April 3, 2024

THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT: One of Raoul Walsh's Best

1940 / 95 min
Available at www.MovieZyng.com
Review by Mr. Paws😹

They Drive by Night is an excellent film with a loaded cast, a couple of whom were on the verge of stardom when this was released. What begins as a rough & tumble road movie eventually evolves into a stunning slab of film noir, with romance and a surprising amount of humor in between. It’s all seamlessly assembled by director Raoul Walsh.

Joe & Paul Fabrini (George Raft & Humphrey Bogart) are a couple of loyal brothers struggling to make a living as freelance truckers while avoiding a loan shark trying to repossess their rig. During one run, Joe meets and gives a lift to Cassie (Ann Sheridan), who just quit her waitress job. The two eventually fall in love. 

Meanwhile, during another run, an overtired Paul crashes the truck and loses his arm. Racked with guilt over the incident and now without a vehicle, Joe takes a job working for old buddy Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale), who owns a successful trucking business. Ed’s married to Lana (Ida Lupino), who barely masks contempt for her husband’s constant drinking and lack of class. She’s also obsessed with Joe, who rebuffs her repeated advances out of loyalty to Ed (and love for Cassie)…

Guess who's getting stuck with the check.
…so Lana murders her husband, making it look like an accident. She then offers Joe an equal partnership in the business, which he agrees to on the proviso that their relationship remains professional. He even brings Paul onboard as a dispatcher. However, upon learning Joe plans to marry Cassie, Lana becomes so enraged that she tells authorities she murdered Ed because Joe forced her to. 

From beginning to end, this is great stuff, punctuated by sharp dialogue and top-notch performances from the main cast, who seem to be taking turns stealing scenes from each other. Lupino, in particular, wonderfully transforms from sultry femme fatale to raving lunatic over the course of the story. It's no wonder she became a star soon after. Same with Bogart, who isn’t really in the film all that much after the first act, but is an indelible screen presence. 

Walsh keeps things moving at a lively pace with his usual directorial flare. They Drive by Night isn’t among his most-remembered work, but it’s arguably one of the best he made while under contract at Warner Brothers. While the movie can’t really be pigeonholed into one particular genre, it’s definitely a must-see for film noir fans. So far, this is the best Warner Archive Blu-ray release of the year.


FEATURETTE - Divided Highway: The Story of They Drive by Night is an excellent 10 minute retrospective doc, with insights and history from critics & historians like Leonard Maltin.

WB SHORT - Swingtime in the Movies is a 20 minute 1938 comedy with cameos by a few notable WB stars, including Humphrey Bogart.

LUX RADIO THEATER BROADCAST - From 1941, this radio adaptation of They Drive by Night features George Raft and Lana Turner.


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