They Drive by Night (1940)

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Released 2-Mar-2005

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Making Of-Divided Highway: The Story Of They Drive By Night (10:37)
Short Film-Swingtime In The Movies (19:10)
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 2.0 (1:52)
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1940
Running Time 91:10
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (50:44) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Raoul Walsh
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring George Raft
Ann Sheridan
Ida Lupino
Humphrey Bogart
Gale Page
Alan Hale
Roscoe Karns
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Adolph Deutsch


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Full Frame English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Italian
French
German
Spanish
Dutch
Arabic
Romanian
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I guess it was only a matter of time before we finally got some sort of collection of DVDs for one of the true legends of the silver screen - Humphrey Bogart. Aside from some of the genuinely iconic films that he made, most notably of course the immortal Casablanca, there was of course the near legendary partnership of Bogey and Bacall that would just about have sealed him legend status alone. However, returning to his films, it is of course now difficult to remember that the 1930's still saw the great man as little more than a good bit player who could always fill a role in a gangster flick. He of course had burning ambitions to be so much more and it was finally in the 1940's that he rose to great prominence in his craft. So it seems quite fitting that what we have offered to us in The Bogart Collection One and The Bogart Collection Two are eight of his films from that era, presented in chronological sequence.

    The collection thankfully does not include Casablanca - it simply would not seem right to include that film in any collection as it would seriously overshadow almost everything else - but it does still include some truly great films. We start with a film that saw Bogey in little more than a supporting role - but it was the film that finally saw him throw off those supporting roles and hit the big time: They Drive By Night.

    Basically a remake of the Bette Davis vehicle Bordertown, in the finest traditions of the era where Warner's recycling of scripts was renowned, They Drive By Night was a vehicle for George Raft to finally throw off his dashing leading man image for something a bit earthier. Add in Ann Sheridan as the feisty female interest and Ida Lupino in her breakout role and it is hardly surprising that the fourth-billed Humphrey Bogart was nearly overshadowed completely.

    Joe Fabrini (George Raft) and his brother Paul (Humphrey Bogart) are struggling truckers, driving long hours whilst constantly avoiding the debt collector. Truth be told, Paul only stays in the game so as to not let his brother down, although his wife Pearl (Gale Page) certainly would love him to settle down in a nice, steady, boring, consistently paid job. Joe has a dream, though, of beating the game that keeps knocking them down - a dream of owning his own truck and making some real money for himself, maybe enough to buy a couple more trucks and really start making the big bucks. As it is, they currently haul loads for shonky businessmen who may or may not pay up for the work done. With nothing in the way of a family life owing to the long hours on the road, the dream may just be far too way out there to be realised - at least until Joe manages to catch the attention of an old trucker friend in Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale). Ed beat the game and now owns a very successful trucking company so gives Joe a tip on a load he could catch. He does and the result is a very handsome profit - so much so that when the debt collector comes a-calling, the readies are available to pay off the truck. All good things don't happen together though - no sooner are they out of the mire financially than those long hours, as well as an accident that killed a fellow trucker, catch up with Paul and the resultant accident ends the dream, as well as costing Paul his arm.

    With little option open to him, thanks to Paul's medical bills and inability to work, Joe goes to work for Ed Carlsen. He is a great success, but life is complicated by dames. On the one hand there is Cassie Hartley (Ann Sheridan), a feisty red-head waitress who worked at one of the roadside diners they used to frequent but who left abruptly thanks to the octopus antics of the boss' arms. Joe takes a real shine to her, but also finds himself the subject of the ardent wishes of his boss' wife Lana (Ida Lupino). Lana of course does not make things real easy for the likeable and hard working Joe, but no one expects the twist that is to come, following a party at which Ed gets very very drunk.

