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They Drive By Night, STARRING JAMES CAGNEY


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Yeah, I know it wasn't Cagney in the lead, it was Raft. But don't you wish it had been Cagney?

 

I've always liked this Raoul Walsh truck driving melodrama, the second half of it a decent remake of another good Warners film, Bordertown. I love the atmosphere of the trucker cafe with all the snappy one liners coming from the cast, in particular Ann Sheridan (of course!) and good ol' Roscoe Karns, forever playing the pinball machine.

 

Only Warners seemed to have the writers that could dream up the kind of dialogue they had here.

 

One trucker, eyeing waitress Sheridan behind the counter: "Nice chassis."

 

Another trucker: "Classy chassis."

 

And then Sheridan snapping back: "Who do you think you're kidding? You couldn't even afford the headlights!"

 

Can you image what the dialogue would have been like if the film had been made in the pre-Code period?

 

There's also the wonderful supporting players, Karns, whom I've already mentioned, and laughing, jovial Alan Hale. Always joking, a regular guy who got his own trucking business. Now who wouldn't want to have this man as their boss?

 

Then there's there's the melodrama (ohh, the melodrama!) of the courtroom scene, with Ida Lupino having the laughing hysterics going mad, yes, mad I tell you, on the witness stand as she confesses to murder. Even Bette Davis in the original couldn't compete with Lupino's over-the-top moment.

 

There's also Bogart, in support, in a straight part as a trucker, a year away from stardom, playing George Raft's brother. And Raft, a wooden actor, is actually not half bad in the lead, in fact, it's one of his best performances.

 

And yet, much as I love this film, I wish it had been Jimmy Cagney instead of Raft. Just think of it, at a time when Cagney was in his prime, at the peak of his powers (a year after Roaring Twenties and the year before Strawberry Blonde). He and Sheridan were ALWAYS a great team (one of the great teams of the movies that noone seems to celebrate), and Cagney and director Walsh always made good entertainment together. Cagney seemed to find an even greater depth than usual to his characterizations when he worked with this man.

 

Plus we would have seen Cagney and Bogart together for the only time in which they would have played brothers sharing a bond, and with these two that would have been interesting. Finally, unlike Raft, Cagney wouldn't have become wallpaper in the scenes in which Lupino was doing her neurotic routine. (Okay, maybe Raft wasn't wallpaper exactly, but he sure did look limited which, of course, he was). Jimmy wasn't too fond of actors taking scenes from him so it could have been a fascinating contest of wills between him and Lupino.

 

They Drive By Night, a terrific film in most respects, I think, but if it had had Cagney it might have been a lot more.

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I don't know, this is one of my favorite movies just like it is. I don't like to speculate on what a movie would have been like with a different person. It's an interesting thought though. I do like the points you made about the dialogue and the gritty feel of the movie before they go to work for the "big" trucking company. I think when Ida goes crazy at the trial is one of her many GREAT performances.

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I love Cagney. He's my favorite actor of all time,but let's leave something memorable for George Raft. Besides, Cagney and Bogart as brothers just doesn't work for me. They were adversaries in too many previous films to all of a sudden be cast as brothers.

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This is one of my all time favorites from the Bros Warner.I think Raft did a fine job, he was a limited actor, but he was quite good as was the entire cast. Lupino was wonderful, but, I wish they had stayed with the story of the truckers instead of tossing in a old plot from the Bette Davis-Paul Muni "Boardertown" .Cagney could have pulled it off, he could pull anything off, But Raft and Bogie and Sheridan worked well together. Walsh was one of those great directors and the script was indeed a beautiful piece of work with killer lines. But like I said, I wish they had stayed with the truckers story.....

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The picture was remade again as BLOWING WILD with Gary Cooper, Anthony Quinn and Barbara Stanwyck. In this one, Stanwyck kills Quinn by getting him under an oil rig pump. The only thing this version didn't have was Stanwyck screaming hysterically "The derek made me do it!! That's right! THE DEREK MADE ME DO IT!!"

