They Drive by Night

Year 1940

George Raft as  Joe Fabrini
Ann Sheridan as Cassie Hartley
Ida Lupino as Lana Carlsen
Humphrey Bogart   as Paul Fabrini
Alan Hale as Ed Carlsen
Director - Raoul Walsh
Screenwriters - Jerry Wald
  - Richard Macaulay  

In Bogart's last non-starring role, he plays Paul, the brother of Joe Fabrini (George Raft). It's Joe who gets the girl, the fame, and the fortune. Bogart is the working stiff who suffers and is the the counterpoint to Joe's erupting success.

The plot? Two brothers work hard as truckers and don't get ahead. Then thanks to providence, the older brother gets a break and makes the most of it and brings Paul along. After a murder, Joe gets even further ahead.

And that kind of bothers me. Paul and Joe are good guys who look out for each other, but despite their hard work and risky money making strategies, they get further behind. That's life in the big city. But, you expect them to at some point perform their own bootstrap lifting feat. It doesn't happen. Instead, Joe is given a break under shady circumstances and he uses the opportunity to make good. Then he's given another once in a lifetime chance, again under tawdry conditions, and makes even better.

I guess that this is like life. The point, I guess, is that Joe never loses his honor despite temptation. But it bothers me that the two brothers couldn't make it on their own.

The movie tries to be realistic in its portrayal of truck drivers of the era. There're the roadside diners, the risk of falling asleep, the shylocks who own their trucks, and the shady dealings of the trucking company owners. This is all good stuff.

George Raft's character is a little too perfect. He shows little wear and tear despite the long hours driving. Bogart is more convincing as the guy being worn out by his job choice. Alan Hale as the nice trucking company owner is... Well, he's Alan Hale. The Skipper's real life father.

The women steal this movie from the guys. Ann Sheridan is a sex symbol from the 40s. In most of her movies, I don't see why. However in this movie, as roadside diner waitress Cassie Hartley, she manages to combine independence, vulnerability, and a smart mouth with a nice figure and create the 1940's equivalent of an unpretentious, sultry soccer mom.

As a waitress, guys hit on her and she hits right back.

Cassie: Anything else?
Joe: Yeah. What else you got that ain't poisonous?
Cassie: I don't know. I never eat here.

Joe: It's a classy chassis.
Cassie: You couldn't even afford the headlights.
Joe: When I'm relaxed my thoughts are clear.
Cassie: Yeah. I can even read them from here.
Cassie: Anything else?
Joe: Yeah. But it ain't on the menu.
Cassie: And it ain't gunna be.

There are some other nice exchanges as well.

McGurn: Sit down and have a drink. It's drinking that makes you beautiful.
Sue: Aw, I haven't been drinking.
McGurn: I know. But I have.
Farnsworth: Well you don't have to be nasty about it.
Paul: We don't have to be, but it's more fun that way.

Then there's Ida Lupino's character. She's Lana Carlsen, the trophy wife who thinks that she can have her cake and eat it, too. Even though the movie starts as a working-stiff-busts-his-hump-and-makes-good movie, the plot takes a twist and it becomes a murder movie. It's not a mystery, but there is a murder and the question arises as to whether or not the crime will go unpunished.

A lot of movies and most television shows about lawyers have the guilty party cracking and confessing on the witness stand. It's used so often that it's hackneyed. In this movie, though, it's great. It's convincing and not really even out of place. I'll bet that every courtroom scene that came after They Drive by Night tried to duplicate the tension and credibility on display. Very, very few even came close.

So why isn't They Drive by Night rated higher? Well, Raoul Walsh may have made a name for himself by combining disparate elements into a cohesive whole. (A truck driver success story mixed with murder, for example.) But that doesn't mean that it's a fluid whole. Ed Carlsen quips, "I wish they'd quit inventing things." Hint! Hint! Ed's brush with technology will be his undoing.

I've already mentioned Joe's implausible rise to success. I didn't mention Paul's tragedy which could've been a movie by itself. The main plots are covered, but too much ground is gone over too quickly. Walsh spends a lot of time on a few scenes and flies through the rest of the movie. The elongated scenes are sometimes brilliant but also sometimes boring. The quick fillers between are often too short.

Oh, and Ida Lupino is British and does not fully master the American pronunciation of words by this movie. It can be distracting if you have an ear for that sort of thing.

So it's a good movie and worth watching. But it's disappointing that Bogart doesn't get enough time, the success of Joe is not a result of his singular efforts, and some interesting side stories like Paul's rehabilitation are omitted.

No nudity or blasphemy, some snappy dialog, and Ida Lupino in a great role. Chick flick potential is pretty high, too.

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