Invisible Stripes (1939)

Director:

Lloyd Bacon

An ex-con who wants to go straight has difficulties trying to reintegrate into society while on parole.

William Holden at 22

18 April 2012 | by blanche-2 (United States) – See all my reviews

Somehow at the age of 22, William Holden looked like a better-looking Tom Hanks. And I’ll bet there are a lot of people who could sit through “Invisible Stripes” and not know it was William Holden.

“Invisible Stripes” stars George Raft, Humphrey Bogart, William Holden, and Jane Bryan.

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George Raft plays Cliff Taylor who, once released from prison, decides to stay on the straight and narrow. His pal, Chuck Martin (Bogart) has no such intentions. Cliff, who has a brother (Holden) and a mother (Fay Robson) finds the going tough, unable to get a job he can keep for various reasons, usually someone making trouble for him. His kindly parole officer encourages him to keep trying. With his brother Tim wanting to marry his girlfriend Peggy, and the job situation, Cliff decides to go in with Chuck’s group.

Pretty good gangster flick, with Bogart, not long before his breakout role in High Sierra, giving the strongest performance. Raft is playing a good guy so he doesn’t demonstrate a lot of bite. The film has some exciting scenes, particularly toward the end.

Holden, as stated above, is just a kid but does a good job as a man in love who wants to give his girlfriend the world, if only he had some money. It would be 11 years before he made his mark in “Sunset Boulevard” and became a true superstar.

As an aside, Jane Bryan retired to marry Justin Dart, who took over Rexall Drug chain. She died in 2009 at the age of 91.

In many ways a typical Warner Brothers gangster film, but a good one.

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You think changin’ your uniform means anything, you’ll still be wearin’ stripes. You may not be able to see ’em, but they’ll be there alright.”

7/10
Author: classicsoncall from Florida, New York
9 January 2005

George Raft and an unrecognizably young William Holden are top billed as brothers Cliff and Tim Taylor in this 1939 gangster genre film that has both brothers skirting opposite sides of the law as they try to make a life for themselves.

The story opens with Cliff Taylor and fellow Sing Sing inmate Chuck Martin (Humphrey Bogart) about to leave prison with their sentences completed. Taylor is determined to go straight, Martin can’t wait to get back to his criminal life. As Cliff tries to settle back into his former life with his family, events conspire against him making it difficult to stay on the straight and narrow. Additional pressure comes from brother Tim, who wants to make a better life for himself and fiancée Peggy (Jane Bryan), but earning twenty dollars a week as a mechanic makes him fantasize about “taking what he wants”.

The film see-saws it’s way back and forth for Cliff, who alternately tries to play it straight and then gets mixed up with Martin’s gangster pals. In that regard, George Raft really gets to portray a con man, hiding his involvement from Tim and his mother (Flora Robson), until events spiral out of control during a botched robbery attempt by Martin’s gang.

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If you’re into film nuances, this one offers a number of treats. For starters, there’s the scene where Bogey’s character Martin is shown coming out of a movie theater with his blonde girlfriend Molly (Lee Patrick); the film that’s playing – 1939’s “You Can’t Get Away With Murder”, starring Humphrey Bogart! Speaking of Molly, she’s almost a dead ringer look alike for Bette Davis, making me do a couple of double takes. And then there’s the brief uncredited appearance of Dead Ender Leo Gorcey as the head stock boy for a general store where Cliff briefly finds a job.

I found myself enjoying this film, even if uneven at times. George Raft and Humphrey Bogart went on to make one more film together in 1940’s “They Drive By Night”, where they share equal billing as brothers involved in wildcat trucking, one might call them brother truckers.

For it’s own part, “Invisible Stripes” may be hard to come by, not available as a studio release, but many of these Warner Brothers films find their way onto classic movie TV channels like TCM or are available through specialty video houses. This one would be well worth your time, especially if you’re a fan of Raft, Bogey, Holden or the gangster genre itself.

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Fun & Entertaining

8/10
Author: boscofl from United States
11 November 2008

“Invisible Stripes” is by no means a great film but I enjoy the heck out of it. Any crime picture that has George Raft and Humphrey Bogart is going to be worth a look. Here they play two cons: Raft planning to go straight and provide for his Mom and kid brother while Bogey returns to his criminal ways. There are so many interesting angles to this picture for true film buffs. First, Raft’s younger brother is played by 21 year old William Holden in his second film. Watching him in this it is amazing he made many more; he is pretty whiny and forgettable as the hotheaded sibling. The great British actress Flora Robson plays their mother in a colossal bit of miscasting but since her role is minimal she retains her dignity (although some of the lovey-dovey exchanges with her movie son Raft are borderline incestuous). Bogey is his typical brilliant self and easily walks off with the picture. While he is continuing his cycle of bad-guy supporting roles his character is not without some redeeming features. Cast as his moll is Lee Patrick; the two would combine again in a couple of years as Sam Spade & Effie Perrine in “The Maltese Falcon.” Another interesting footnote in the film is the brief appearance of Leo Gorcey as a department store clerk.

And finally I come to the star, George Raft. He has gained a reputation as a mercilessly wooden performer and some of it is deserved. I have always liked him and find this performance relatively solid; he is acted off the screen by Bogart in their scenes together and his one shot at emoting over his plight as an ex-con is comical but in the overall he is very likable. This is the kind of role Raft wanted to play: the tough guy who is good to his Ma, loyal to his friends, and possessing a strict code of ethics. Despite turning down nearly every role that made Bogart a star, Raft’s brief career at Warners represents his best work.

