Humphrey Bogart has very little to do in They Drive by Night, except feeling sorry for himself. Instead, the film belongs squarely to George Raft, who, for once didn't turn down a great role. (He passed on, among others, The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca.) But what good fortune that both worked for Warner Bros., that most blue-collar oriented of all the Hollywood studios. More than anything, They Drive by Night is a working-class movie -- working-class chic, perhaps, what with Ann Sheridan in full Hollywood war paint despite playing a roadhouse waitress -- and embodies all the hopes and aspirations of what they used to call the "working stiff." Raft doesn't necessarily want to become a millionaire like his friend, Alan Hale, and certainly want nothing to do with the latter's grasping wife, never mind what she is willing to do for him. All he wishes for is a little business of his own, to punch his own time clock and do an honest day's work without answering to anyone. And when he finally achieves that goal -- through the circuitous road route the screenwriters have mapped out for him -- he is just what you knew he would be: the most democratic of bosses. Imagine what they would have done with such a plot and such a character over at posh, other-worldly MGM. Ida Lupino, meanwhile, overacts her hysteria in the climactic courtroom scene but the great Warner stock company is out in force to make sure that They Drive by Night is the slam-bang action-drama that its press book promised.
by Hans J. Wollstein review