Thursday, June 07, 2007

Tonight's Movie: They Drive By Night (1940)

The California trucking industry provides the backdrop for a fascinating story of romance and murder. Joe (George Raft) and Paul Fabrini (Humphrey Bogart) are brothers trying to make a go of it as truckers, fighting lack of sleep, corrupt businessmen, and a truck repossessor. Things start looking up when Joe falls in love with a pretty truck stop waitress (Ann Sheridan) and later gets a good job with a growing trucking company. But the boss's wife (Ida Lupino) has her eye on Joe and will stop at nothing to have him.

The film starts out as a good example of Warner Bros.' films about working-class characters, then abruptly segues halfway through into a noirish tale of murder and madness. ("The doors made me do it!" is one of those lines you'll never forget.) Despite the movie's schizophrenic nature, it's a must-see, with crackling dialogue and a standout performance by Ida Lupino. She has a remarkable scene where her thoughts are entirely conveyed by the changing looks in her eyes, yet you can "see" every word she's thinking.

The supporting cast includes Gale Page (FOUR DAUGHTERS, DAUGHTERS COURAGEOUS) as Humphrey Bogart's patient wife. Alan Hale, Roscoe Karns, George Tobias, and Joyce Compton (SPRING MADNESS) round out the cast.

THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT was directed by the great Raoul Walsh, who later that same year directed Bogart and Lupino in the classic HIGH SIERRA.

The movie was filmed in black and white and runs 93-95 minutes. The murder story in the plot was borrowed from a Bette Davis movie called BORDERTOWN (1935). A good trailer can be seen here.

It can be seen on DVD in a single title release or as part of the Humphrey Bogart Signature Collection, Vol. 1. Extras include a featurette about the making of the film, as well as a short. It can also be seen on VHS. (I wonder if anyone else who's seen the movie thinks the VHS cover art is as odd as I do!)

THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT can also be seen on TCM, where it recently aired as part of this month's tribute to Ida Lupino.

May 2017 Update: THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT has been reissued on DVD by the Warner Archive.


Blogger Dana said...

Have to comment on George Raft who was my favorite actor of that time. He was in another great, little-known noir called Loan Sharks that's worth checking out. Raft was a real-life noir character who hobnobbed with the Mob, gambled his money away, and chased all kinds of sleazy dames. He once called off a Mob hit on his friend James Cagney. He's the authentic hard-boiled character that the well-bred Humphrey Bogart, a terrible actor, pretended to be. Director Walsh went on to make the all-time classic White Heat in '49 with Jimmy Cagney that's maybe the best gangster noir of all time, with another real-life noir guy Steve Cochran in a supporting role. Warner Bros. had a certain fast-paced, rat-tat-tat populist style in the '30s and '40s because studio-owned theaters were assigned to exclusive geographic regions and Warners got the rural and Midwest, while Paramount and MGM got more sophisticated urban centers. This core audience shaped the style of their pictures.

7:39 AM  
Blogger Wolf Flywheel said...

I give you the fact that Bogart could be a little stiff, but terrible? Not quite.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Dana said...

Roger Ebert FlyWheel there,

Bogie was perfect in Laura's featured movie, They Drive By Night, as a second banana--leaving the heavy lifting to George Raft. Bogie never belonged above the title. Bogie a heavy who pushes around other thugs? For one thing, he looked about five-foot-four and 120 pounds soaking wet and had a mincing little walk. He was a big-time Red and boozehound, too.

Hats off to Elia Kazan for exposing the Hollywood Commies back when! We need another witchhunt today and House Un-American Activities Committee to smoke out the Commies in the movie racket. Let's put 'em in the cooler with Paris Hilton with only a do-it-yourself penicillin kit.

2:35 PM  
Blogger Irene said...

I can't believe it! Two movies in a row that the county library has. So now I have requested this one also.

I loved Ida Lupino. She was a woman ahead of her time and I don't think she has ever received her well deserved due for her work in front of and behind the camera in movies and television. They don't make 'em like that anymore.

4:09 PM  
Blogger J.C. Loophole said...


I like George Raft as well, but I like Bogey too. I especially liked when Raft was paired with James Cagney.
On a different note, My favorite Elia Kazan movie is On the Waterfront. He is an underrated director, sadly because of the stupidity of Hollywood politics today.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Irene, I hope you enjoy THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT. If you're a Lupino fan you should really enjoy her performance. (I also highly recommend ON DANGEROUS GROUND with Lupino and Robert Ryan, which I reviewed here a few months's on DVD.)

J.C., I really enjoyed the Kazan documentary, "A Director's Journey," on the ON THE WATERFRONT DVD (although when I see it in future I'm going to remember how much Richard Schickel hates bloggers, sadly!).

Bones, glad to know you're a fellow movie fan...something in common!

Best wishes,
Laura (who likes Bogart just fine)

9:34 AM  

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