|Directed by||Raoul Walsh|
They Drive by Night is a 1940 black-and-white film noir starring George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, and Humphrey Bogart, and directed by Raoul Walsh. The picture involves a pair of embattled truck drivers and was released in the UK under the title The Road to Frisco. The film was based on A. I. Bezzerides‘ 1938 novelLong Haul, which was later reprinted under the title They Drive by Night to capitalize on the success of the film. Part of the film’s plot (that of Ida Lupino’s character murdering her husband by carbon monoxide poisoning) was borrowed from another Warner Bros. film, Bordertown (1935).
When the film was released, The New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther, gave the film a positive review, writing, “But for fanciers of hard-boiled cinema, They Drive By Night still offers an entertaining ride. As Mr. Raft modestly remarks of his breed, ‘We’re tougher than any truck ever come off an assembly line.’ That goes for the picture, too.”
The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 94% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 17 reviews.
Enjoyable, And Hard To Classify
Not much action here for a “film noir” and really more of a melodrama than a crime story, but I still like this because the story’s decent and it features a top-flight cast of actors who are usually fun to watch.
That cast includes George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart and Gale Page. My favorite of the group – in this film, at least
- is Sheridan, a wise-cracking waitress. Raft and Bogart are truck
drivers and Lupino plays the boss’ wife. In here, the two women are more interesting than the men, which says a lot considering its Raft and Bogart.
Sheridan not only is easy on the eyes but delivers some great film-noir-type lines. Unfortunately, the edge is taken off her once she leave the diner and hitches a ride with Raft to Los Angeles.
Bogart plays more of a low-key family man whose wife (Page) is the nice- looking, wholesome type. This is one of the last movies Bogart made before he became a star. Hence, he gets fourth billing in here.
Lupino is very good as the vicious scorned woman, a role she found herself playing in a number of films.
As mentioned above, I’m not really sure how one would classify this film since there is humor, film noir, soap opera, straight drama and romance all in it. The combination makes the film interesting and recommended.
The Long Haul
Author: telegonus from brighton, ma
20 July 2002
This is the kind of movie that makes movie buffs movie buffs. On the surface the story is routine (I’m tempted to say hackneyed), the psychology shallow, the acting variable, and the meaning, such as it can be said to have one, borderline moronic. Yet it works like a charm, and is a minor classic of its kind. This is a tough movie to categorize. Not that one has to. It’s a long haul trucker movie. But is that a genre? It has comedy and romance but is neither a comedy nor a romance; and it has tragedy but is not a tragedy. Near the end it turns into a murder story, though I wouldn’t call it a crime picture. Director Raoul Walsh had a flair for subverting genres anyway, and made basically Raoul Walsh pictures, whatever the putative genre, and this one’s about as Raoul Walsh as you can get.
It’s the story of two brothers, played by George Raft and Humphrey Bogart, who are wildcat truckers who don’t want to work for anyone else. They’d like to own their own rig but can’t afford one, and are in debt up to their ears half the time. As the story progresses, Bogart loses in arm in an accident, and the boys have to go work for the boorish if amiable Alan Hale, whose wife, Ida Lupino, has eyes for Raft. Ann Sheridan is also on hand, as the hash-slinging good girl Raft really belongs with. Nothing special here, no great drama, and certainly no surprises. What drives the film, literally, is its optimism, especially as it relates to “little guys” Raft and Bogart. Without being too emphatic about it the movie is like a cheerleader for these two from start to finish.
The dialogue is salty and well-delivered by all, even the usually tedious Raft, while the background stuff,–the diners, rented rooms and garages–is beautifully detailed and always believable. Director Walsh was made for Warner Brothers, the studio that produced the film. He had a feeling for regular people, informal surroundings, the hustle and bustle of working life. Nor was he the least bit pretentious. The studio’s famous liberalism didn’t seem to rub off on him. He remained a populist with an anarchic streak, and was never an ideologue, hence this movie’s depiction of blue collar life rings truer than most, as we know that these little guys want to be big shots (as most little guys do), and that they mean it when they say they want to give everyone a fair shake. We know in our guts that if these two ever make it to the big time they’ll be awfully nice guys to work for. It’s not easy for a movie to convince a viewer of such things,–it’s not easy for a movie to be convincing at all, but this one is. Thanks to Raoul Walsh, with a little help from his fine cast.
