We remember Cagney for THE PUBLIC ENEMY, ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES, YANKEE DOODLE DANDY. Bogart? THE MALTESE FALCON, CASABLANCA, and too many other films to name. Even if Edward G. Robinson will always be first remembered for LITTLE CAESAR, he gave us many unforgettable portrayals in a eclectic and varied career that lasted into the early 70s.
George Raft will always be remembered for his menacing turn in SCARFACE, and wasn't even the star. After that, is there a "George Raft" film?
Raft signed a contract with Warners in 1939, which must have been particularly galling to Humphrey Bogart, who was still forced to take fourth billing in the films of other stars and hope that the films in which he did get the lead parts didn't stink too much. In the end, of course, Bogart won out thanks to his philosophy of never turning down a part or a script. Raft, overly concerned about his own star status, kept refusing parts he didn'r care for, allowing the hungry Bogart to snap them up -parts like Roy "Mad Dog" Earl in HIGH SIERRA,, and Sam Spade in THE MALTESE FALCON.
Which leave us with the problem of George Raft. Just what was his appeal? In the films I have seen him in, he is a competent actor, sometimes capable of great stuff, sometimes wooden, but not offensively so. Certainly he had the "tough guy" act down pat, and given his upbringing, his lifestyle and his friendship with real life mobsters, it might not have been an act. Beyond that, he was a good looking guy and did project a certain something on the screen. The trouble for him was that Bogart projected much more of that certain something, which is evident in this film, INVISIBLE STRIPES, where a fourth billed Bogey once again plays the second tough guy. Even without our affection for Bogart and our knowledge of what an icon he would soon become, it is plain to see that Bogart had more personality and presence than Raft did, - it's displayed in every scene they share together. Raft plays the lead nicely, but without the drive, energy or personality Cagney, Robinson or Bogart would have brought to the role. Meanwhile, Bogart, in support, creates a likable, dynamic underworld figure who is about a thousand times more interesting than anybody else in the film. It would have never been thought of at the time, but the picture, a good one anyway, would have been much improved if Raft and Bogart switched roles.
It took this picture to make me realize that if Raft was a stone in Bogart's shoe, Bogart was actually the same to Raft. Yes, Raft, being the bigger star, got parts that Bogart might have received. But - and this is highly speculative on my part - with both Raft and Bogart on screen, together and separately, in film after film in 1939 and 1940, it might have been inevitable that Warner Brothers would have seen that Bogart was the superior man all along. Who knows?
The picture? Raft and Bogart get out of jail together, Raft decides to go straight and be a family man, Bogart goes right back to the rackets. If you've seen a few Warner Brothers gangster films, you know that Raft will be drawn back into the gangster life due to circumstances beyond his control, or at least circumstances the screenwriters hope come off as beyond his control. William Holden, in an early screen appearance, plays Raft's hot-headed younger brother. He is so young, I saw his name in the credits and still didn't recognize him, not realizing where he was in the film until I looked it up later. The story has some typical Warner insight on why how the prison system is geared toward not rehabilitatiing gangsters, and there is a nice turn by Flora Robinson as Raft and Holden's long-suffering mother. Leo Gorcey has a small cameo. Good film overall, but not as good as THEY DRIVE BY NIGHT or EACH DAWN I DIE, two other Warner films I've seen in which Raft does a much better job.
My favorite part of INVISIBLE STRIPES is actually an inside joke. Early in the film, Raft meets Bogart and his date coming out of a movie theater. The film playing? YOU CAN'T GET AWAY WITH MURDER, one of seven films the hard-working Bogart appeared in that same year. See the picture above. No wonder Bogey is smiling! - JB