Invisible Stripes 1939

William Holden, George Raft and Humphrey Bogart
 1939 is a year that is held up as being the greatest in classic Hollywood.  With the release of films like The Wizard of Oz, The Women, Gone with the Wind, Dark Victory, and seemingly countless others, it was a magical year.  Invisible Stripes, also released in 1939, is not one of them.  It's as much of a dog in many ways as MGM's silly Ice Follies of 1939, with none of the camp.


I make no secret of my love for the films of Warner Brothers and I love a crime film.  Nothing like a good gangster flick.  You have to give Invisible Stripes an A for effort.  For me it did not work out so well.

George Raft and Jane Bryan in a publicity shot for Invisible Stripes
George Raft plays Cliff Taylor,  an ex-con who wants to go straight.  After being released from prison and on parole, he finds it hard to find and hold a job due to his criminal past. Cliff's younger brother Tim, played by a very green William Holden, is worried because he cannot afford to marry his girlfriend Peggy, played by Jane Bryan.  Tim is also disillusioned about being able to make a mark for himself in the world honestly. Cliff while he struggles to get how own life in order, is worried Tim might end up leading a life of crime like himself.  Tim is a hothead and in a hurry to be a success.  After Cliff gets fired from his job at the garage, he tells the family he is working as a salesman.  In truth, he is back working with fellow ex-con and gangster, Charles Martin, played by Humphrey Bogart, and they organize a number of robberies. 

With the dough he gets from his criminal activities, Cliff is able to buy a garage for his brother, who is now able to get married. Cliff, in the meantime, decides to quit the gang. However, after a failed robbery, Martin and his pals hide in Tim's garage. The police find out about this and Tim is arrested and taken to the police station. Cliff manages to exonerate his brother from the charges, but in exchange Tim has to identify the robbers and testify against them. Before the police can proceed to arrest Martin, Cliff meets him in his house and tells him to escape before being caught. However, Martin's pals, seeing their boss and Cliff together, believe that they are trying to escape and kill them both.

This is a standard Warner b-ganster film directed in a breezy style by journeyman Lloyd Bacon.  For me there is the immediate fail in my own suspension of disbelief in believing Raft as a noble son trying to make good.  Raft shot to stardom in the 1932 potboiler Scarface, a good deal of it based on his looks which were similar to the late Rudolph Valentino.  Raft was a graceful dancer (see the ridiculous and fun Bolero with Carole Lombard), but he was never much of an actor, if you ask me. 

Flora Robson and George Raft
In Invisible Stripes, curiously, his best scenes (to me) are with the totally miscast and wonderful Flora Robson as his mother.  Robson a good 6-7 years younger than Raft, still manages to pull off the elderly mother and both are seen at their best in the sequence at the employee dance where Raft is guiding her across the floor in excellent taxi-dancer style (he had experience in this regard).  She would fare much better in Samuel Goldwyn's 1939 offering of Wuthering Heights as Ellen.  She is the heart and soul of that film, to me.  

Holden is pretty during his Golden Boy days, but, still very green and awkward.  Bogart in one of his last smaller gangster roles does well and dies well, as usual.  He broke out of character in 1939's Dark Victory as Michael the Irish (by way of NY) accented horse trainer to Bette Davis' edgy and ethereal Judith Traherne.  Jane Bryan is totally serviceable as Holden's girlfriend as is Lee Patrick doing a turn as Bogart's moll.  Patrick has some of the best snappy dialogue in the film, this is no surprise.  It's also surprising that post code, some of it was let to slide.  Is it worth seeing, yes.  Is it Warner Brothers best effort in 1939, no.

Raft and Bogart filming their opening scene in the prison showers.
If legends are true, Raft turned down The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca, instead he made They Drive by Night and Manpower, which certainly do have their finer points.  Not a wise man in making career decisions, nevertheless, I take him as I find him.  I think in 1939's Each Dawn I Die he is every bit an equal of James Cagney (who never disappoints).  Who can blame him for wanting to break the gangster mold? 

That Raft was good looking is sometime enough, he played hardboiled, plain and simple delivery, and when he smiled he could turn on the charm.  Perhaps I should not complain, but, in this film Raft is not even as memorable as Jack La Rue was in much smaller parts during this period.  Speaking of which, if you want to see a film with La Rue that is more plot and more unbelievable, go for the U.K. produced gangster film No Orchids for Miss Blandish.  It is a kick in the pants and a bit of a head twister, too.


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