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*I wish they had stayed with the truckers story.....*

 

I agree, Fred. The first half of the film has always been my favourite. That working man comaraderie among the truckers as only Warners seemed capable to capture, the fast pace established by Walsh complimented, again, by those zingy one liners (that trucker cafe at the film's opening is a particular joy).

 

It's almost as if the screenwriters didn't know what to do with the story so they revived aspects of the Bordertown plot. Also, even though she is fun to watch in her role, Ida Lupino takes over the second half, not only in histrionics but screen time, as well, while the rest of the cast (Sheridan and Bogart, in particular) largely disappear.

 

Also, I love Ann Sheridan in this film. Who else could play the role so well of a disillusioned woman who's seen enough of the world to be a cynic but still willing to drop the hard surface if the right guy came along? And noone had a way with a one liner quite like Sheridan.

 

It's a role she had played equally well in Torrid Zone and, for that matter, Angels With Dirty Faces. The fact that Cagney was her co-star in those two films may have helped her, but she's just as good in this movie, too. And it's also because I love Sheridan so much in this film that I'm rather sorry that the second half turned into The Ida Lupino Show.

 

 

 

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*The picture was remade again as BLOWING WILD*

 

I can see a one plot similarity (Stanwyck killing her husband over another man who doesn't want her) but I think it's a bit of a stretch to call that oil drilling south-of-the-border adventure soap opera a remake, Ray. The opening scenes of that film (my favourite part of it) always reminded me, at least in atmosphere, of the opening scenes in Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

 

By the way, would anyone know if rights issues have taken Blowing Wild out of circulation? It seems to me that it's been years since it's been around on TV. It's not a great film, I admit, but it's sort of fun to watch in a cheesy over heated potboiler sort of way.

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*And yet, much as I love this film, I wish it had been Jimmy Cagney instead of Raft. Just think of it, at a time when Cagney was in his prime, at the peak of his powers (a year after Roaring Twenties and the year before Strawberry Blonde). He and Sheridan were ALWAYS a great team (one of the great teams of the movies that noone seems to celebrate*

 

I remember reading years ago the writer's appreciation (David Shipman?) for the teaming of Cagney and Sheridan . . . something to the effect that Cagney and Sheridan did it first (before Bogart and Bacall). Too bad Ann decided to go on suspension for more money (and honeymoon with George Brent) for several months in 1941, and thereby missed out on again costarring with Jimmy in THE STRAWBERRY BLONDE. The studio borrowed Rita Hayworth, who benefitted greatly from this and another loanout, BLOOD AND SAND. These ensured her stardom, which would soon overtake that of the the Oomph Girl's as one of the iconic pinups (and THE 40s Love Goddess). As much as I enjoy Rita in TSB, Ann would have added her own pizzazz as well as that great chemistry she had with Cagney.

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I always think that Ann Sheridan was one of the Warners stars that never quite received her due from the studio with enough strong vehicles. Her true forte as a performer was brash comedy, even if it was part of a generally dramatic role (Torrid Zone or They Drive By Night).

 

Sheridan had a warm vulnerability beneath the wise cracking surface in those films that made her most appealing. I think, in particular, of one scene in Torrid Zone. She and bandito George Tobias are sharing adjacent jail cells and have become pals. Tobias is then taken from his cell, about to face a firing squad. Turning to Sheridan he takes off his ring and hands it to her, saying he won't need it where he is about to go.

 

"Afraid it'll melt?" Sheridan asks, and Tobias laughs.

 

On paper that line might look clever but a little nasty. Yet Sheridan delivered the line with such a look of concern on her face that she managed the small miracle of looking sympathetic while uttering a wise crack that, coming from another actress (say, a hard nut like Glenda Farrell) would have seemed rather cruel. I think that's a reflection of the warm likability that she had.

 

Unfortunately, I think Sheridan's best roles at Warners were really over after King's Row. That doesn't mean she wasn't effective in George Washington Slept Here or Juke Girl or Shine On Harvest Moon but the films themselves are lesser efforts.

