They Drive by Night (1940) Review

Director: Raoul Walsh

Genre(s): Crime, Drama

Runtime: 95 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

They Drive by Night may not be an action, adventure, gangster, war, or western movie, but it often has the macho swagger of one. It doesn’t always live up to its promises, but this working-class drama features a cast at the top of their game. The story concerns a couple of two-fisted, tough-guy truckers, Joe (George Raft) and Paul Fabrini (Humphrey Bogart), who’re brothers, and must survive their perilous occupation during the Great Depression.

This film works best when it’s showing slices-of-life from the blue-collar badasses that inhabit its world. Seeing Humphrey Bogart and George Raft play siblings alone will make it worth the price for some classic cinema buffs. They’re joined by an impressive cast, consisting of Ann Sheridan (as Cassie Hartley, a waitress at a roadside diner), Alan Hale (as Ed Carlsen, a former trucker who’s now the owner of a business in that line of work), Ida Lupino (as Lana Carlsen, Ed’s scheming wife), and George Tobias (playing George Rondolos, one of the vendors buying the brothers’ goods).

Unfortunately, They Drive by Night feels like it has two separate plots joined at the hip. Most of the first half is about the gritty trucking adventures of Bogart, Raft, and their kind, while the second half transforms the motion picture into a crime-melodrama. There’s even a courtroom climax that seems like a far cry from the open road antics from earlier in the runtime. I wouldn’t read the plot synopsis on IMDb unless you want some of the details of the latter half revealed to you.

Even if it feels vaguely plotless, the first half of this feature is the stronger part. The second half (oriented around a certain crime) has a few cheesy moments and is less street-tough. So, do I recommend They Drive by Night? That’s a tough question to answer, although I’m sure classic movie fans will get a kick out of the cast. If you’re looking for a consistent, well-articulated story, then there’s probably better choices out there.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

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