    Very much a product of its time, the story is nothing overly special and the acting at times is a little over the top (check out the antics of Irish McGurn as played by Roscoe Karns). That, however, is really nothing that will disturb those familiar with the era, for this also showcases some very fine talent. Star of the film in every way was Ida Lupino with her performance as the conniving wife. The final act of the film really is her tour de force and it is easy to see why this was a breakout film for her. George Raft was more than capable in the lead role, even though overshadowed by his female co-star. His performance certainly has an engaging believability to it, in a rather natural kind of way. Ann Sheridan also adds a very capable performance in what really was a modest role all things considered - although the first act sees her at her best. Humphrey Bogart's contribution to the cause was not exactly expansive and as many have noted his role tends to go walkabout in the second half of the film. Still, when he is on screen that laconic nature comes through like a beacon and it is very easy to see why he was on the cusp of his big breakout after years of supporting roles. Raoul Walsh adds a fairly decent guiding (directorial) hand to the film that keeps the story moving even when the lulls are found.

    They Drive By Night was a pivotal role in the career of Humphrey Bogart. It was perhaps the last time he was genuinely cast in a supporting role, but more than that it produced the opportunity to make his next film - which was directly and indirectly influenced by his cast and crew mates here. The film was offered to George Raft, who turned it down, and was to star Ida Lupino and was to be directed by Raoul Walsh. Humphrey Bogart was eventually cast as the male lead and the role boosted him to the top of the star league. That film? High Sierra of course. After that it was a succession of high profile films: The Maltese Falcon, Casablanca, Sahara, To Have And Have Not, The Big Sleep, Dead Reckoning, Dark Passage, The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre, Key Largo, In A Lonely Place, The African Queen, The Caine Mutiny, Sabrina and The Desperate Hours being just some of the films that he went on to make. A fairly impressive list indeed!

    In its own right however, They Drive By Night is not a bad film at all and well worthwhile checking out, even if the third act sort of rushes to the conclusion a little too fast. Whilst it might have aged just a little, there is still a lot of common ground, and thus relevance, with the trucking industry today. I actually had not seen the film for a very long time (but don't ask me to tell you where and when I saw it as I cannot remember), but found it quite an enjoyable film. It starts the The Bogart Collection One off on a good note in broad terms.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The film had its theatrical release in about June, 1940 if I remember my readings correctly. Nearly sixty four years - that is a fair old age by anyone's book. So you sort of expect to make some allowances for what the transfer is about to give you. Like heck you do - I watched the opening credits of the film and could see that this was not going to require any allowances whatsoever.

    The transfer is presented in a Full Frame format that accords with the theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 pretty well. It is of course not 16x9 enhanced.

    The transfer is generally pretty good throughout and the source material used was in pretty good condition. Sharpness is good, with just some odd lapses here and there (excluding the intended soft focus in close-ups of the female stars). Detail is pretty good, although to be fair the production design did not provide any truly difficult tests in this regard. Shadow detail was generally very good, although just once or twice a little bit better again would have helped things enormously. Whilst there is some grain to be seen, it is nearly always of the minor variety and never presents any restriction to the image. Contrast was actually a lot better than expected.

    The black and white tones are a little more variable than I would have liked. At times the grey scales do get blurred a bit, but thankfully these times are rare and for the bulk of the film the grey scales are very good, with excellent definition. Blacks are generally a little underdone but not disappointingly so. Whilst not the best I have ever seen, this certainly is a very solid effort that rarely gives any cause for complaint (is this a good time to mention that during the review session there were no instances of any specific problems that I felt necessary to record - that is how solid an effort the video transfer is).

    There were no apparent MPEG artefacts in the transfer. There were also few, if any, indications of any significant film-to-video artefacts. At worst, all you would be able to complain about is some very minor aliasing in some of the sharper and more detailed scenes. Whilst there are certainly film artefacts floating around the transfer, they are less of an issue than I was expecting and rarely caused any concern.

    This is an RSDL formatted disc, with the layer change occurring at 50:44. Since this was only discovered whilst checking and confirming the DVD specifications on my computer, you can be assured that it does not present any interruption to the playback of the film.