 

I know that Sheridan was considered to be one of the studio's top stars during the war years, certainly the one **** queen they had, if they had one. I have the impression that Sheridan may have gone along with the publicity and buildup but that her heart really wasn't in being an "oomph" girl for anybody. Her last for the studio was a western, Silver River, with Errol Flynn, a dud at the box office (though I think they're a good team in it).

 

Sheridan had one hit after leaving Warners, I Was A Male War Bride, then went to Universal where her film career floundered. Afterward it was dinner circuit in the sticks and, at the end, some TV. In 1957 she was reunited with Flynn, an old play mate from the Warners years, for a TV western, Without Incident. They were different people now, though, from just ten years before. She looked tired, while Flynn, his own career ebbing, as well, acted like an automaton. It was a sad farewell appearance together for two of Warners' best.

 

 

 

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Well I can see you know your Ann Sheridan well. Good to see Torrid Zone get mentioned. This is a very good movie but one that a lot of classic movie fans are often unaware of. The movie is over the top but the humor is so well placed and the acting so good they pull it off. The cat fight scenes between Ann and the married women after Cagney are just great.

 

Yea, Ann's career at WB clearly started to go down after the war. I think the new WB gal Alexis Smith had something to do with that. She was younger than Ann and Jack wanted to push her big time.

 

As with all the gals at WB, they had to take the roles Bette didn't wanted and after that Stanwyck. Thus first rate actresses like Olivia Dehavilland got most of their best roles on loan outs (e.g. Olivia 2 oscar noms while at WB were on loan out movies) or by staring with Errol Flynn (since that pairing was big box office). Olivia won 2 best actress oscars right after leaving WB. Ida Lupino wasn't used to full advantage either and of course Ann as you noted.

 

When Bette left, Joan Crawford came on and got first pick of the mature women roles.

 

Ida went on to directing but Ann just wasn't able to have the type of career Olivia had, after WWII.

 

Thus while Ann was a big star today she is a second tier star. But she is still in many movies I love (great part in The Man Who Came to Dinner as well as many Cagney Bogie films).

 

WB was more of a man's studio expect for the stuff planned around Bette Davis.

 

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James, that's a pretty fair summary of the Warners late 40's scene. Except that Crawford was already there, winning her Oscar for Mildred Pierce, before Davis left. With the success of that film for Crawford, followed by another hit with Humoresque, it must have been hard for Warners' reigning queen Davis to witness, especially with the antipathy that existed between the two actresses.

 

Warners has always been my favourite studio but, along with Sheridan and Lupino, to whom you've referred, being somewhat wasted by them, not to mention Alexis Smith, there was also the largely run-of-the-mill productions into which they tossed John Garfield. Outside of Pride of the Marines and Humoresque, both towards the end of his contract, Garfield's Warners years must have been largely frustrating for that actor. Many of the films he's best remembered for today (Postman Always Rings Twice, Body and Soul, Force of Evil) were made either on loan or once he struck out on his own.

 

Clearly it was Warners' biggest stars who fared best by the studio, Davis, Cagney, Bogart and Flynn. As much as they may have battled or groused about Jack Warner, once they left the studio it was never as good for any of them again. Sure, Davis had All About Eve, while Bogie scored with African Queen and Caine Mutiny. But does anyone EVER try to make a case that their Warners years were not their best?

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Guess I'll play devil's advocate here. These are just some of the movies/roles I wouldn't want to have missed out on had these women been at other studios.

Ida Lupino

The Man I Love

The Hard Way

High Sierra

They Drive By Night

Pillow to Post

Escape Me Never

Devotion

 

Ann Sheridan

It All Came True

The Man Who Came to Dinner

Torrid Zone

Kings Row

Nora Prentiss

They Drive By Night

Angels With Dirty Faces

Juke Girl

 

Olivia de Havilland

A Midsummer Night's Dream

Captain Blood

It's Love I'm After

The Strawberry Blonde

Devotion

Any of her comedy roles

 

Just to be clear, I wish they had gotten to do a lot more as well. I just look at what they did do at WB and see a lot of gold there. I can't be sure what would've happened had they spent those years at other studios.

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You're not playing devil's advocate with me, tcmsnumberonefan, because I agree with almost all your choices. My only quibble may be that you're more impressed by de Havilland's work in comedies than I am. On the other hand, did you mean to leave out Adventures of Robin Hood and They Died With Their Boots On on her list, because I certainly wouldn't have.

 

A further piece of gold provided by Lupino was when she worked away from Warners in Ladies in Retirement, a fascinating study in crime with an eerie moor setting. Lupino called it either her favourite film or role (I forget which). Another Warners Lupino film that should definitely be listed is The Sea Wolf. She and Garfield are a convincing matchup as a pair who have both been abused by life and now have to combine forces to stand up to the tyranny of Edward G. Robinson's Wolf Larsen. The Sea Wolf, another great Warners film that few people ever talk about!

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> {quote:title=cody1949 wrote:}{quote}I love Cagney. He's my favorite actor of all time,but let's leave something memorable for George Raft. Besides, Cagney and Bogart as brothers just doesn't work for me. They were adversaries in too many previous films to all of a sudden be cast as brothers.

 

 

 

 

I agree with Cody and all the others who said that as much as we love Cagney we're happy with THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT just as it is. And I agree too with those who have said good things about George Raft.

 

 

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*Where does Edward G. fit into this scenario? Didn't he remain with Warners through the '40s? Was he not one of the studio's "biggest" stars?*

No discussion of Warners should take place without mention of Robinson, and I was remiss in not referring to the first of the studio's big gangster stars who, as an actor, showed he could be much more than just that. Having said that, Robinson's output from the studio, in my opinion, can't compare to the great star vehicles of Warner's "Big Four," so to speak, Cagney, Bogart, Flynn and Davis.

Take a look at the films they put Robinson into after Little Caesar and try to come up with the titles of outstanding films. I think it's a real challenge. Perhaps it was because that they didn't think that, like Cagney, Robinson would be appealing to the ladies. Whatever the reason I think the studio didn't craft the same kind of outstanding productions for him that the others had.

Mind you, it wasn't until after Cagney left Warners for two years in the mid-30's that, starting with Angels with Dirty Faces, they started putting him into films with more prestige than he had previously enjoyed. (Having said that, I love those fast paced pre-coders that Cagney made, too).

Getting back to Robinson, though, what are his outstanding films at Warners? For my money he appeared in one outstanding film during his Warners contract years, The Sea Wolf. (Later he returned for his great Johnny Rocco performance in Key Largo). In that respect, I would lump Robinson in with those other Warners players who were done a bit of a disservice by the studio. Doesn't it say something that he had to go to Columbia for The Whole Town's Talking to make one of his better films of the 30's?

Under no circumstances do I dispute Robinson's skill as an actor (his Wolf Larsen in The Sea Wolf is amazing, not to mention the evil of his Rocco performance). But his films themselves are less impressive, at least in my eyes. Five Star Final and Confessions of a Nazi Spy would be two of his best for Warners, and they're both decent entertainments. Not a Roaring Twenties to be seen in Robinson's cannon, however. Cagney, and the other three stars named, all got better breaks at Warners than Robinson, without a doubt.

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The point I would make is that very few of these films were film projects set up directly for these actresses. The vast majority are male lead projects (e.g. Cagney, Bogie, or Flynn films) where the lead female actress has a secondary role or there are multiple female leads.

 

For example, all the Olivia movies mentioned are not projects set up directly for her. WB did do a few of these like Call It a Day, My Love Come Back, and Princess O'Rourke but the only real good one is O'Rourke.

 

With Lupino there is The Hard Way and The Man I Love. For Olivia and Ida they have a joint lead in Devotion.

 

With Sheridan there is only Nora Prentiss.

 

Yea, all of these fine actresses were in many good WB movies. I don't think anyone ever implied this wasn't the case. But they were not used to their potential since WB was mostly an acto'rs studio with the exception of Bette Davis projects.

 

By the time Ann left WB her best years were behind her. With Olivia since she was in a court battle with WB no studio would make a movie with her for a year or so until Paramount had the guts to do so. They wouldn't release the movie until Olivia won her case. Then Olivia went on to make 3 major movies in 4 years, To Each His Own (oscar), The Snake Pit (oscar nom), and The Heiress (oscar). Note that Olivia's other oscar nom was on a load out called Hold Back The Dawn and of course the most well known Olivia role during her WB days was in GWTW.

 

For the male WB stars their best work were all WB productions.

 

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*Yea, Ann's career at WB clearly started to go down after the war. I think the new WB gal Alexis Smith had something to do with that. She was younger than Ann and Jack wanted to push her big time.*

 

The second-tier women stars at WB (in the studio's way of thinking, not mine) had it rough in the 40s. Not only was Bette Davis ruling the roost, but Sheridan and Lupino had to contend with Crawford by mid-decade, and independent stars that did film there as well as other studios: Stanwyck and Rosalind Russell. Then the younger stars being promoted: besides Smith there was Eleanor Parker, and later in the decade, Patricia Neal. And seemingly out of nowhere, former blonde wisecracking cutie Jane Wyman is a contender for more dramatic roles. Sheridan also had to deal with the more youthful oomph of Virginia Mayo.

 

 

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*With Sheridan there is only Nora Prentiss.*

 

IT ALL CAME TRUE was actually a vehicle for Sheridan, to capitalize on the "oomph" publicity. So were JUKE GIRL, SHINE ON HARVEST MOON and THE UNFORGIVEN (these are those that come to mind off the top of my head.

 

*Yea, all of these fine actresses were in many good WB movies. I don't think anyone ever implied this wasn't the case. But they were not used to their potential since WB was mostly an acto'rs studio with the exception of Bette Davis projects.*

 

I agree with your premise here, except that in the mid-30s, the studio also fashioned many "women's films" vehicles for their then top female star, Kay Francis.

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*Take a look at the films they put Robinson into after Little Caesar and try to come up with the titles of outstanding films. I think it's a real challenge. Perhaps it was because that they didn't think that, like Cagney, Robinson would be appealing to the ladies. Whatever the reason I think the studio didn't craft the same kind of outstanding productions for him that the others had.*

 

Off the top of my head, I'd add BROTHER ORCHID, A MESSAGE FROM REUTERS, and MANPOWER as great Robinson films done while under contract to WB.

 

 

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*Off the top of my head, I'd add BROTHER ORCHID, A MESSAGE FROM REUTERS, and MANPOWER as great Robinson films done while under contract to WB.*

 

Arturo, obviously the perception of "great films" can be subjective. To my way of think Cagney made three great films with Angels With Dirty Faces, Strawberry Blonde and White Heat at Warners. For Flynn: Robin Hood, Captain Blood and Sea Hawk. Bogart: Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Casablanca, Maltese Falcon. Davis: The Letter. It's a selective list on my part but I don't think I'm alone in deeming those films to be among Warners' best of the 30's and 40's. Do you really think that those three Robinson titles you've listed come even close to the quality of the films that I just named for the other four stars?

 

If, like me, you think, perhaps not, that's my point about Edward G. Robinson's vehicles at Warners. The man never really got the same treatment at the studio as did the others when it came to quality productions which have stood the test of time well. (Acknowledging the fact that I do regard at least one Robinson film, The Sea Wolf, to be among the finest films produced by the studio).

 

 

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Yea, I forgot that in It All Came True Ann had top billing. I viewed that movie as a Bogie picture but since it was pre-High Sierra he had 3rd billing. I tried to find out more about Juke Girl but I couldn't. I have to assume TCM has this film, I really wish they would show it.

 

Related to this topic of actresses and studio treatment, a look at Greer Garson is useful. She gets a somewhat secondary part at MGM and then MGM designs movie after movie around her persona. In 7 years she gets 5 oscar noms and one oscar win.

 

Of course it is impossible to say that IF other actresses like the ones being discussed were given roles that fit them if they could of had a run like Garson. Olivia clearly showed she was that type of actress but than maybe she had to mature first. But after her performance as Melanie in GWTW I think she was ready but she still didn't get great dramatic parts in her years at WB after that.

 

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