Watching 1939: Invisible Stripes (1939)

In 2011, I announced I was trying to see every film released in 1939. This new series chronicles films released in 1939 as I watch them. As we start out this blog feature, this section may become more concrete as I search for a common thread that runs throughout each film of the year. Right now, that’s difficult. 

1939 film: Invisible Stripes

Release date: Dec. 30, 1939

Cast:  George Raft, Jane Bryan, William Holden, Humphrey Bogart, Flora Robson, Paul Kelly, Lee Patrick, Henry O’Neill, Frankie Thomas, Moroni Olsen, Margot Stevenson, Marc Lawrence, Leo Gorcey, Bruce Bennett (uncredited), Frank Faylen (uncredited), William Hopper (uncredited), John Ridgely (uncredited)

Studio:  Warner Bros.

Director:  Lloyd Bacon

Plot:
After he’s paroled from Sing Sing, Cliff Taylor (Raft) finds life is hard as an ex-con. His girl leaves him, and he can’t find work. Even after he finds work, employers get nervous around an ex-con and fire him or police accuse him for crimes. His younger brother Tim (Holden) is disheartened by what he sees with his brother and becomes hard. Because of his hardships, Cliff falls back into crime, which causes problems for the rest of his family.

1939 Notes:
• George Raft was in four films released in 1939
• William Holden’s second credited role released in 1939. He was in three films total
• 1939 gave Margot Stevenson her first full-length films. She was in two films released that year: this one and “Smashing the Money Ring”

Other trivia: 
• Originally supposed to star James Cagney and John Garfield
• Flora Robson plays George Raft’s mother, though she was six years younger than Raft
• One of the last films released in 1939
• The only film that George Raft was directed by Warner Bros. director Llyod Bacon, according to George Raft: The Films by Everett Aaker

My review: Searching for the “1939 feature”:
“Invisible Stripes” is an interesting crime film. It isn’t just “well here is a gangster committing crimes” or the upstanding citizen being brought into a life of crime.

It’s about an ex-con, played by George Raft, sincerely wanting to “go straight” and live a truthful, honest life and make money honestly, but society won’t let him. Employers don’t want to hire him because of his criminal background, or they are suspicious of him after he’s hired. If he is hired, other employees pick fights.

But society also doesn’t want him to commit crimes, which is the only way he can make money. The message is very much “damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”

The film gives a sympathetic look at what people deal with after they are released from a stretch in jail. George Raft plays this character well, and the plot unsurprisingly turns him back towards a life of crime.

But while George Raft is the star of “Invisible Stripes,” William Holden was the standout star of 1939. This is the year that Holden’s career really began and it started out with a bang. Holden was coming off the success of “Golden Boy” (1939), which quickly made him a star. Warner Bros. borrowed Holden from Paramount to play the role of the eager younger brother becomes bitter as he watches the treatment of his brother.

What no mention of Humphrey Bogart? Bogart is in this film, but has a fairly small role and not as much screentime as Raft or newcomer Holden. At this point in his career, Bogart still wasn’t the star that he later became but 1939 slowly boosted him until he found fame.

“Invisible Stripes” isn’t the most memorable film of 1939, or the most memorable Warner Bros. gangster movie, but it’s interesting to see Holden early in his career and Raft and Bogart together.

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