Monday, March 02, 2009

Invisible Stripes (1939)

How odd to see my first movie headlining George Raft, and he's mostly playing a good guy. Interestingly, I watched Black Widow not too long ago and did not even realize he played the detective in it... but that would make two "good guy" roles. I'm starting out all backwards! I rather like him, at least in this film. His character genuinely tries to make a go of a straight life, but those eponymous "invisible stripes" haunt everything he does. Employers won't keep him on, his girlfriend dumps him because she doesn't want to be seen with an ex-con. He can't win, and you know where that's eventually going to lead him.

George Raft filled this role very nicely. I don't have anything to compare him to, so I think I may have to check out a couple of his gangster flicks, but he had a suitable solid earnestness here that was very appealing. There are flashes of his gangster side, when he loses his temper or when he starts working the angles and slides into wary and clever. And boy, he can switch from a pleasant "yes, sir!" good son to calculating and cold at the snap of a fingers. Not someone you want to cross! (And a random aside: he has the most lovely eyes. They remind me very much of Rudolph Valentino's eyes. Same shape, very dark, very Italian-looking (even if he isn't). Mmmm.)

Then there's William Holden, playing Raft's younger brother. He mostly alternates between sincere and angry, with only a touch of the cynical bitterness he does so well later in life. This role's similar in flavor to his Golden Boy character (and made the same year, so once again he's super young and cute), but without the nuance or complexity. He wants to get ahead in the world, needs money to do it, seriously considers getting it the "easy way" by following in big brother's footsteps. Raft tries to dissuade him from those notions verbally several times, culminating in possibly my favorite scene, when Holden admits to starting down the wrong path. Raft listens to him silently, then locks the door so their mother and Holden's girlfriend can't intrude, and proceeds to knock some sense into him. Literally. Holden's all wild, uncoordinated anger; Raft is calm and precise. Holden doesn't stand a chance. LOL! As the older sibling in my family, I can't help but relate to Raft here. I don't think there's anything quite as frustrating as being older, having been there, done that, then watching a younger sibling ignore everything you tell them and start to make the same mistakes you did. Fortunately, none of my mistakes included anything criminal, but nonetheless! LOL!

The third star in this film is Humphrey Bogart, and while he's supposedly only a supporting actor here, he steals every scene he's in. I never appreciated him growing up, but he sure has been growing on me. In this film, he's the counterpoint to Raft. Raft wants to go straight; Bogart is completely unrepentant and can't wait to leap back into his previous life. Of course their paths inevitably tangle again, and the climax with the two of them is probably my second favorite scene. I do so love characters who give their word and keep it, no matter what.

I enjoyed this film a lot. It's nothing outstandingly special, but nicely diverting, with quite a bit of eye candy.


  1. Holden looks so adorable! And I'm glad Bogart's growing on you...Holden's your number one, and Bogart's (usually) my number one, so I wondered how you felt about him. :)

    I'm not sure I've seen many George Raft movies. I just remember reading that he was the only member of gangster's row that was actually a tough guy...compared to Cagney and Bogie and Robinson, who were all smart and/or artistic.

  2. Yeah, I'm a latecomer to appreciating Humphrey Bogart. The only movie of his I liked growing up was "The Big Sleep." But then I started catching him in more films... the ones with Lauren Bacall, and "We're No Angels" and "Dead End" (mmm, Joel McCrea is yummy in that one, going up against Bogart) and "High Sierra," which you recommended. I'm not sure he'll ever be a favorite, but I sure do enjoy watching him and how he does things now.

  3. By jingo, his eyes DO look like Rudy's! Hmm, may have to investigate a few of his movies myself.

    And I'm glad you're learning to appreciate Bogart at last :-)

  4. Okay, I was a bad girl and watched "Scarface" last night (1932) because I loathe being stuck on MM, and this might be the start of a spring fling which is much more fun... and George Raft REALLY looks like Rudy's older brother or something in that. He had the same sideburns going on, the same slicked hair, the same eyes. But his good-looks are much colder and harder than Rudy (if that makes sense). Even still, the resemblance is kind of trippy. Not so much from front-on shots, but profiles or angled shots. I should send you a couple screenshots.

    I'm going to get "They Drive By Night" from netflix next -- will give me more George Raft AND Bogie. :-D

  5. Hi DK - Glad I found your blog. I'm a big fan of old movies, too, and I must say, I am a HUGE fan of Dana Andrews. Le sigh. I love him, especially in LAURA. But he is good in every single role. I wish they would have let him sing in STATE FAIR. :-)

  6. Hiya Melissa -- happy to see you here! I've been following your WWII blog for a long time (originally found through our shared comments/interests on Fedora Lounge), and more recently discovered your writing/RL blog. I meant to join your Just Write Challenge, but February ended up being a bad month for me. Sigh!