Nick's partner Ed Kinney has been following Nick to San Francisco with his truckload of Golden Delicious apples. He is lagging because his truck is an old jalopy and is barely making it. Two opportunists are following him in their truck in the hope that he'll break down and they will be able to snag his precious load.
Then ... The two trucks start to climb up a steep grade.
... and Now, supposedly they are driving from Fresno, 190 miles south of San Francisco, but in fact these highway scenes were filmed on Highway 29 in Napa Valley 75 miles north of San Francisco. Here, they are heading north out of Calistoga on the Calistoga Grade section of the Lake County Highway and are just approaching a hairpin bend (map).
Ed's truck barely makes it over the top of the grade and as he picks up speed going downhill the driveshaft snaps and his brakes fail. He is in big trouble as he fights to control his truck during a wild high speed descent (below). This is still the Calistoga Grade but here he is travelling in the opposite direction, towards the Napa Valley floor.
Then ... He is horrified to see a hard left turn into a wicked hairpin bend rushing towards him. The Napa Valley, spread out ahead, catches our attention but not his.
... and Now, this is the same hairpin bend he was climbing towards (top picture), but from the opposite direction (map)
... an aerial view ... here's that hairpin bend as viewed on Google Earth. It's more than 180 degrees, warranting its 15 mph limit.
Then ... As he whips into the curve, fighting the g-force, he knows there's no way he'll make it - to borrow a noir cliche, his number is up.
... and Now, a better road surface but otherwise identical.
His truck plunges off the side of the road and barrel rolls down the hill, scattering thousands of apples over the slope and erupting into flames.
... and Now, the valley floor, viewed from the same roadside spot, is blanketed by vineyards (below). Who could have known back then that this area would become one of the world's most famous winemaking appellations?
Then ... The crash footage ends as passers-by pull over and pick their way through scattered apples and broken crates towards the billowing smoke. There is nothing they can do. Director Jules Dassin in a later interview said this was his all-time favorite shot.
... and Now, the slope today is unchanged but for a rundown fence and overgrown weeds.