The dialogue is salty and well-delivered… while the background stuff- the diners, rented rooms and garages- is beautifully detailed and always believable.
 …it features a top-flight cast of actors who are usually fun to watch.
 It’s mile-a-minute banter delivered by pros (this film played a big part in landing bigger roles for Bogie).
-Excerpts from IMDB reviews
[Paul is checking out Cassie, a waitress, at a roadside diner.]
Cassie Hartley: All right, that’s enough of the X-ray treatment.
This is the story of the Fabrini brothers, ladies’ man Joe (George Raft) and married man Paul (Humphrey Bogart), independent-minded truckers somewhere in California. They’d like to buy their own rig, but can’t afford one. There is tough competition and long-haul trucking is dangerous. Cassie Hartley (Ann Sheridan) is the wise-cracking waitress the brothers pick up on the road. Joe obviously has eyes for her. Later that night, they witness a terrible accident after a fellow trucker falls asleep at the wheel! Later on, circumstances drive them to work for Ed Carlsen (Alan Hale), a former trucker who runs his own business. His much younger wife, Lana (Ida Lupino), is very interested in Joe.
Joe Fabrini: Do you believe in love at first sight?
Cassie Hartley: It saves a lot of time.
This film is considered an underrated/lesser-known noir. Raft and Bogart are close in age and have great chemistry, so you believe them as brothers. It’s refreshing to see Bogie (before he became a leading man) as a regular guy; I don’t think I’ve seen him smile so much! I reviewed Thieves’ Highway (1949) earlier on this blog; it also deals w/ the trucking business. The screenplay of They Drive by Night was based on a novel by A. I. “Buzz” Bezzerides, who wrote Thieves’ Highway (based on his experiences as a first gen American/former trucker).
Producer Mark Hellinger’s wife, Gladys Glad (a former showgirl on Broadway for Ziegfeld), was responsible for getting this film made. Hellinger brought home a stack of scripts to read, skimmed this script, but felt that “nobody would pay money to see a bunch of truck drivers.” Glad read this script, liked it, and pressured her husband to read it. The film became the sleeper hit for Warner Bros. It was directed by Raoul Walsh and shot in just 33 days (in sequence).