Friday, December 5, 2008

They Drive By Night

"They Drive By Night" (Raoul Walsh, 1940) Warner Brothers-style action-and-intrigue pot-boiler about...wild-cat truckers. The brothers Fabrini (George Raft and Humphrey Bogart) are partners in a truck who decide to stop working for other shipping companies and do the deals themselves. This pushes their murderous schedules to the edge and consequences determine a change of focus. An interesting little movie where two Warner's tough-guys—Raft and his understudy at the time, Bogart*—do "everyman" jobs and mine real drama out of it. Of course, it couldn't be a Warner's picture without action and the film boasts two nail-biters where truck-drivers fall asleep at the wheel, filmed with the snap that one can expect from Raoul Walsh.

Where the movie excels is the smart patter that spins drama in the economic realities of this corps of transport specialists. The movie manages to slip in lessons in Unionization and Modernization amid the wise-cracks and the trumped murder-plot that dominates the film's second half. You begin to feel like you're learning something without being preached to.

And there's enough good acting going on that raises it above "B" level. Raft is a bit looser in the starring role, but Bogart has the most dramatic...and fun part.
Ann Sheridan does well with her wise-acre dialog and Ida Lupino manages a mine-filed of femme fatale neuroses with dexterity and quick-silver reactions. But the stand-out is Alan Hale—"The Skipper''s" dad—who takes the part of a trucker-who-owns-a-company and can't believe his good fortune. Hale's "Ed Carlsen" never has a "down" moment, and is carried out with wolfish good spirits and the sense that he's making it up as he goes along. His performance is the diamond in the rough in this rough little film about trucking.

*At this time in his career, Bogie was still upset at the way his career was going, he was still doing the occasional western, and just the previous year he starred in the worst movie of his career--"The Return of Doctor X!" But in his next movie would be a part that Raft tosses aside--"Mad Dog" Roy Earle in "High Sierra." And the next part meant for Raft but inherited by Bogart would be detective Sam Spade in "The Maltese Falcon."

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