They Drive By Night (1940)

“We’re tougher than any truck ever come off an assembly line.”

They Drive By Night Poster

Synopsis:
A trucker (George Raft) and his brother (Humphrey Bogart) hoping to “go independent” accept an offer from a wealthy widow (Ida Lupino) to help run her trucking business, not knowing Lupino secretly killed her husband (Alan Hale) in an attempt to make herself available for Raft, who instead has fallen for a beautiful waitress (Ann Sheridan).

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Review:
Raoul Walsh directed this gritty trucking noir, featuring the inimitable Ida Lupino in her breakthrough role as a mentally unstable, murdering femme fatale. Raft (attempting a “cleaner” on-screen image), Bogart (about to earn leading-man status in Walsh’s High Sierra), and sassy Sheridan are all fine — but this is truly Lupino’s show; it’s easy to imagine Bette Davis playing her character in the film’s inspiration, Bordertown (1935). Lupino knows what she wants and will do anything to get it: poor, likable Hale doesn’t stand a chance, and Raft’s hopes for happiness and stability are nearly dashed. Arthur Edeson’s cinematography is appropriately atmospheric throughout, and Walsh nicely contrasts the brothers’ working-class travails with Lupino’s life-of-leisure. This one’s worth a look.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Ida Lupino as Lana Carlsen
    They Drive By Night Lupino
  • Alan Hale as Ed Carlsen
    They Drive By Night Hale
  • Arthur Edeson’s cinematography
    They Drive By Night Cinematography
  • A cracker-jack script: “The doors made me do it!”

Must See?
Yes, for Lupino’s breakthrough performance.

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One Response to “They Drive By Night (1940)”

  1. First viewing – not must-see.

    All told, this isn’t exactly a bad flick – it has that polished Warner Bros. production value, it’s well-cast and generally well-directed.

    But the script is just kind of…ok…without being all that engaging or memorable. In lieu of a plot, we have a small group of characters thrown together for the sake of a so-so drama about truckers. Things kind of plod along in a meandering way…until it seems necessary (for the sake of added tension) to have one character suddenly turn crazy – when she hadn’t previously indicated she was off-balance.

    Along those lines (of Lupino’s character), it’s kind of odd watching Hale’s performance as her husband. She clearly hates him and makes that more than obvious with everything she says to him – yet he always responds as though she’s joking. …Huh?!

    Apparently Lupino got raves (esp.) for her courtroom meltdown. As an actor, I like Lupino…usually, but I find her ultimate histrionics here a bit much.

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