George Raft plays a parolee eager for a fresh start, but the stigma of being an ex-con reduces him to working as a stock boy. When he sees his younger brother, played by William Holden, heading down the same path that landed him behind bars, Raft joins up with a gangster, played by Humphrey Bogart, to finance Holden’s dream of owning his own garage.
A clumsy amalgam of the gangster and social outrage genres, Invisible Stripes borders on parody. Consider the scene where Raft, working his way down the job ladder, signs on at a foundry. He joins the men working when the foreman approaches and asks for an emergency contact.
After answering, Raft says, “Wait a minute! I gotta tell you something first.”
“What is it?” asks the foreman.
“I’m on parole,” says Raft in a loud voice in front of everyone. The foreman doesn’t care, eliciting a golly-gee smile from Raft, but the rest of the workers do. One tries to engage, but Raft won’t talk.
“What do you know about that? I got an ex-con for a partner,” says the worker, who, along with the rest, look rougher, tougher, and more dangerous than Raft. They bully Raft until he fights back.
“I don’t like getting pushed around,” says Raft.
“Yeah, well I don’t like working with an ex-con,” says the worker. He punches Raft, who retaliates, decks the worker, then loses the job.
Subtlety and realism are not the film’s strong points. Ditto original characters. Holden, in his second film, plays a carbon copy of his hotheaded role in Golden Boy. Bogart plays the same inarticulate heavy that defined much of his early career. Early on, he describes himself as “One of dem realists.” In a nice meta touch, we see him exiting a theater showing You Can’t Get Away with Murder.
At only eighty-one minutes, at least it’s short.
An aside: Watch TCM’s high-def stream betrayed a fly in the apartment scenes. I’d like to think director Lloyd Bacon kept those shots for realism, but I suspect he lacked the time and budget for retakes, or worse, didn’t notice.