Thursday, April 15, 2010

They Drive by Night (Raoul Walsh, 1940) -- A-

Raoul Walsh's fantastic 1940 film They Drive by Night seems to go overlooked in the noir canon, likely because it doesn't turn into one until the third act. When it does, Ida Lupino becomes one of the most memorable femme fatale's in any noir from the 1940's. Before that shift in tone, however, the film works brilliantly as an indictment of depression era capitalism, where brothers Joe (George Raft) and Paul (Humphrey Bogart) briefly ascend from obscurity as for-hire truck drivers, then literally "fall" after succumbing to fatigue due to long driving hours, as their truck tumbles off the side of a mountain. The shift makes perfect sense, venturing from the physical injury of Bogart's working-man, to the psychological devastation of Lupino's well-off wife, who decides to kill her husband (Alan Hale) in hopes of luring Raft into a love affair. In both parts of the film, it's the degradation of humanity in the face of economic pursuit that causes the trouble. Lupino's is less overtly stated, but her initial need for financial sustenance conflict's with her sexual desires for a younger, more physically capable man. Both halves embody the conflict of artificial and innate desires. The ending doesn't embrace the devastation as forthrightly as one may wish, but it detracts only slightly from Walsh's impeccable directed hybrid, fleshed out with excellent work by its cast, in particular George Raft, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart, Ann Sheridan, and Alan Hale.

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