If you are a fan of old Warners crime pictures you will have a good time with “Invisible Stripes.”

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Critical reaction

Time Out Film Guide calls Invisible Stripes “A thoroughly predictable tale of the tribulations of an ex-con.” A New York Times review from 1940 commented about the unusual lack of prison scenes in the movie. “Let us hasten in all gratitude to add that “Invisible Stripes” is a prison picture in which the stripes are much less visible than usual, most of the action being paroled to the outside in the capable custody of George Raft, Jane Bryan, William Holden and Humphrey Bogart. There are no jute mill scenes, no bullying guards, no big prison break sequence; in fact, we don’t understand why they’ve suddenly commuted our sentence from the customary duration of the picture to a brief prison prelude, a mere graduating exercise at the beginning: good behavior, maybe.”

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It’s a last film by “First National” productions were actually made under Warner Bros. control, even though the two companies continued to retain separate identities until the mid-1930’s, pre-1960 after which time “A Warner Bros.-First National Picture”.

At one point in the film, George Raft meets Humphrey Bogart and Lee Patrick leaving a movie theatre; the film that’s being shown, prominently advertised, is You Can’t Get Away with Murder (1939) starring Bogart.
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According to William Holden, during the fight scene between the brothers, Holden accidentally hit George Raft in the eye with his head and opened a gash.

Discriminated by the Society

30 April 2016 | by Claudio Carvalho (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) – See all my reviews

Cliff Taylor (George Raft) and his pal Chuck Martin (Humphrey Bogart) are released together from Sing Sing. Cliff wants to regenerate and have a straight life while Chuck has no intention of changing his lifestyle. Cliff wants to support his mother Mrs. Taylor (Flora Robson) and his younger son Tim Taylor (William Holden) that can not afford to get married with his girlfriend Peggy (Jane Bryan). However he is discriminated by the society and has difficulties to get a job. When he sees Tim thinking to switch to a life if crime, Cliff seeks out Chuck and decides to join his gang to heist banks and make money to buy a garage for Tim. What will happen to the Taylor brothers?

“Invisible Stripes” is an entertaining gangster film with the story of an ex-con that wants to go straight during his parole but is discriminated by the society, returning to the crime. The fate of Cliff Taylor is predictable. The greatest attractions are probably William Holden very young is his second credited role and Humphrey Bogart in a support role. My vote is seven.

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Unable to go Straight

7/10
Author: bkoganbing from Buffalo, New York
28 August 2005

George Raft and Humphrey Bogart after a stretch in prison are getting out together. Raft is going to make a go of the straight life, but Bogart just wants to get back to being a criminal.

Raft makes a try at it, but the fact he’s an ex-con is continually being held against him. Eventually he rejoins the old gang, but keeps it a secret from mother Flora Robson and brother William Holden.

Holden in the mean time is barely keeping his financial head above water at the gas station he works at. He’s thinking real hard himself that brother Raft might have the right idea. All this is most distressing to Flora Robson and his fiancé, Jane Bryan.

At Warner Brothers, it’s all been done before, the players slip comfortably into roles that are very familiar to them.

George Raft, a guy with limited skills was always believable in the urban criminal milieu because of who he hung out with. From Owney Madden to Meyer Lansky and most importantly Bugsy Siegel, Raft inhabited the wise guy world and basically was what you saw on the screen. Please recall Warren Beatty’s film Bugsy which was spot on about Raft’s relationship with him.

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It’s interesting to speculate that if Raft had been at Warner Brothers from the beginning of his career instead of Paramount what path it might have taken. The best gangster flicks were done by the Brothers Warner, but by 1939 with their stable of gangster stars established, Raft is like a spare tire there.

This was Bill Holden’s second film and his joint contract holders of Paramount and Columbia lent him out here. He’s playing the callow youth parts he specialized in before Sunset Boulevard. ‘Smiling Jim’ roles was what Holden disparagingly called these parts. It is rumored that Holden is also one of the extras in the prison yard in the James Cagney-George Raft film Each Dawn I Die. I’ve never been able to spot him though.

Flora Robson’s one great actress, her talents allowing her to play a slum mother and Queen Elizabeth the first. Some critics say she’s wasted here and maybe she is, but one of her better later roles is as Mrs. Gonzo, the Maltese mother in Alec Guinness’s The Malta Story. Very similar part.

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Jane Bryan’s career was cut short all too soon, but not with tragedy, far from it. Shortly after this Bryan married Rexall Drug founder Justin Dart. She concentrated on the wife and mother thing and she was the wife of one of America’s wealthiest citizens. Later on she had a hand in convincing her husband to back another of her former Warner Brothers contract players in a political career and lived to see Ronald Reagan become our 40th president.

Both Bill Holden and Humphrey Bogart would feud legendarily on the set of Sabrina in the Fifties. No hint of their future troubles here in Invisible Stripes. Bogart’s done it all before at Warner Brothers. George Raft helped Bogey in his career by shortly turning down High Sierra, The Maltese Falcon and later Casablanca.

Fans of all the players mentioned here including myself will enjoy this film which admittedly won’t rank in the top 10 of any of their credits.

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