They Drive By Night – 1940

They Drive By Night Poster

My Review

—Some Decent Melodrama— 

Bogie Film Fix:

3 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Raoul Walsh

The Lowdown

The Fabrini brothers (George Raft and Humphrey Bogart) do their best to maintain a living as long distance truckers despite the constant threats of dangerous roads, sleep deprivation, and bosses who try to swindle them at every turn.

What I Thought

Okay.  I’m on board with George Raft.  He reminds me a lot of a more subdued version of James Cagney.  Both guys are small in stature, good looking, and great actors.  Don’t get me wrong, Raft isn’t nearly as charming and charismatic as Cagney, but he does a great job of playing men who are wound tight and ready to explode.

The chemistry here within the entire cast is superb.  Raft and Bogart work well together playing brothers with a very believable sibling dynamic.  Raft and Alan Hale have a lot of fun moments as they fall into business with one another.  Raft and Ann Sheridan make a great couple.  (Full disclosure – I’d pay to see Ann Sheridan watching paint dry, so I’m a little biased.)  And Raft gets to squirm alongside of Ida Lupino in some of the film’s best moments of dramatic tension.

My only real hang-up with the film comes with the ending when it devolves into a “he said/she said” courtroom drama.  The melodrama dial is already set at a “9” here, so I shouldn’t be surprised that they went with the old “murder trial” convention to decide the fates of all involved, but I do feel like it was a bit of an unrealistic cop out for the film to end that way.  I think it might have been more in line with the characters and the story to have Lupino and Raft’s final confrontation be a more privately painful moment.

But there’s so much right with Raoul Walsh’s direction here that I can’t fault the film for too much.  Walsh is one of my absolute favorite Bogart directors having worked on Women of All Nations, The Roaring Twenties, They Drive By Night, High Sierra, Action in the North Atlantic (uncredited), and The Enforcer (uncredited).  He knows how to build a story, get the most out of his actors, and frame each shot like it could be a movie still worth hanging on your wall.  I’m excited to add him to The Usual Suspects soon.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart plays a regular joe with his portrayal of Frank Fabrini.  It’s essentially a “good guy” version of the blue collar role that he played in Black Legion, and Director Walsh makes sure that he has plenty of time to flesh out his character despite the fact that he’s only the fourth billed actor in the film.

Raft and Bogart get the opportunity to build a good natured brotherly relationship before the plot gets dark, and we’re given ample time with Bogart’s Frank and his wife Pearl (Gale Page) as we see him torn between providing for his wife and fulfilling her dreams of a having a baby.  When the Fabrini’s truck is finally wrecked and Frank loses his arm, Bogart has created a deep enough character that it’s a gut wrenching moment to watch him tell his brother that he should have been left behind in the burning vehicle.

It’s not Bogart’s show to steal here, but he does a great job with a large supporting role.

The Cast

George Raft plays Bogart’s brother and trucking partner, Joe Fabrini.  Raft is authentic and relatable as the industrious trucker who’s willing to work hard in order to get ahead.  Besides this film, Invisible Stripes, and Some Like it Hot, I’m not familiar with Raft’s work, and I feel the urge to start exploring the rest of his filmography.  Raft’s biggest talent as an actor is the ability to play his emotions close to his chest until it’s time for the drama to really kick in.  I think I’m a big enough man to finally let his off screen tension with Bogart go . . .

Ann Sheridan plays truck stop waitress Cassie Hartley who falls for Raft after he’s more than a little persistent.  Sheridan does a good job of giving us the impression that she’s a good girl who’s perhaps done some dark things in her past, and she has some really nice scenes with Raft as they share a hotel room for a night before eventually falling in love and making a life together.  I can’t get enough of Sheridan, and this is one of her best Bogart film appearances.

Ida Lupino is Lana Carlsen, the femme fatale that bumps off her husband so that she can go after Raft.  Lupino is lots of fun here as she smolders away, doing whatever it takes to keep the money she married into while making advances on a man who wants nothing to do with her.  The moment where she makes the decision to leave her husband in the garage with the car running is done to perfection.  Just a moment of realization flashes across her eyes – then there’s a short pause before passing the garage door sensor – Director Walsh and Lupino put together a wonderful little murder scene.

Alan Hale plays Lupino’s gregarious husband, Ed Carlsen.  Ed’s the trucker who made good, finally opening his own company, and it’s a crime – A CRIME, I TELL YA! – when Lupino bumps him off.  What kind of sick mind thinks it would be a better world without Alan Hale?!?  It’s insanity in its purest form . . .

Roscoe Karns plays the good natured, pinball-addicted, milk truck driver for Ed Carlsen, Irish McGurn.  Karns is a scene stealer in the best possible way, and it’s a real treat to have him in the film.  The moments between Karns and Hale when they play drunk are laugh-out-loud good.

Classic Bogie Moment

In a rare turn, Bogart gets to play both goofy and dramatic here.  One of his very best mugging moments from any film comes when he’s trying to mime his excitement about a sale to George Raft behind the back of a prospective client (George Tobias) which gives us this great pic for your classic moment from the film:

They Drive By Night Bogart

The Bottom Line

I’d go ahead and make this one a must see.  It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it’s a great supporting role for Bogart where he gets to explore a lot of character depth and nuance.

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5 thoughts on “They Drive By Night – 1940

  1. I love the first half of this film, and Bogart in particular is great and utterly convincing. I feel as if it is his film despite the fact he is in a support role, but then must admit I’ve never been a fan of Raft – will have to follow your lead and see more of his work, and maybe that will change. For me the film falls off a bit in the second half when the lorry driving takes a back seat and it turns into a murder melodrama… I also think Ida Lupino goes over the top in this, although I do really like her. Your review makes me want to see it again!

    • You know, it really took a repeat viewing of Invisible Stripes for me to finally admit that I like the guy – and that was based almost solely on his relationship with his mother in the film. Totally agree about the second half of the film too. I wouldn’t have minded it so much if not for the predictable courtroom showdown. I say if you’re going to go that way, it should just end with the two of them alone in a room with a gun. After that I think any outcome would have been better!

  2. Pingback: George Raft | The Bogie Film Blog

  3. Pingback: Alan Hale | The Bogie Film Blog

  4. Pingback: Ida Lupino | The Bogie Film Blog

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