This is the most honest poster of this movie that I could find.
If you think the 1938 movie Daredevil Drivers is about men and women who risk their skin with motorized vehicles in the name of show business and/or thrill-seeking, you can stop reading. The title only works for the film in the vaguest of senses. Still, could’ve been worse: the pre-release title was gonna be Road Pirates. Yikes.
The movie starts with racecar driver Bill Foster (Dick Purcell) and riding mechanic Stub Wilson (Charley Foy) who having won their last race, got disqualified for reckless driving and suspended from driving on sanctioned tracks. While towing their racecar, they got into an accident with an old bus. With his racecar wrecked, Bill takes up his complaint with the head of the Neeley bus company, a woman named Jerry Neeley (Beverly Roberts). Bill goes as far as coming up and help carry out with a business scheme to help the rival bus company owner Tommy Burnell (Donald Briggs), just to make things worse for Jerry. To finalize things, Bill sues Jerry, using Burnell’s lawyer.
While Bill’s and Stub’s suspension, as well a court date reach their respective deadlines, the duo works for Burnell as driver and mechanic, cutting down on time. Bill would meet Jerry by accident and on purpose a couple of times. Both find out that they like each other enough for Jerry to ask Bill to drop the lawsuit and Bill to do so. But Burnell had other ideas. Having sent Bill on a long bus run, Burnell’s legal team carry on with the lawsuit and win by technicality. When Bill gets back and finds out, he also stumbles on a sabotage scheme spearheaded by Burnell and a mole in Jerry’s company, Mark Banning (Gordon Oliver) the man responsible for maintenance of the bus fleet. This was enough reason to punch Banning’s socks off, but there’s more: the sabotaged bus was not only driven by Jerry due to a lack of drivers, but it was full of children due to a last minute agreement! After punching Burnell, Bill and Stubs go up the mountain and intercept Jerry’s runaway bus.
Feeling that most of Jerry’s problems were caused by him, Bill uses his court-earned money to buy some time for the Neeley bus company, while trying to come up with a plan to permanently save it and stick it to Burnell. Bill raced twice in outlaw tracks to race more money. He contacted his racing friends to help overhaul the bus fleet and put some racecar drivers on the seats. This was working, until one of the buses got into an accident with Councilman Baker (Ferris Taylor), who had the power to see if the Neeley bus company got the city’s transport franchise or not.
Using Burnell’s mole against him, Bill hops into his rebuilt racecar with Jerry and race across town to beat Burnell to city hall, to convince Councilman Baker to give the Neeley bus company a chance. Bill, knowing that Councilman Baker was a racecar aficionado, gives him his racecar as reparations for the accident, even though Councilman Baker voted against the Neeley bus company, much to Bill’s chagrin. But Councilman Baker was outvoted, so the Neeley bus company got the city’s franchise, meaning it was safe and here to stay. And… that’s it.
That’s it?! That’s right. It’s among one of the most abrupt movie endings I’ve experienced. The movie’s pace isn’t so bad, but with over an hour long, you’re definitely left expecting more. Yes, the good guys won, but it doesn’t feel that way: it’s as if the editors cut out a racing scene and fight scene out of the final cut. There are only two racing circuit action sequences, if you could call it that. The Death Race remake probably had less crashes. Also, the rear projection screen technique is among the most appalling that I’ve seen.
On the other hand, the movie does shed some light about the 1930s bus world. The romance angle wasn’t so bad; its buildup was different. Writing the synopsis above makes me feel that on paper, the story was rather solid, though its execution, name, and marketing as a race movie (you’ll find posters exploiting the racing angle), left something to be desired.
Opening pic: IMDb.com