They Drive By Night
Films in BOLD will Air on TCM * | VIEW TCMDb ENTRY
Raoul Walsh's action melodrama of long distance truckers follows the edge-of- the-seat travails of the Fabrini brothers Joe (George Raft) and Paul (Humphrey Bogart). These "wild catters" drive perilous roads and take enormous chances, all in the hopes of one day owning their own truck and going independent. When Joe is hired on by an ex-trucker turned entrepreneur, Ed J. Carlsen (Alan Hale), to oversee his massive trucking business, all the Fabrinis' problems appear to be over. In fact, they've only just begun. For years, Ed's wife Lana (Ida Lupino) has been carrying a torch for Joe, and Lana is not the kind of woman who takes "no" for an answer. Caught in a typical black widow double bind, Lana can't let go of Ed's substantial wealth, but can't have Joe as long as she's married to Ed. The only solution...murder, of course.
George Raft was instrumental in recommending Lupino for the part of Lana and her brilliant rendition of the jealousy-deranged, glamorous wife decked in a king's ransom of jewels and furs turned out to be her first important film role. Raft also had a hand in helping Bogart's career take off. Though Bogart played a secondary role in They Drive By Night (1940) as the hangdog married brother to Raft's savvy lady killer, that understated role would soon lead to higher profile work. Raft, who didn't want to die in another picture, passed on the starring role in Walsh's next picture, High Sierra (1941), and instead, recommended Bogart for the film -- a part that made Bogie into a major star.
As memorable for its fast-paced, realist introduction to life on the trucking circuit as it is for its later descent into murder-thriller mode, Walsh's road movie manages to combine hairpin action, crackling hardboiled dialogue and charismatic performances from Lupino, Bogart and Raft.
Raft "trained" for his career playing gangster and petty criminal roles in films like Scarface (1932) as a kid growing up on the mean streets of New York's Hell's Kitchen and then as a crime-connected hoodlum. His background as a rum-runner came in especially handy when an accident on the set of They Drive By Night required the actor to use his bootlegger driving skills to deal with failed brakes on one of the trucks being used to shoot a driving scene with Raft's on-screen love interest Ann Sheridan and Bogart on board.
The characteristic Warner Brothers realism is apparent in the early truck driving scenes which establish the Fabrini brothers' world of long distance wild-catting with its trucker camaraderie, crowded truck stop diners, grueling schedules and corrupt bosses. A loose remake of another thriller, Bordertown (1935), starring Bette Davis as the murderous wife, They Drive By Night is considered one of the best films in director Raoul Walsh's canon. Its two-fisted action and snappy dialogue is a wonderful combination of the gritty Warner Brothers "working man" film style and Walsh's own talent for crafting instinctive, suspenseful thrillers, while still demonstrating a rare sympathy for the difficulties of his working class characters.
Director: Raoul Walsh
Producer: Mark Hellinger, Hal B. Wallis (executive)
Screenplay: Jerry Wald, Richard Macauley, based on the novel 'Long Haul' by A.I. Bezzerides
Cinematography: Arthur Edeson
Editor: Thomas Richards
Art Direction: John Hughes
Music: Adolph Deutsch
Cast: George Raft (Joe Fabrini), Ann Sheridan (Cassie Hartley), Ida Lupino (Lana Carlsen), Humphrey Bogart (Paul Fabrini), Gale Page (Pearl Fabrini)
BW-96m. Close captioning.
by Felicia Feaster