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THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (director: Raoul Walsh; screenwriters: Jerry Wald/Richard Macaulay/from the book by A.I. Bezzerides; cinematographer: Arthur Edson; editor: Thomas Richards; music: Adolph Deutsch; cast: George Raft (Joe Fabrini), Ann Sheridan (Cassie Hartley), Ida Lupino (Lana Carisen), Humphrey Bogart (Paul Fabrini), Alan Hale (Ed J. Carlsen), Gale Page (Pearl Fabrini), Roscoe Karns (Irish McGurn), John Litel (Harry McNamara), George Tobias (George Rondolos), Joyce Compton (Sue Carter), John Ridgely (Hank Dawson), Charles Halton (Farnsworth); Runtime: 93; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Mark Hellinger; Warner Brothers; 1940)
“Raoul Walsh directs this entertaining romantic melodrama with tenderness.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A typical Warner Brothers social realism and action film that has something in it for the blue-collar man as well as the lady of the house. Raoul Walsh directs this entertaining romantic melodrama with tenderness and a feel for the common-man type trying to scrape out a living. Jerry Wald and Richard Macaulay base their taut screenplay on the script by A.I. Bezzerides.

Joe and Paul Fabrini are macho California wildcat truckers who drive long hours for little pay, but rather be struggling independents than work for a big trucking company. When their truck is forced off the road by a road hog and their wheel is busted, the broke truckers retreat to Barney’s roadside diner to call Mike Williams to send them the money he owes to use for repairs, but the chiseling freighter they are hauling apples for instead sics the installment guy on them to repossess their unpaid for truck. With the help of the other truckers in the diner and the hot new waitress Cassie, they evade the repo man and secure a tire from a friendly trucker. On the road they give Cassie a ride to LA, who has quit because her boss can’t keep his hands off her. Paul can’t wait to get back to his wife Pearl, while Joe stakes the broke Cassie to a room in LA and shows a romantic interest.

To highlight the dangers of being a trucker and driving for long stretches without getting proper sleep, Harry McNamara’s truck goes off the road when he falls asleep behind the wheel and he’s killed. The brothers soon get a break when freight company boss Ed Carlsen stakes them to buy a shipment of lemons, which they sell in the LA produce market and reap the full profit without paying off a freighting company. Their good fortune is short-lived, however, as the overworked Paul falls asleep while driving and totals the truck. This results in Paul losing his right arm, while Joe only gets a few scratches.

Carlsen’s wife Lana has the hots for Joe, and talks her good-natured slobby husband into hiring him to run the office. Meanwhile Lana tries to get hunky Joe in the sack, but keeps getting rejected because he says he would never hurt Ed. On a night celebrating their wedding anniversary, Ed gets pickled and the bored Lana sees this as a chance to get rid of her wealthy but buffoonish hubby by leaving him in the garage overnight to inhale the fumes from the carbon monoxide. Lana gets away with the murder when the DA calls it an accident. The scheming murderess then makes Joe her business partner, but goes insane when Joe still refuses her sexual advances and tells her that he will marry Cassie. Biting off her own nose in spite, Lana confesses to the DA how she murdered her hubby and accuses Joe of being her accomplice. It leads to some hokey fireworks in the courtroom conclusion, which seemed more comical than tense, where Joe is forced to stand trial.

What kept the film on the road was the snappy dialogue and the enjoyable performance by Raft and the silly over-the-top demented act Lupino saves for the courtroom scene, where she suddenly goes loony. Still, despite how hokey most of the film was, it proves to be an easy watch and the wisecracking dialogue is most amusing. In one such smart aleck retort, Bogart reassures his worried wife that he’s on the same page as her by saying: “We’ll have so many kids, we’ll run out of names.”


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”