23 June 2014 | secondtake
Well made, well acted, with a solid well-meant story about justice and reform
Invisible Stripes (1939)
Both a crime movie and a message movie, a Warner Bros. look at two convicts released at the same time each trying to go back to some life outside of jail. It's interesting, and well done of course (it's 1939 after all), and stars George Raft who holds his own in his stiff, sincere way. More curious for sure is the secondary role by the up and coming Humphrey Bogart, still a couple years from his breakthrough movies. And then maybe most astonishing to see is a very young William Holden (I didn't even recognize him) in his second credited role.
It's Raft who plays the good guy, almost too good to believe for a guy who did years of jail time, but the idea is that he's learned his lesson and he's going straight. Even with his edgy little brother itching to be a criminal himself. They have for a mom the dependable Flora Robson who is filled with such worldly pathos you can't help but feel for her. The girlfriend here is the really convincing Jane Bryan, who had a short career with mostly stereotyped roles but she exudes true innocent sweetness on screen (she appeared in lots of great Warner films of the late thirties, including "Each Dawn I Die).
And Bogart here plays the bad guy, the ex-con who is going to jump right into his old ways. We don't see much of him for most of the movie, except a couple scenes to show his girlfriend with hair of "gold" and his crooked gang of friends. But of course the two worlds—nice family with two troubled sons and loner man with his thugs—re- collide. Temptations of easy money, a seeming sense of poverty, and several kinds of loyalty (to a brother, to a friend, to a lover) all play together there and the last half of the movie is top notch stuff.
The message part of the movie is simple but important, and as usual has Warner Bros pointing to some problems in society from a generally liberal point of view. That is, an ex-con deserves an honest shake because the system is stacked against him. It works. When the sign lights up at the end and it says "bros" up there (just like Warner Bros), you feel all the ramifications of that built up through the story.
There are enough clichés here, and few little moments that seem a bit rushed or choppy (including the sudden change in attitude of the Holden character) you might not find this to be a classic. But it's really good. See it!