Mantan Moreland at his hilarious best in a two-fisted saga of battling truckers!
vt In the Night
US / 61 minutes / bw / Monogram Dir: Jean Yarbrough Pr: Lindsley Parsons Scr: Edmond Kelso Cine: Mack Stengler Cast: Frankie Darro, Marcia Mae Jones, Jackie Moran, Keye Luke, Mantan Moreland, Robert Homans, Irving Mitchell, Ed Cassidy, Pat Gleason, Jack Kenney, Jack Ingraham, Laurence Criner.
A gang is hijacking the trucks of the Overland Transport Co., very often at the expense of the drivers’ lives. The case is in the hands of insurance officer R.A. Saunders (Mitchell), but we very soon discover that he’s in fact at the heart of the criminal conspiracy, the other two linchpins being Pop Wallace (Homans), manager of Overland, and Jack Norton (Cassidy) of the rival Tri-State Truck Lines. It seems that Wallace is swapping legitimate cargoes for bricks, so the three men can profit out of the insurance money while, for Norton, there’s the additional lure of putting a rival out of business.
Robert Homans as Pop Wallace.
Ed Cassidy as Norton.
Irving Mitchell as the irremediably sleazy Saunders.
Drifting and jobless, pals Frankie O’Malley (Darro) and Jefferson “Jeff” Smith (Moreland) see Pop’s ad in the paper seeking to employ new drivers and, despite Jeff’s allergy towards the very idea of work, along they go to the Overland offices. After some persuasion, not least by Pop’s daughter Patsy (Jones)—who sees in Frankie a means of goading her listless boyfriend, garage mechanic Chick Daly (Moran), into showing a bit of gumption—Pop takes the pair on for the glorious salary of a buck an hour.
Chick (Jackie Moran) and Patsy (Marcia Mae Jones) are all eyes for each other. Trouble is, Patsy wants more than just eyes.
On their first journey, Frankie drives like a madman, picking up no fewer than seven speeding tickets from cops along the way. Unknown to him and Jeff, it’s precisely because they’ve been attracting the constant attentions of the cops that Norton’s henchmen Marty (Gleason) and Dink (Kenney) haven’t been able to attack. Of course, that kind of immunity can’t last forever, and in due course they’re captured by the gang, taken to the Tri-State Truck Lines garage, threatened with death by a lumbering crook called Ham Shanks (Criner), escape, and, inevitably, with the help of Patsy, Chick, a new Overland “intern” called George Li (Luke) and even Pop Wallace himself, bring the whole crooked edifice crashing down.
Jeff (Mantan Moreland) and Frankie (Frankie Darro) on the job, but . . .
. . . Dink (Jack Kenney, left) and Marty (Pat Gleason) lie in wait.
Moreland is as funny here as I’ve ever seen him, and Darro, to his credit, is content most of the time to play the part of straight man. The highlight sequence is one where Frankie decides to give the non-driving Jeff a driving lesson in a stationary truck in the darkened Overland garage. The running gag is that, as Frankie describes the imaginary road condition (a corner, oncoming traffic, etc.), Jeff reacts as if those conditions were real—and, being Mantan Moreland, gloriously overdoes it all. At one point he tries to duck out of the lesson with a breezy “Well, that does it. A flat tire.” A few moments later, his reaction on being told “Watch out. Your clutch is slipping” is a brief, anguished downward glance before he realizes the misunderstanding.
Mantan Moreland at the top of his game as Jeff.
The screenplay gives Moreland some great verbal material to work with, too. For example, when our two pals are being held at the Tri-State Truck Lines garage in the custody of garage foreman Ham Shanks, the latter pulls a gun out of a drawer and ominously begins to clean it:
Mantan: “Ain’t you scared that thing could go off?”
Ham Shanks: “What if it do? It ain’t pointing at me.”
Mantan: “It would be if you were sitting where I am.”
And there are a couple of Moreland’s lines that archly mock the racist preconceptions in the audiences of the day that the Darro/Moreland double act had to dance around: “When you’ve been beyond the pale as much as I have . . .”
Things aren’t going too well for Frankie (Frankie Darro).
The only sour note in the whole movie comes towards the end. One can see screenwriter Kelso’s problem. Patsy is one of the good guys, and has helped Frankie and Jeff in their efforts to root out the evil. However, her father, Pop, is in it up to his neck. So we’re informed in an offhand way that Pop was pressurized into taking part, so is really, well, innocent, and our pals ensure that he’s not brought to book when the rest are (as if none of the other gangsters would sing like thrushes after arrest). Yet Pop has, whether under duress or no, been knowingly sending truckers to their deaths. Is that really so easily forgivable?
Jeff in cahoots with the new guy, George (Keye Luke).
This is the seventh of the eight Darro/Moreland movies that the pair made for Monogram and the third that I’ve covered on this site. The list is:
- Irish Luck (1939)
- Chasing Trouble (1940)
- On the Spot (1940)
- Laughing at Danger (1940)
- Up in the Air (1940)
- You’re Out of Luck (1941)
- The Gang’s All Here (1941)
- Let’s Go Collegiate (1941)
The type-noir about the struggles of truckers is of course THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT (1940) dir Raoul Walsh, with Ida Lupino, George Raft, Ann Sheridan and Humphrey Bogart, although we shouldn’t forget THIEVES’ HIGHWAY (1949) dir Jules Dassin, with Richard Conte, Valentina Cortese and Lee J. Cobb. Despite the fact that it’s played for laughs, The Gang’s All Here in theme and style fits quite comfortably alongside those rather more celebrated outings. Even the truck chases have an authentic noirish feel.
This is a contribution to Rich Westlake’s 1941 roundup at his Past Offences site.