    There are ten subtitle options on the DVD. The English subtitles are very good efforts, not too big either so that they don't intrude upon the film all that much - and yet still remain very legible. There are a few minor lapses here and there in the dialogue but nothing really that bad.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two soundtracks on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack and an Italian Dolby Digital 1.0 soundtrack. They might be mono but they certainly have held up pretty well despite the passage of the years.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is generally easy to understand. The only issue you might have is in some of the dialogue spoken by Ida Lupino in the latter part of the film - and that is the way it was supposed to be. There were no problems with audio sync in the transfer.

    The original score comes from Adolph Deutsch. I did not really notice the music all that much so that must be a positive - good film scores don't need to be overt.

    With any mono soundtrack of this age you are inevitably talking about something that lacks anything in the way of dynamics. Yet despite that, this is anything but a tiring soundtrack to listen to. There is a small amount of background hiss to be heard here and there but thankfully there is little else in the way of blemishes to worry about. Overall, probably better than I was expecting in all respects. Just don't expect an audio demonstration and you will get along fine with this effort.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    Surprisingly, Warner Home Video have managed to put together at least something in the way of an extras package - and certainly an interesting package too. It should be pointed out that with the packaging being rather different for the collection, there is a booklet included in the box that provides minimal details (basically a back cover slick and inside cover slick listing chapters) for all four DVDs in the box.

Menu

    Actually rather good looking with some decent audio enhancement.

Featurette - Divided Highway: The Story Of They Drive By Night (10:37)

    A retrospective look at the film with contributions by several historians and authors, including Leonard Maltin. It looks as if this sort of effort will be a consistent part of the extras package on most of the other DVDs in the two collections. If they are as interesting as this effort, then we shall be well pleased indeed. The presentation is a mixture of recent interview material and excerpts from the film (with the odd behind the scenes image too). It comes in a Full Frame format that is not 16x9 enhanced, with the audio being Dolby Digital 2.0. Aside from being fifty minutes too short, there is nothing wrong with this at all. There are selectable English, Italian, French and Dutch subtitles.

Short Film - Swingtime In The Movies (19:10)

    At first glance you will wonder what this has to do with the main feature - and the answer is pretty much nothing until you note the cameo of Humphrey Bogart amongst a raft of cameos from studio headliners of the late 1930's (sorry about the pun). Written and directed by Crane Wilbur, this western musical comedy short is actually quite amusing, centred around the search by director Nitvitch to find the right female lead for his film. It mercilessly pokes fun at the unionised film industry, as well as the aspirations of every waitress in LA to be a movie star. The sequence where the director and his assistant demonstrate how the male lead should kiss the female lead is a hoot. It might not have much to do with the feature but it is a very nice inclusion nonetheless. The colour is surprisingly better than expected and overall the technical quality is not too bad at all. One short section is noticeably poorer than the rest of the film in terms of sharpness and colour, but nothing worse than I have seen in one or two features from the era. The short is in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and has Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. There are selectable English, Italian, French and Dutch subtitles.

Theatrical Trailer (1:52)

    Actually the re-release trailer from 1951, the quality is a little ropey at times - indicating how much worse the feature could actually have been. The main problem is film artefacts, of which there are plenty including a reel change marking at the end of the presentation that is hard to ignore. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and features reasonably strident voice-over in Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. No subtitles for this one.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The DVD is available as a standalone release in Region 1 that seems to be identical in content to this disc - barring the obligatory variations in soundtracks and subtitles. It does however come in a snapper case. By the reviews located, it would seem the overall quality is very much on a par with this Region 4 release. In Region 2, the DVD is also only available as a part of their version of The Bogart Collection Volume 2 - their two volumes feature different packaging as well as a different mix of films. The actual DVD itself is the same as the Region 4. So if you want the film alone, your choice is Region 1. Otherwise, there is nothing better than the Region 4 release as far as I can find out.

Summary

    They Drive By Night might not feature Humphrey Bogart in the lead role, but that is a minor issue. What is the issue is that the film is a pretty good one in all respects, the transfers on the DVD are better than expected and there is an interesting (and funny) extras package to complement the feature. A very nice way to lead off The Bogart Collection One indeed - recommended wholeheartedly.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Monday, March 29, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDDenon DVD-1600, using RGB output
DisplayLoewe Aconda 9381ZW. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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