They Drive by Night (1940)

  • Year: 1940
  • Released: 03 Aug 1940
  • Country: United States
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  • Available in: 720p, 1080p,
  • Language: English, Spanish
  • MPA Rating: Approved
  • Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
  • Runtime: 95 min
  • Writer: Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay, A.I. Bezzerides
  • Director: Raoul Walsh
  • Cast: George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan
  • Keywords: film noir, hitchhiker, truck driver,

They Drive by Night Storyline

Brothers Joe and Paul Fabrini have their own rig in being independent truckers on the California coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco, although much of the rig still belongs to a loan shark named Farnsworth who is continually chasing after them either for the money owed or to repossess. Besides both seeing the trucking business as their career, Joe and Paul have different viewpoints about their lives. Single Joe, who easily moves from girl to girl – although he could see himself settling down with one in particular, namely Cassie Hartley – sees being independent the better way to get ahead in the business in hustling for the jobs and thus being able to set their own terms. He sees his friend Ed Carlsen as such an example of that success, Ed a former independent trucker who was able to parlay that life into his own multi-rig freight company. However, in this life, they have to deal with unscrupulous distributors, such as Mike Williams, who not only controls who gets what jobs, but how and when they are paid. Williams too is not averse to putting Farnsworth on the Fabrinis’ tail just to show them who’s the boss. Paul, married to loving and loyal Pearl, is the cautious one, he who would rather work for one of the trucking companies for greater stability in life and so that he can be home more often and he and Pearl can start a family. He, however, defers to Joe’s ambition in this regard. Beyond issues existing within this group, what happens to the collective both personally and professionally is affected by Ed’s wife, Lana Carlsen, who has always had an unhealthy obsession with Joe.—Huggo

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They Drive by Night Movie Reviews

“If we go over a cliff, wake me up.”

Two truck driving brothers (George Raft, Humphrey Bogart) get tired of being screwed over by bosses and decide to strike out on their own and start their own trucking company. But tragedy strikes and their dreams come crashing down. That’s just the beginning of their problems.

Gritty, ballsy WB crime drama with a cast of colorful characters. Best truck driver movie ever. Raft and Bogart are great. This is Bogey pre-leading man but at least he’s not the villain this time so he was making progress. Lovely Ann Sheridan is good as the tough working class dame who falls for Raft. Ida Lupino is particularly wicked as the sarcastic woman after Raft who goes completely bonkers before it’s all said and done. Her performance is over the top in the best way. Great WB supporting cast includes people like Alan Hale and Henry O’Neill. Love getting to see the inner workings of the trucking industry back then and seeing how things have changed (and how they haven’t). Love those old trucks, too. Fantastic movie. An underrated classic.

Enjoyable, And Hard To Classify

Not much action here for a “film noir” and really more of a melodrama than a crime story, but I still like this because the story’s decent and it features a top-flight cast of actors who are usually fun to watch.

That cast includes George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart and Gale Page. My favorite of the group – in this film, at least – is Sheridan, a wise-cracking waitress. Raft and Bogart are truck drivers and Lupino plays the boss’ wife. In here, the two women are more interesting than the men, which says a lot considering its Raft and Bogart.

Sheridan not only is easy on the eyes but delivers some great film-noir-type lines. Unfortunately, the edge is taken off her once she leave the diner and hitches a ride with Raft to Los Angeles.

Bogart plays more of a low-key family man whose wife (Page) is the nice- looking, wholesome type. This is one of the last movies Bogart made before he became a star. Hence, he gets fourth billing in here.

Lupino is very good as the vicious scorned woman, a role she found herself playing in a number of films.

As mentioned above, I’m not really sure how one would classify this film since there is humor, film noir, soap opera, straight drama and romance all in it. The combination makes the film interesting and recommended.

Fantastic film noir

The film noir ‘genre’ has delivered a lot of great films, but few top this one; and that’s really saying something considering just how many great noirs there are. The film is something of an odd one with regards to the way the plot moves; it’s really a movie of three sections, and the way it jumps from the first section to the second section is wholly unexpected. I suppose the way that the film moves may be the reason why this isn’t universally accepted as one of the best films of its type; but if you ask me the strange plot is one of the film’s strongest points – nobody wants to sit through a predictable movie, and They Drive by Night is anything but predictable. The plot focuses on two brothers – Joe and Paul Fabrini. The pair drive a truck delivering things to the market and not making a lot of money. They finally get a break when Joe takes a risk and decides to buy his own consignment; but their luck takes a turn for the worse when Paul crashes the truck and becomes unable to work. Joe then takes a job working for his old friend Ed’s company, which brings about problems of its own…

One of the trademarks of the noir style of film-making is a thick foreboding atmosphere; this film features that and then some. They Drive by Night takes it further than most, and the film almost has an affinity with the horror genre for its dark atmosphere, plot and characters. Once the film moves into the second stage, the horror elements are rampant. The acting in the film is excellent; George Raft and Humphrey Bogart are entirely convincing as the rag-tag pair of brothers, while excellent support is given from two ladies; Ann Sheridan and Ida Lupino. It’s Ida Lupino that really makes this film what it is for me; her icy cold persona is breathtaking, and she holds the screen excellently. The murder scene in this film is extremely effective also; and while not as spectacular as some of the death scenes in the gory horror flicks that I often watch, its subtleness makes it memorable. The final third of the film is a courtroom drama and it’s the worst part of it for me, but that isn’t enough to ruin what is a brilliant film and I certainly would not hesitate to recommend They Drive by Night to noir fans and everyone else.