They Drive By Night — directed by Raoul Walsh. Drama. Two truck driver brothers shoot for independence hauling fruit until two women try to put the brakes on them. 97 minutes Black and White 1940.
Raoul Walsh would rehearse the scene, set up the camera, call “Action,” and walk away and not look at the shoot at all. People wondered why he did this, but it’s real simple. George S. Kaufman did the same thing directing Broadway hits. He would go to the back row of the theatre and close his eyes. He knew and Walsh knew that if the thing sounded true it was true. The balance and breath and rhythm of a scene was all calculable aurally, once he had blocked it. Any corrections needed, and reshoots, could be made perfectly by an ear undistracted by the actors’ appearance or behavior or by his own hopes for it. This is George Raft’s best performance in film. He benefits enormously by the film being shot in sequence. He’s a tough guy but not a gangster, and his inner response to the adventure he is on is the liaison between the halves of the picture. For the picture is really two stories Siamesed together. The focus of the first one is Ann Sheridan. Now, Ann Sheridan is an actress I cannot take my eyes off. Unlike the female stars of today, Ann Sheridan actually was a woman. She has a luscious mouth, beautiful hair, searching eyes, a low voice, an excellent thing in woman. She is in full charge of her femininity and vulnerable and truly smart. Films were seldom built around her but she is always good humored about her role and in her role. To see her at her best see I Was A Male War Bride opposite Cary Grant. She was “everything,” said Howard Hawks its director. Here she is fast-talking, stoic, and wise. Her acting method sets her as a first class exemplar of 30s/40s female style. It isn’t method but it fits and it registers perfectly. The film itself is sharply written, with the snappy repartee of the era that is still so entertaining to see and fun to act. Allan Hale is always attributing this wit to his wife Ida Lupino, who never actually says a witty thing and who is a focus of the second half of the story. She is playing a role Bette Davis played in an earlier Paul Muni version, Bordertown; when Davis was asked if it bothered her, she said “No.” That’s because Lupino on screen is never not neurotic; those big desperate eyes are always in the madhouse; Davis, however neurotic her eyes were, could have other things in them. Without being a great actress, Lupino is a very effective one: see her at her brilliant best in Roadhouse. She’s very good here, and you must not complete your days without seeing her famous courtroom scene and her committing a murder in a floor length ermine trench coat. She is always costumed predaciously in furs or silky as a reptile or both. Raft is a very balanced and steady instrument, while Humphrey Bogart, a more volatile and sensitive instrument, was not a star at this point. He was a middle-aged actor who for ten years had been playing dispensable second leads. His next film with Walsh, High Sierra changed all that forever. The film is a perfect example of Walsh’s strengths as a director. Action/Adventure was his specialty, but the films were always about a man striving toward a woman. As here. Arthur Edeson shot it, Milo Anderson did the gowns, Adolph Deutsch did the score: top Warner Brothers talent all around. It was a big hit, and it still is.