Invisible Stripes (1939): Lloyd Bacon’s Crime Melodrama, Starring George Raft, William Holden, and Humphrey Bogart

As directed by Warner’s prolific craftsman Lloyd Bacon, Invisible Stripes is a talky, if fast-moving, B-crime picture, starring tough man George Raft as a gangster unable to go straight after returning home from prison.

The movie is best known today for featuring the young William Holden in his second dramatic role (after “Golden Boy”), and Humphrey Bogart just a year before becoming a major star (in Huston’s “The Maltese Falcon”).

Warren Duff’s script was based on the novel of the same name by Warden Lewis E. Lawes, a crusader for prison reform.

Raft plays Cliff Taylor an ex-con who wants to go straight, but after being released from prison on parole, he finds it hard to hold onto a job due to his criminal past.

Holden is Cliff’s younger brother, Tim, an honest guy who cannot afford to marry girlfriend Peggy (Jane Bryan) and thus disillusioned about his prospects in life.

Afraid that Tim might end up a criminal just like himself, Cliff decides to help him get the money to settle down. Lying to his family that he works as a salesman, he in fact contacts ex-fellow convict Charles Martin (Bogart) in organizing some robberies. Cliff then invests the money in buying a garage for his brother.

After a failed robbery, Martin hides in Tim’s garage, and the police arrests him. Cliff manages to exonerate his brother from charges, forcing Tim to identify and testify against the robbers.  In the last scene Cliff tells Martin to escape before getting caught, but Martin’s pals realize their plan and kill both of them.

George Raft and Bogart made another film together the following year, Raoul Walsh’s They Drive By Night, again starring Raft with Bogart in a secondary role and billed fourth, after Raft, Ann Sheridan, and Ida Lupino.

Bogart and Holden worked together again 15 years later in Billy Wilder’s romantic melodrama, Sabrina, except that this time Holden was billed under Bogart and Audrey Hepburn.

This tale of an ex-con’s tribulations in the outside world is said to inspire Ulu Grosbard’s 1978 film, Straight Time, starring Dustin Hoffman.