I was noting the other day that while George Raft may be known for playing gangsters, he actually plays very few genuine bad guys. Of the fifteen or so films I've seen in the past few weeks, he was a bad guy in only two (okay, three counting Some Like it Hot, which I haven't seen recently), and those were Scarface and Palmy Days.
In the commentary on the Each Dawn I Die DVD, the speaker mentioned that George apparently had turned down films like High Sierra and Double Indemnity because the characters he would have played had no moral compass. And after the run of films I've seen, that totally rings true. He really does go for the characters that ultimately choose right over wrong. Even when he's on on the wrong side of the law (or especially when he's on the wrong side), he still does what's right and ends up a hero. And I get the feeling that's what he really liked about being in movies, getting to be the hero. There's a little extra twinkle in his eye when he finally does the right thing (usually before he's killed for it), like this is what it's all about.
And that's the very thing that drew me to him in the first place, when I watched Invisible Stripes. I need my characters to change and grow in a movie. They gotta be different people at the end of the film than when they started out, or I just get bored. And I'm the biggest sucker on the planet for a character who's got a redemption arc, and nine times out of ten, George's shadier characters all redeem themselves before the final credits. Really, how could I not fall in love with him? He's an actor tailor-made for me.
Each Dawn I Die is my favorite of his films to date. I loved absolutely everything about this film, and both James Cagney and George Raft are outstanding. It was only the second James Cagney film I'd ever seen, the first being Tribute to a Bad Man. So I watched White Heat and Yankee Doodle Dandy last week to expand my James Cagney viewing experience. White Heat was the exact opposite of a George Raft movie, and I didn't really enjoy it. James Cagney's character is clearly not going to change (nor did I want him to), and neither does the nominal good guy, Edmond O'Brien. The film is just a straight-forward account of a bad guy and how he ultimately gets his. Nothing wrong with that at all, and while I appreciate the movie, and I do love watching Cagney at work, the movie still does nothing for me personally and it won't be one I ever watch again. I need more... which brings me back to George Raft. His movie choices, for better or worse, give me that more I'm looking for.