George Raft and Humphrey Bogart play a couple of ex-cons who could also be shadows of each other. Raft’s Cliff is more sensible, wanting to blend into life as a citizen, Bogart’s Chuck is more hedonistic, looking for action, excitement, and a return to the criminal underworld.
The other pairing in Invisible Stripes is Cliff and his brother Tim (William Holden). Ironically, Tim aspires to a quick way to the top, aping Cliff’s criminal past, which Cliff desperately tries to put behind him. But nothing works out for Cliff; everyone from prospective employers to his girlfriend reject him for what he’s done, not for who he is.
Just as Cliff finally finds a decent situation, thanks to a sympathetic employer, he’s accused of robbing the place. He finally succumbs to temptation, and throws in with Bogart’s gang. As others have noted, the pace picks up at that point, and an attempt by Chuck’s gang to implicate both Cliff and Tim fails. After a wild chase scene and plenty of shooting, Cliff ends up getting killed anyway.
What’s interesting is that Chuck and Cliff put their friendship before everything else. Neither is completely blameless, nor completely blameworthy. Chuck bravely lets Cliff quit the gang, as Cliff realizes he’s not comfortable being a criminal anymore. Cliff, for his part, tries to help Chuck after he’s injured during the car chase. Both end up victims of the same group of thugs.
Cliff’s death at least has tragic meaning. Tim acknowledges Cliff’s influence by calling his garage Taylor Bros., telling the inquisitive cop that his brother is “a silent partner.” Even though Tim hasn’t suffered to the extent that Cliff has, Tim’s relationship with Peggy (June Bryan) has been rocky because even she disdains a steady, but gradual ordinary rise in society.
Invisible Stripes gives us a very nuanced, conflicted character in Cliff. Raft has a very powerful, menacing air; that makes his journey out of the criminal world seem all the more intriguing and difficult. Bogart, on the other hand, seems to enjoy himself until his crimes catch up with him. His happy-go-lucky character looks out of place as the hardball gangster he’s become.
Invisible Stripes acts as a sort of bridge between the action-packed gangland movies of the ’30s and the atmospheric, psychological film noirs of the ’40s. The criminal justice system is evenly presented; it’s society and the individual’s reaction to it that brings conflict and crime in this urban climate.
It’s great to watch Raft dodge trouble, and Bogart ignore it while he can. Highly entertaining, well-worth a look. 9/10.