They Drive By Night – Raoul Walsh – 1940


They Drive By Night CoverOriginal title: They Drive By Night
Rating: 4 Stars
Year: 1940
Directors: Raoul Walsh
Duration: 95 min.
Genre: Film Noir, Drama, Crime

They Drive By Night

It doesn’t take long to realise why they chose to name this film They Drive By Night. It starts with truck driving brothers Joe and Paul Fabrini driving their load from some place to another for some low life racketeer of a boss. They’re always low on dough and are being chased by tax collector Farnsworth, sort of the comical relief of the film. A guy with no backbone trying to collect taxes from tough truck drivers of course means he’s being made fun of, lied to and my favourite is when they toss him out of a road restaurant. Poor guy though, he’s only trying to do his job. Anyway, after some trouble with money, or rather yet another lack thereof, the Fabrini brothers decide they are going to work for themselves so all the profit they make is their own.

Joe: I always have liked redheads.
Cassie: You shouldn’t. Red means stop.
Joe: I’m colourblind.

Along the way Paul – played by Humphrey Bogart – frequently wishes he could spend more time with his wife, while Joe – played by George Raft – picks up a redhead dame named Cassie – Ann Sheridan – for whom he falls. After an accident with their truck Joe ends up working for his pal Ed Carlsen – Alan Hale – who owns a trucking business. With the introduction of Ed’s trophy wife Lana – Ida Lupino – we finally seem to meet the real femme fatale of this film. She’s all over Joe, even though he seems perfectly happy with Cassie. Lana does not like this one bit, and so when Ed is extremely drunk one night, well…

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.

What I liked about this film is its lightheartedness at times, even though the setting is deeply noir. As I mentioned Farnsworth appears a few times to relieve some tension, and the film is riddled with some killer wisecracks. A little downside maybe is that Ed is slightly overdoing it with the silly jokes, but most of them are so bad it still makes you laugh, if only because he’s laughing at them so loud himself. Ida Lupino delivers a good performance too in the later parts of the film, and Bogart and Raft are perfectly suited for their roles. Some of their fellow truckers are some fine specimens of crazy characters too. I loved it when one of them is offered a steak, and all he can say is ‘Swell! Ain’t had a steak since breakfast!’. Or the guy who just can’t seem to stop winning at pinball.

They Drive By Night

Who could possibly forget this?

I’ve read that people seem disappointed about the second part, because the setting is different from the first half, but it didn’t bother me at all. It seems to flow naturally and it doesn’t feel forced to go from truck driving through the night to managing a trucking company. What I did miss is some of the wise cracking between Joe and Cassie in the second part. In fact, we hardly see her at all, which is a bit of a shame. Still, I liked They Drive By Night quite a bit. Enough to push it to 4/5. If you liked the first part you may also want to try Jules Dassin’s Thieves’ Highway.

Joe: Do you believe in love at first sight?
Cassie: It saves a lot of time.

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