One of George Raft’s best
Author: ROCKY-19 from Arizona
8 August 2006
Let’s get this out of the way first: Humphrey Bogart’s legions of fans seem impelled to insult George Raft as often as possible, no matter how inappropriate or clearly wrong. Those not so blinded will thoroughly enjoy this odd, mixed bag of a picture. Raft and Bogey play brothers – very believably so – who are wildcat truck drivers trying to get ahead in a tough business during the Depression. The film is odd because it seems like two separate movies. It starts out as a seeming social commentary on the hard life of truckers with fine characterizations. But as soon as Ida Lupino appears it veers straight into film noir. I, personally, would have preferred a continuation of the tone of the first part of the film rather than be subjected to the “crazy b—-” act that so many call “classic” and “stealing the picture.” There either should have been more foreshadowing of this switch early in the film, or the screenwriters should have found something more consistent. At any rate, Raft and Bogart get to step away from gangster roles for a breather. They’re still tough guys, but they’re vulnerable to the whims of fate. Raft, in fact, is adorable here,
uncharacteristically blue-collar and common, desperate to be in charge of his own life. He has instant chemistry with no-nonsense Ann Sheridan. Raft works so comfortably under Walsh’s direction, it’s rather refreshing. If rumors are true and Bogart and Raft were not getting along at this point, they were both professionals and hid it very well. Blame Lupino, but by the second half of the film, Bogart practically disappears just when we’d like to see more development of his very sympathetic character. For Bogart fans, this is not a “Bogey” film. He’s simply prepping for legend-status just around the corner. It would have been nice to see more of Sheridan, as well. I don’t recall Alan Hale ever being better than he is here – watch the small things he does with such a loud character. Lupino is definitely unforgettable, and her cult following will love this. Roscoe Karns is again a fun comic foil. The editing of the picture is sometimes a bit rough, and there is a telephone sequence that does not visually work. Arthur Edeson was a frustratingly inconsistent cinematographer, ranging from brilliant work like “Casa Blanca” to B level work. This is somewhere in the middle, but the road sequences are great.
“Asleep at the wheel”
The beginning of the 1940s in Hollywood sees the loosening of genre conventions as different movie formats began to interbreed. In particular a kind of gangster-flick meanness began to shove its way into regular drama, eventually producing the style we now call film noir. They Drive By Night is an odd little transition movie from this period, one of those awkward little steps in an evolutionary process.
The leading role went to George Raft, which was as good a way as any of sticking some gangland atmosphere into the picture. Raft can’t act though, at least not very well, being at turns jittery and wooden – very much the poor man’s Cagney. He should have gone into musicals like Cagney did, as he was a very good dancer. Raft is supported by Humphrey Bogart, who was at the time just on the cusp of becoming a major star, although no-one knew it at the time. It looks very odd to see him next to Raft, a bit like spotting Elvis Presley in somebody’s backing band, since although he is rarely centre-stage he has fantastic presence, always on the verge of upstaging. They Drive By Night also features one of the earliest big parts for Ida Lupino, and I regret to say she is at her most hysterically bad. Admittedly bits of her performance look OK, but to see the whole thing shows it to be very forced and calculated, lacking in any kind of natural flow.
The director is Raoul Walsh, which is a bit of a mixed omen. Although Walsh was a fine craftsman, no studio ever gave him a really important project since The Big Trail in 1930 and nearly all his later pictures smack of potboiler. Still, a good man with a bad movie. In They Drive By Night he keeps his camera close to the action to elicit a feeling of intensity and restlessness. He doesn’t over-emphasise interiors and doesn’t clutter shots with props or shadows, but still the atmosphere is cramped with the way actors all seem to huddle together, filling the frame. He uses wider, open shots for emphasis at important moments in the same way another director might use a close-up. Still, the story lacks the free-spirited romanticism that inspired Walsh’s most memorable moments.
And that’s not all that’s wrong with the story. They Drive By Night sets itself up, quite promisingly, as a gritty action drama about the lives of bottom-rung truckers. Then, halfway through, the plot is hijacked by Lupino and turned into some femme-fatale murder wotsit, and all the business about trying to scrape a meagre profit and stay awake on long hauls (not to mention Bogart’s character) is forgotten. It’s not that this is confusing, as both parts are fairly straightforward, it’s just that neither of them is fully developed. Each bit looks like half a movie, the first one trailing off into nothing, the second boiled down into forty minutes of clichés.
Of course the device of slightly barmy yet beautiful women bumping off their husbands would become something of a film noir staple. But here is where They Drive By Night shows its primitiveness alongside later noirs. Raft resists Lupino like a saint, and stays true to goody-goody Anne Sheridan (and on the subject of Sheridan, why is she suddenly transformed from smooth-talking floozy to prim housewife-in-waiting?) Over the next two decades Fred MacMurray, Orson Welles and even Jimmy Stewart would be getting suckered in by the “wrong kind of woman” and being dragged down to a sorry end. And perhaps this is the final flaw in They Drive By Night. In pictures like this, we don’t want perfect morals and cosy endings. We want the hero to take the bait hook, line and sinker.