Thieves Highway (1949): Jules Dassin’s Classic Noir of 1949, Starring Richard Conte and Valentina Cortesa

Acknolwedged now by many critics and scholars as a classic film noir, Thieves Highway was directed by Jules Dassin and written by A. I. Bezzerides, based on the latter’s novel Thieves’ Market.

In one of his best and meatiest roles, Richard Conte stars as Nico “Nick” Garcos a war-vet turned-truck driver, who comes back home to find his foreign-born father-framer crippled.

Nico vows vengeance upon learning that his father was physically abused by the corrupt produce dealer in San Francisco, Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb).

Garcos drives a truckload of apples to San Francisco, where he runs into Figlia. With the help of other drivers and a prostitute (Valentina Cortese), he fights and defeats Figlia, thus achieving the most important thing to him, restoring his family honor.

The confrontation between hero and villain comes at the very hand in a one on one fight, and as usual, the issue of whether or not (and when) to contact the police, features prominently in the text.

Brilliantly shot on location, in San Francisco, in black and white by noir maestro Nicolas, , the film achieves authenticity that’s unprecedented for its time, including an accurate depiction of the fruit and produce market in that city.

The outdoor Fruit Market scenes were shot in the Oakland Produce Market area on 3rd street.  Dassin insisted on casting as extras real life guys who worked at the market

Many scenes were shot in Oakland’s actual Produce Market, now known as the Warehouse district.

A film noir with a happy ending (not exactly congruent with the genre or this particular story), Thieves Highway concludes with the formation of a new bond between Nico and Rica.


Richard Conte as Nico “Nick” Garcos

Valentina Cortesa as Rica

Lee J. Cobb as Mike Figlia

Barbara Lawrence as Polly Faber

Jack Oakie as Slob

Millard Mitchell as Ed Kinney

Joseph Pevney as Pete

Morris Carnovsky as Yanko Garcos

Tamara Shayne as Parthena Garcos

Kasia Orzazewski as Mrs. Polansky

Norbert Schiller as Mr. Polansky

Hope Emerson as Midge



Running time: 94 Minutes

Made and released by 20th Century Fox

Released date: October 10, 1949

Produced by Robert Bassler

Directed by Jules Dassin

Screenplay: A. I. Besserides, based on his book, Thieves Market

Music: Alfred Newman

Camera: Norbert Brodine

Editing: Dick DeMaggio