Muller, "takes place entirely in the dead of night, and suggests that life will always be a struggle against the worst aspects of human nature." Those aspects are embodied primarily by corrupt produce broker Lee J. Cobb, but the farmers and truckers seeking to get their wares to market are also tainted by the system. Thieves' Highway presents a microcosm of ruthless postwar capitalism. A young war veteran (Richard Conte) can hardly find a decent job (sound familiar?), so he drives 400 sleepless miles to San Fran with a load of apples to sell. He needs the windfall to marry his blonde girlfriend, and also to avenge his father—who was cheated and crippled by Cobb's character. Everyone's looking for an angle, a cut of the precious cargo above or below what Conte furiously decries as "four bits a box!" Much as he hates being hustled or swindled, he becomes part of the same vile racket. Shot mostly on location in the Embarcadero, Thieves' Highway provides a star turn for Dassin's Italian girlfriend, Valentina Cortese, as a hooker who mocks her would-be rescuer with winsome sarcasm: "Go ahead, lover! Tell me what a bad girl I am! I'm lost unless you save me!" All 14 titles in the series are being screened as double-features; following at 9:30 p.m. in The House on Telegraph Hill, Cortese plays a Holocaust-haunted woman who steals another's identity to reach San Francisco. There, as you'd expect, more troubles await. (NR) BRIAN MILLER

Fri., Feb. 24, 7 p.m., 2012

 
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