AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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The Devil on Wheels
Alternate Title: When the Devil Drives
Director: Crane Wilbur (Dir)
Release Date:   2 Mar 1947
Production Date:   mid-Aug--mid-Sep 1946
Duration (in mins):   67
Duration (in reels):   7
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Cast:   Noreen Nash (Susie Tanner)  
    Darryl Hickman (Mickey Clark)  
    Jan Ford (Rusty)  
    Lenita Lane (Mrs. Clark)  
    James Cardwell (Jeff Clark)  
    Damian O'Flynn (Mr. Clark)  
    William Forrest (Judge Roger Tanner)  
    Sue England (Peggy)  
    Robert Arthur (Todd Powell)  
    Elliott Lewis (Parent of child killed in auto accident)  
    Ann Burr    

Summary: While teenager Mickey Clark, a lover of hot-rod automobiles, and his friend, Todd Powell, work on Mickey's car, Mickey's father witnesses an accident in which a man driving too fast kills his own daughter. At home, Mr. Clark warns Mickey not to drag race, but later, while taking the family for a drive in his new car, Clark drives recklessly and hits the automobile of Judge Roger Tanner, who is driving with his daughter Susie. Clark denies culpability in the accident, but later, in Judge Tanner's own court, Clark is contrite, and Tanner lets him go. At the local country club, Mickey's older brother Jeff, a Navy flier and war hero, apologizes to Susie for his father's insolence, and they start dating. Rusty and Peggy, the girl friends of Mickey and his friend Todd, meanwhile, admire Jeff's bravery in battle and harangue Mickey and Todd into entering a drag race. A policeman breaks up the race, and the drivers and their parents are called into court, where the judge upbraids them for their dangerous recklessness, explaining that 37,000 Americans were killed in car accidents the previous year. The judge releases the boys into the custody of their parents. Later, while driving the family car to pick up his mother at the railroad station, Mickey is chased by the police for careless driving and races his mother's train, barely missing it. That night, while Rusty, Mickey, Peggy and Todd have a party on the beach, they hear a news flash on the radio that an unidentified hot-rod driver has died after his car plunged into the ocean. The group goes to the morgue to find out who the driver was, and Rusty is locked in when the guard arrives. The others flee, and during a police chase, Mickey crashes into two cars, killing Todd and seriously injuring an unidentified woman. He flees the scene of the accident and returns home, quietly entering his room. Downstairs, Jeff and Susie announce their engagement to Mr. Clark. Their celebration is interrupted by a news flash of a fatal car accident involving Mrs. Clark. Jeff and Mr. Clark rush to the hospital, while Susie tells Mickey about the accident. He goes to the hospital, and after hearing that his mother has a chance of surviving, he confesses that it was he who caused the accident. The police pick up Mickey on suspicion of manslaughter. Rusty, who panicked when she saw Todd's body brought into the morgue and weighed, is arrested, and tearfully tells a judge that she encouraged the boys to drive fast. When Mickey is brought before a judge, Mr. Clark admits that he is equally culpable in his son's crime because he seldom practiced what he preached about driving safety. When Mrs. Clark is fully recovered, Mickey confesses to her that he caused the accident. Later, Mrs. Clark safely drives her husband to pick up Mickey, who has finished his jail sentence. 

Production Company: PRC Pictures, Inc.  
Distribution Company: Producers Releasing Corp. (Pathé Industries, Inc.)
Director: Crane Wilbur (Dir)
  Emmett Emerson (Asst dir)
  Benny Rubin (Dial dir)
Producer: Ben Stoloff (Prod)
  Jerry Briskin (Assoc prod)
Writer: Crane Wilbur (Orig story and scr)
  Tony Sargent (Orig idea)
Photography: L. Wm. O'Connell (Dir of photog)
Art Direction: Perry Smith (Art dir)
Film Editor: Alexander Troffey (Film ed)
  Al DeGaetano (Ed supv)
Set Decoration: Armor Marlowe (Set dec)
  Clarence Steenson (Set dec)
Costumes: Dorothy Drake (Cost supv)
Music: Emil Cadkin (Mus)
  Irving Friedman (Mus dir)
Sound: L. John Myers (Sd eng)
  J. N. A. Hawkins (Sd dir)
Special Effects: George Teague (Photog eff)
Make Up: Bud Westmore (Dir of makeup)
  Eunice (Hairstylist)
Country: United States

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number Passed By NBR:
Pathé Industries,Inc. 15/2/1947 dd/mm/yyyy LP844 Yes

Physical Properties: b&w:
  Sd: Western Electric Sound System

Genre: Drama
Sub-Genre: Teenage
  Automobile racing
Subjects (Major): Adolescents
  Automobile accidents
  Drag racing
  Family relationships
Subjects (Minor): Air pilots
  Automobile chases
  Juvenile courts
  Moral reformation
  United States. Navy. Air Corps
  War heroes

Note: The film's working title was When the Devil Drives . The DV review stated that this film capitalized on "the current hot-rod car craze among juv[enile] America which is causing so many thousands of deaths annually....the film accomplishes its goal--namely, to make audiences conscious of the peril of such hopped-up autos." Eagle-Lion Films, Inc. is listed in the last HR production chart as the production company making this film. SAB credits both Tony Sargent and Thorton Sargent with the film's original idea, although only Tony receives credit on the screen and in reviews. Contemporary reviews credit Alvin Levin with music, rather than Emil Cadkin. This film was Jerry Briskin's first credit as associate producer, and Benny Rubin's first as dialogue director. According to HR , as a result of his work on this film, Rubin won a director assignment at Eagle-Lion. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   8 Feb 1947.   
Daily Variety   22 Jan 1947.   
Film Daily   27 Jan 47   p. 7.
Hollywood Reporter   23 Aug 46   p. 21.
Hollywood Reporter   13 Sep 46   p. 16.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jan 47   p. 3.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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