They Drive by Night

They Drive by Night is a 1940 film noir directed by Raoul Walsh and starring George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, and Humphrey Bogart. The picture involves a pair of embattled truck drivers and was released in the UK under the title The Road to Frisco. The film was based on A. I. Bezzerides' 1938 novel Long Haul, which was later reprinted under the title They Drive by Night to capitalize on the success of the film. Part of the film's plot (that of Ida Lupino's character murdering her husband by carbon monoxide poisoning) was borrowed from another Warner Bros. film, Bordertown (1935).

They Drive by Night
Theatrical release poster
Directed byRaoul Walsh
Produced byMark Hellinger
Screenplay byJerry Wald
Richard Macaulay
Based onthe novel Long Haul
by A. I. Bezzerides
StarringGeorge Raft
Ann Sheridan
Ida Lupino
Humphrey Bogart
Music byAdolph Deutsch
CinematographyArthur Edeson
Edited byThomas Richards
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
  • July 27, 1940 (1940-07-27) (United States)
Running time
95 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$1,596,000[1]


Brothers Joe (George Raft) and Paul Fabrini (Humphrey Bogart) are independent truck drivers who make a meager living transporting goods. Joe convinces Paul to start their own small, one-truck business, staying one step ahead of loan shark Farnsworth (an uncredited Charles Halton), who is trying to repossess their truck.

At a diner, Joe is attracted to waitress Cassie Hartley (Ann Sheridan). Later, on their way to Los Angeles, the brothers pick up a hitchhiker; Joe is pleased when it turns out to be Cassie, who quit after her boss tried to get a bit too friendly with her. They park at a diner for a meal and chat with a trucker acquaintance, McNamara, who is extremely overworked and tired; later, back on the road, the brothers and Cassie find themselves driving behind McNamara and soon become aware that he must be asleep at the wheel. They put themselves in danger trying to awaken him, but McNamara's truck goes off the road and explodes in flames.

At his home just outside of Los Angeles, Paul is reunited with his patient though worried wife, Pearl (Gale Page), who would rather have Paul settle down in a safer, more regular job. Paul is troubled about his future, too, but will not leave his brother "out on a limb as long as he thinks we have a chance in this business". In the city, Joe finds Cassie a place to stay. They talk and begin to establish a relationship.

The next morning, from a window overlooking the market, Joe's good friend Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale, Sr.), watches Joe get into a brief fistfight. Ed is a trucking business owner and former driver; he calls Joe up to his office and offers him a job. Joe insists on remaining independent. Ed's wife, Lana Carlsen (Ida Lupino) has wanted Joe for years but he has always rebuffed her advances.

Ed gives Joe a tip on a load which results in the brothers earning enough money to finally pay off Farnsworth. On the return trip, Paul falls asleep at the wheel, causing an accident which costs him his right arm and wrecks the truck.

When Ed hires Joe as a driver, Lana persuades her husband to make him the traffic manager instead; she starts dropping by the office frequently. Joe continues to spurn her advances. One night, when Lana drives a drunk, unconscious Ed home from a party, she murders him on impulse, by leaving him in the garage with the car motor still idling. When the police investigate, she persuades them it was an accident. She later gives Joe a half-interest as a partner in the business in a subsequent attempt to attract him.

Paul has been bitter over his inability to land a proper job in order to support his wife and plan a family. He returns to work as a dispatcher for Joe. Joe does a fine job managing the business but, when Lana learns he plans to marry Cassie, she becomes so enraged she reveals to him that she killed Ed so that she could have him. She then goes to the police, accusing Joe of forcing her to help commit murder. During the trial, the weight of circumstantial evidence looks bad for Joe, but a guilt-ridden Lana breaks down on the witness stand, laughing hysterically and claiming the electric garage doors made her do it.

After Lana is determined to be insane, the case is dismissed. Joe considers going back to the road, but Cassie, Paul - who happily announces that Pearl and he are having a baby - and the boys manage to convince him otherwise. He thus returns to the trucking business that he had dreamed of owning, with his brother as traffic manager and Cassie as his bride-to-be.



Walsh said Raft's acting "had improved" since they worked together on The Bowery (1933). "He was better at memorizing dialogue and he was careful about the way he dressed."[2]


Box office

The film was a big box office success.[3] According to Warner Bros it earned $1,092,000 domestically and $504,000 foreign in its initial run.[1] Raft's biographer claims the film eventually earned $4 million[3].

Critical response

When the film was released, The New York Times film critic, Bosley Crowther, gave the film a positive review, writing, "But for fanciers of hard-boiled cinema, They Drive By Night still offers an entertaining ride. As Mr. Raft modestly remarks of his breed, 'We're tougher than any truck ever come off an assembly line.' That goes for the picture, too."[4]

The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 94% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 17 reviews."[5]


  1. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 20 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  2. Walsh, Raoul (1974). Each man in his time; the life story of a director. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. p. 349.
  3. Everett Aaker, The Films of George Raft, McFarland & Company, 2013 p 93
  4. Crowther, Bosley. The New York Times, film review, July 27, 1940. Last accessed: February 27, 2011.
  5. They Drive by Night at Rotten Tomatoes. Last accessed: February 27, 2011.
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