Wednesday, April 11, 2012

They Drive by Night (1940)

“Someday you road skinners will be sayin', "Joe Fabrini's a good guy to work for." And I will be.”

            When producer Mark Hellinger read the script for They Drive By Night he did not see any potential in a story about truck drivers. It was a good thing his wife took a look at it and convinced Hellinger to make the film. They Drive By Night went on to be a quite hit for Warner Bros. when it was released. I was not sure how interesting the film would be once I read the plot but I have to say it was a very good film with one of the best casts I have ever seen.
            Paul and Joe Fabrini (Humphrey Bogart and George Raft) drive a delivery truck cross country. It is a tough job: they barely sleep and barely make enough money to support themselves. Paul wants to go home and be with his wife who he feels like he never sees. On their way home they get into a small accident and pop a tire. Joe goes to a rest stop to get the tire changed. There he meets Cassie Hartley (Ann Sheridan) a tough as nails waitress who is constantly being sexually harassed by the men around her.
            The brothers’ boss sends someone else to take their load since their tire went flat but they continue since they got it fixed. While driving that night they see a woman hitching for a ride and Joe notices the woman is Cassie. She gets in the car, asks where they are going, and says she will go that way with them she could not take working in the rest stop. When Paul and Joe get to California they go to their boss who refuses to pay them. They knock him out and take the money and quit working for him.
            With the money Joe took from his boss he helps Cassie get a room until she can get a job. He falls asleep on the bed in her room since he has not slept in a bed in a long time. The next day he goes to his friend and former truck driver Ed Carlsen. Ed started his own truck business and is very successful. At the office is Ed’s young wife Lana (Ida Lupino) is there. She is a spoiled selfish brat who does not love Ed but loves his money. Ed is like a little boy who is oblivious to the fact that Lana does not love him. Lana asks Joe why the last time he was in town he left her waiting at a restaurant. He explains that their seeing each other is not fair to Ed since Ed is his friend.
            Joe and Paul head out on the road working for themselves. They sell a load of lemons to a local produce owner. On the way home Joe has Paul drive even though Joe is exhausted. Rounding a curve Joe falls asleep at the wheel and crashes the truck. Joe is alright he just has some scratches but Paul loses his right arm. Pearl, Paul’s wife, is upset but she is glad something like this happened to her husband since now he can be home more. After the accident Lana convinces Ed to let Joe work in the shop instead of driving a truck. Paul is upset since he cannot get a job. He thought he would like being home but he is starting to get mad that he cannot support his wife and that his brother has to help them out.
            Ed invites to Joe to a party one night at his house. He shows Joe and a few people around the grounds of his house including garage doors that open and close whenever someone walks across a motion sensor. Ed gets very drunk which Lana finds completely embarrassing. That night she has enough. When they return home from going out Ed is passed out in the car, she leaves him in the garage with the engine running, and she walks across the senor killing her husband. As soon as Lana walks away from the car she is conflicted and nervous over what she is about to do but she did it anyway. Ed’s death was ruled an accident since he was very drunk.
            After Ed’s death Lana gives Joe half the business because she does not know the first thing about trucks but also to be near him and to win him over. Lana has a fit when Joe tells her he is marrying Cassie. In her nervous craziness she tells Joe what she did to Ed and that she killed her husband for him. Joe does not want to hear it and tells Lana he is going to leave the business. In a rage Lana concocts a story to the police saying that Joe made her kill Ed it was his idea and was the one who pushed her to kill her husband so he could have the entire business. The police arrest them both since Lana is confessed to the murder. In jail she has a near melt down when she sees a door open automatically. Cassie goes to speak with her to get her to confess that Joe had no part in Ed’s death but it is no use.
            At the trail the prosecutor is tough on all the witnesses against Joe. He almost has Joe cornered and convicted until Lana gets on the witness stand. Lana has a complete mental breakdown and confesses to her sole involvement in the murder.
            Joe wants to get out of the business but Cassie, Paul and the whole company convinces him to keep running the place since they like working for him.
            The cast was phenomenal.  Humphrey Bogart and George Raft are alright but it is Ann Sheridan and Ida Lupino who steal the film especially Lupino. Lupino was twenty-two years old when she made this film. I mention her age because she gives an amazing performance, something no twenty-two year old actress would ever be able to pull off today. You can tell she is very young when you look at her which makes her performance all the more stunning. Lupino completely stole the entire film she was just incredible. Her best scene was when she freaks out about Joe marrying Cassie and tells him that she killed Ed for him. The courtroom scene just floored me, Lupino did not over act at all she was brilliant. Ann Sheridan was marvelous as the wisecracking Cassie Hartley. From the moment she opened her mouth in her first scene I loved the character. Cassie was a strong female who took no crap even from Joe who she loved most. You could believe Sheridan to be this tough chick she had the look and the voice. You had respect for her character. Humphrey Bogart really did not have too much to do; Warner Bros. were still trying to figure out what to do with him. This film boosted him and Lupino to star status and would act together in High Sierra which solidified them as top studio stars. He had a funny scene when Paul and Joe were negotiating selling the lemons to the produce owner. He is standing behind the producer as Joe is talking and he keeps motioning to Joe yes or no and has this great nervous look to him. The scene is really funny if you get a chance to see it. George Raft was very good. He was perfect as Joe. You cans see him as this tough guy but a tough guy who is a gentle soul.
            They Drive By Night is a very good film. It is considered a Noir but it is more of a melodrama. Whatever it is considered They Drive By Night is one of the best films from the 1940s and one of the best casted I have ever seen. Do not let the plot deter you just sit through it if you can get the chance to view it.

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