Sunday, July 17, 2011

They Drive By Night. C

Watching the first half of They Drive By Night (from a book by A.I Bezzerides), I felt like I was seeing a clash between The Grapes of Wrath and Wages of Fear. It's a social issues American drama about lower class truck drivers transporting fruit for such miniscule wages that one character can't even have a real family due to expenses. The era, the drive to do anything to make a buck, and the unabated American spirit recall Grapes of Wrath (closer to Ford's overall optimistic adaptation than John Steinbeck's tragically anti-American novel). The movie stresses the danger of the truck driving profession, hence the Wages of Fear reminder. Bogart plays Paul Fabrini, but since the movie came out in 1940, he was forced to ride shotgun to George Raft's Joe, an honest, trustworthy common man. These guys are brothers, sharing the same truck and splitting the drive time and meager earnings. The first half of this film was great and I hoped it would just keep getting better. Instead it inexplicably shifts its mood, setting, and characters completely and becomes nothing less than a B noir. Bogart vanishes from the screen, replaced by Ida Lupino (this film made her famous), a femme fatale who gets Joe wrapped up in a silly murder. There's nothing terribly wrong with what the movie becomes, except that it's not at all what I wanted to see. I wanted to see that truck driver story develop, but instead we get essentially a double feature, two very different movies packed in 95 minutes. Admittedly the transition from social drama to noir is a smooth one. Director Raoul Walsh skillfully introduces new characters and settings to fit the story he was telling in the first half. But once he gets in full noir mode, the movie becomes a silly, rushed pile of rubbish, a real laughing matter. What a skillfully made letdown this was.

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