Saturday, April 5, 2014

They Drive By Night

They Drive By Night showed up on TCM several months ago; surprisingly enough, it was one of those movies that I had never seen before. It's more than enjoyable enough, and so I waited for it to show up again on TCM so that I could do a full-length blog post on it. That TCM airing is tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM.

George Raft gets top billing as Joe Fabrini, who, together with his brother Paul (Humphrey Bogart, a year before success in High Sierra made him always be top-billed), runs an independent trucking operation. Well, it's only one truck, which the two of them drive together so that they can spend more hours of the day on the road as they ferry fruit between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Trucking that many hours a day can be dangerous, as one could fall asleep at the wheel, causing an accident. Indeed, we'll see a couple of accidents, but more on that in a bit. There's also the eternal struggle to stay one step ahead of the financing company in making the payments. Anyhow, at one of the vintage 1940 truck stops -- remember, there was no interstate highway system with divided highways and fancy rest areas at this point -- they meet a hash slinger who wants to get away from it all. So Cassie (Ann Sheridan) gets in the truck with our two brothers. She begins to fall in love with Joe, while Paul already has a wife down in Los Angeles.

As I said earlier, we're going to see a couple of accidents. The first is witnessed by the Fabrinis, and kills a fellow trucker. The second, however, involves the Fabrinis, and changes the plot of the movie, as Paul loses an arm. This makes him unfit to drive, and there goes the business. So Joe goes to work for the Carlsen trucking operation. It's run by Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale), a man who was a small-time trucker like the Fabrinis but made good and now has a fleet of trucks. He's also got a trophy wife named Lana (Ida Lupino). And therein lies another problem. Although Ed has made good financially, with a nice house including a detached garage with automatic opening and closing by electric eye, he hasn't made good socially. Oh, he tries, but he can be quite the drunken fool. Not a bad person; just one with no social graces. The irritates Lana no end, and when she sees what a good worker Joe is, she hatches a plan.

Lana has fallen in love with Joe, and she intends to get Ed drunk, have him park the car in the garage, and then have it close on him with the car's motor still running, which will lead Ed passed out drunk in the car to die of carbon monoxide poisoning! Oh, Ed does die all right, and Lana really starts putting the moves on Joe, who had no desire whatsoever to see Ed die and doesn't particularly have any romantic feelings for Lana either. But this being a movie in the Code era, you know Lana isn't going to be able to get away with all of this.

They Drive By Night is, for the most part, a darn entertaining movie. George Raft, who generally wasn't the most talented actor, does OK here. Ann Sheridan gets to deliver a lot of zesty lines. Bogart is underused, but the studio didn't know he was on the cusp of stardom. Alan Hale is playing the same garrulous, gregarious figure he did in a whole bunch of character roles, from It Happened One Night to The Adventures of Robin Hood and beyond. Ida Lupino, however, really gets to chew the scenery. At times, it's a problem, as the Code forces her to pay for her sins, making her veer nearly into territory plumbed by Bette Davis in Now, Voyager while doing it. It's laughable in that it's rather over the top, and not quite fitting in to an otherwise solid drama. But it doesn't sink the movie, which overall succeeds in entertaining, even if it falls a bit short of greatness.

The TCM Shop lists They Drive By Night as being part of one of those four movie box sets, this one of Humphrey Bogart movies.

No comments: