**½/**** Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B
starring George Raft, Ann Sheridan, Ida Lupino, Humphrey Bogart
screenplay by Jerry Wald & Richard Macaulay
directed by Raoul Walsh
by Bill Chambers At first an earnest but cheerful portrait of two brothers trying to make ends meet as Depression-era truckers, Raoul Walsh's They Drive By Night does a complete about-face in terms of tone about halfway through that's almost guaranteed to cause intellectual whiplash. It might therefore be an effective salve to think of this sea change as analogous to our road-bound heroes' plight, but it's business as usual for both distributor Warner Bros. (here combining two disparate pieces of source material--A.I. Bezzerides's novel The Long Haul and the 1935 Bette Davis vehicle Bordertown--simply to get mileage out of pre-owned properties) and Walsh, since Walsh seemed to gravitate towards cross-pollinated screenplays. (I'm thinking of his Pursued, a western that flirts haphazardly (yet rewardingly) with noir conventions, or his gangsters-go-camping yarn High Sierra (written by John Huston).) Nevertheless, the film's U-turn is so radical that it arguably transforms They Drive By Night into one of the U.S. cinema's earliest experiments in portmanteau--adequate absolution, really, for this borderline social-conscience picture's zany mutation into a gothic melodrama.