They Drive by Night
|They Drive by Night|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Raoul Walsh|
|Produced by||Mark Hellinger|
the novel Long Haul|
by A. I. Bezzerides
|Music by||Adolph Deutsch|
|Edited by||Thomas Richards|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
They Drive by Night is a 1940 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 novel Long 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).
Brothers Joe (George Raft) and Paul Fabrini (Humphrey Bogart) are independent truck drivers who make a meager living transporting goods. Joe convinces Paul to start their own small, one-truck business, staying one step ahead of loan shark Farnsworth (an uncredited Charles Halton), who is trying to repossess their truck.
At one stop, Joe is attracted to waitress Cassie Hartley (Ann Sheridan). Later, the brothers pick up a hitchhiker going to Los Angeles; Joe is pleased when it turns out to be Cassie, who quit after her boss tried to get a bit too friendly with her. While en route, they witness a truck, its driver asleep at the wheel, go off the road and explode in flames. When they return to Los Angeles, Paul is reunited with his patient though worried wife, Pearl (Gale Page), who would rather have Paul settle down in a safer, more regular job. Joe finds Cassie a place to stay, and starts seeing her.
Just after the brothers finally pay off Farnsworth, Paul falls asleep at the wheel, causing an accident that costs him his right arm and wrecks their truck. Lana Carlsen (Ida Lupino) has wanted Joe for years, but Joe has always rebuffed her advances, especially since she is married to trucking business owner and former driver Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale, Sr.), a good friend of Joe's. When Ed hires Joe as a driver, Lana persuades her husband to make him the traffic manager instead (and starts dropping by the office frequently).
Joe spurns Lana's advances. One night, when Lana drives a drunk, unconscious Ed home from a party, she murders him on impulse, leaving him in the garage with the car motor still idling. When the police investigate, she persuades them it was an accident. She later gives Joe a half-interest as a partner in the business in a subsequent attempt to attract him.
Bitter over his inability to support his wife, Paul returns to work as a dispatcher for Joe. Joe does a fine job managing the business, but when Lana learns he plans to marry Cassie, she becomes so enraged, she reveals to him that she killed Ed so that she could have him. She then goes to the police accusing Joe of forcing her to help commit murder. During the trial, the weight of circumstantial evidence looks bad for Joe, but a guilt-ridden Lana breaks down on the witness stand, laughing hysterically and claiming the electric garage doors made her do it. The case against Joe is dismissed after Lana is determined to be insane. Joe considers going back to the road, but Cassie, Paul and the boys manage to convince him otherwise. He thus returns to the trucking business that he had dreamed of owning, with Paul as his traffic manager and Cassie as his bride-to-be.
The film was a big box office success. According to Warner Bros it earned $1,092,000 domestically and $504,000 foreign in its initial run. Raft's biographer claims the film eventually earned $4 million.
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."
- Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 20 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
- Everett Aaker, The Films of George Raft, McFarland & Company, 2013 p 93
- Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, July 27, 1940. Last accessed: February 27, 2011.
- They Drive by Night at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: February 27, 2011.