They Drive by Night Blu-ray Review

4 Stars Entertainingly tough yet tender melodrama
They Drive by Night Review Screenshot

There is wonderful entertainment to be found in Raoul Walsh’s They Drive by Night.

They Drive by Night (1940)
Released: 03 Aug 1940
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 95 min
Director: Raoul Walsh
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir
Cast: George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan
Writer(s): Jerry Wald, Richard Macaulay, A.I. Bezzerides
Plot: When one of two truck-driving brothers loses an arm, they both join a transport company where the other is falsely charged as an accessory in the murder of the owner.
IMDB rating: 7.2
MetaScore: N/A

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 35 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 03/26/2024
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 4/5

The harrowing world of wildcat trucking makes up only the first half of Raoul Walsh’s entertaining noirish melodrama They Drive by Night. Though the second half devolves somewhat into a more predictable triangle love story, murder, and trial, the film’s entertainment quotient isn’t diminished by this segue, and the strong performances from a talented cast of Warner featured players makes it all imminently viewable.

Brothers Joe (George Raft) and Paul (Humphrey Bogart) Fabrini are barely keeping body and soul together as independent truckers, driving long hours on both borrowed time and money. Food distributors, loan sharks, and rival truckers combine to make their lives pretty much a misery, but when an accident takes Paul out of commission for a while, Joe gives up his independence and takes a job with old friend Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale) who owns a flourishing trucking business. Joe’s new girl friend Cassie Hartley (Ann Sheridan) convinces him to leave the dangers of the highway and become Ed’s traffic manager, a job at which he excels. Things would be perfect if not for Ed’s sensuous wife Lana (Ida Lupino) who is tired of her husband’s loutish ways and throws herself at Joe. But Joe isn’t interested in betraying his best friend leading to a number of ugly encounters between the two.

The Jerry Wald-Richard Macaulay screenplay is based on the novel Long Haul by A. I. Bezzerides, and it’s filled with a bushel of wisecracks, quips, and acidic one-liners that quickly establish the film’s salty, somewhat dour tone. The first half offers a fascinating glimpse at the seat-of-their-pants lives of the wildcat truckers complete with sleepless days and nights with the seemingly endless expanse of the ribbon-like highway stretching into infinity and a couple of ghastly crashes (some really neat model work) to keep things interesting. The second half segues into more familiar territory with a femme fatale using her wiles on an uncooperative victim leading her into committing desperate acts and then trying to avoid the consequences. Roaul Walsh can handle either brittle action or soapy melodrama with equal aplomb, but one suspects that he relished filming the earlier half of the movie (which was filmed in sequence and not out of order) rather than the sudsier material. The climactic courtroom sequence is so condensed that it seems awkwardly one-sided, but that’s all a set-up for the film’s most bravura acting turn.

Though the two brothers played by George Raft and Humphrey Bogart get the lion’s share of the focus (especially the former), it’s the ladies who walk away with the acting honors. Ann Sheridan dishes the putdowns with skill to spare as a wisecracking waitress in the early going, and she remains a sympathetic figure throughout, even when she’s off-screen for large chunks of the picture’s running time. Ida Lupino takes advantage of her lengthy screen time to savor her glamorous Milo Anderson wardrobe (there are some really stunning gowns, and she looks smashing in them) and then pulls out all the stops to throw herself at George Raft’s Joe, haughtily confront Ann Sheridan’s Cassie, and then play a mad scene that is just this side of over the top. George Raft is his usual sour stick for much of the film, but he shows occasional life with Sheridan’s effervescent Cassie, and while he never succumbs to Lupino’s Lana, he might have tried (if he could) shading the character a little to make the audience think he might slip. Humphrey Bogart (not quite yet at the gates of stardom but almost there) has some moments of interest trying to survive the hectic pace of driving and maintain a home life with wife Pearl played sweetly by Gale Page. Alan Hale as Joe’s boss Ed Carlsen is amiably blustery and blissfully ignorant of his wife’s adulterous thoughts, and Roscoe Karns as the brothers’ trucker friend Irish adds additional frivolity to the otherwise serious atmosphere of the movie. Smaller roles are distinguished by the likes of George Tobias as a hard bargaining vendor, John Litel as a tragic trucker, and Frank Faylen, John Hamilton, Marie Blake, and Henry O’Neill in other tiny but notable roles.

Video: 4.5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.37:1 original theatrical aspect ratio has been faithfully displayed in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Though it doesn’t always look like film and has some shots that seem overly soft (even for glamor shots), the images are clean and solid. The grayscale offers rich black levels and crisp whites, and the transfer is completely devoid of dirt, dust, and other annoying artifacts. The movie has been divided into 24 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is very representative of its era. Dialogue has been expertly recorded and has been combined with Adolph Deutsch’s background score and the appropriate sound effects to make for a very ingratiating and expressive soundtrack. There are no problems with hiss, crackle, pops, or flutter.

Special Features: 3/5

Lux Radio Theater (44:22):  1941 broadcast featuring George Raft and Lana Turner in the leading roles, introduced by Cecil B. DeMille.

Divided Highway – The Story of They Drive by Night (10:35, SD): narrated by Monte Markham, this video analysis of the film features commentary by film historians Leonard Maltin, Eric Lax, and Robert Osborne.

Swingtime in the Movies (19:09, SD): 1938 two-reel comedy with music featuring John Carroll and Fritz Feld.

Theatrical Trailer (1:51, HD)

Overall: 4/5

Actresses Ida Lupino and Ann Sheridan light up the screen in Raoul Walsh’s entertaining melodrama They Drive by Night, an alternately tough and tender film that even manages to give George Raft a role in which he can excel. The Warner Archive Blu-ray disc comes with a solid recommendation.

Matt has been reviewing films and television professionally since 1974 and has been a member of Home Theater Forum’s reviewing staff since 2007, his reviews now numbering close to three thousand. During those years, he has also been a junior and senior high school English teacher earning numerous entries into Who’s Who Among America’s Educators and spent many years treading the community theater boards as an actor in everything from Agatha Christie mysteries to Stephen Sondheim musicals.

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