When movie buffs or even casual fans tend to think of the late, great Humphrey Bogart, immediately called to mind are images from his more famous films like Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre. Some of his lesser known works don't seem to get the respect that they deserve so it was with great pleasure that I found Warner Bros. had released one of his earlier diamonds in the rough, Raoul Walsh's They Drive By Night from 1940, in which Bogie stars as more of a supporting character cast alongside the leads, George Raft, Ann Sheridan, and Ida Lupino.
George Raft and Humphrey Bogart play two brothers, Joe and Paul Fabrini, who do their best to earn a living running a trucking agency in California. Most of the time their product is simple material like fruit and vegetables, which they transport from the local farms to the big city markets. Times are tough all over though, and the Fabrini Brothers are no exception. Together they work damn hard to get their bills paid on time and keep themselves in business. Despite some intense pressure from some less than pure businessmen and a very competitive market, they do OK, but eventually, as times get even tougher, they have to work longer and longer hours.
One night, while on the road, the pair pick up a hitchhiking waitress named Cassie. She's just quit her job taking orders at a local roadside truck stop and has finally had her fill. Eventually, Joe is forced to go work for the competition (I'm leaving the reasons why intentionally vague so as not to spoil the movie). Things get way more complicated than Joe ever figured they would as his new bosses wife turns out to be a bit of a handful who has more plans for him than he'd maybe like to acknowledge.
With sold performances from Raft and Bogart and a stand out acting job from Ida Lupino (who, according to the back of the DVD box, won a studio contract based on her role here as the boss' wife, Lana Carlson) who does an amazing job in her courtroom breakdown scene.
Solid direction from Walsh, who would work with Bogart a year later in High Sierra, keeps the film looking good and tense enough that it's never boring and you always want to know what happens next.
While it isn't a truly great film in the same vein that the aforementioned Casablanca is, They Drive By Night is a solid drama with some nice tense moments, solid performances from a stand out cast, and a nice look throughout that makes it an easy recommendation.
Fullframe is what we've got here, but that's how it was shot and so this is the original intended theatrical ratio preserved here on the DVD. Detail is quite sharp save for a few moments that are a tad fuzzier but overall, despite some very minor print damage and an instance or two of very, very slight edge enhancement, this is a pretty nice looking presentation we've got here.
They Drive By Night is presented in its original Mono format. Dialogue is plenty clear with little to no hiss or distortion problems at all. Levels are well balanced and while it isn't a particularly remarkable track, it very much gets the job done and it sounds just fine. In addition, removable subtitles in English, French and Spanish are also included on this disc.
There's a couple of cool little treats on here for fans. First up is a brand spankin' new featurette entitled Divided Highway: The Story Of They Drive By Night that runs about ten minutes. Featuring some great information courtesy of Leonard Maltin (love him or hate him he knows his classics) who talks about the key cast members and also touches on some interesting bits about the director, Raoul Walsh.
The other main extra is a musical short called Swingtime In The Movies. Plenty of famous faces find their way into this piece about the Warner Brothers lot, including Bogart. The piece runs just a hair over nineteen minutes.
Rounding out the extra features are the films original theatrical trailer as well as scene selection.
They Drive By Night tends to get lost among the other Bogart classics that are so beloved by film fans the world over. Warner sets that right with this release which, while not a full fledged-special edition like their recent Casablanca release, still holds its own.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.