Invisible Stripes is William Holden’s second credited performance. In it, he stars opposite legendary tough guy George Raft and Humphrey Bogart in one of his early roles. At this point, Raft was one of the biggest stars of the era known for playing gangster. He was in the original Scarface. To see him opposite a young Bogart (in a role of a gangster) feels like a passing of the torch. Holden, still very much fresh-faced, portrays his younger brother.
The film is the story of Cliff Taylor, an ex-con who recently got out of the infamous Sing Sing prison and is trying to go straight. This proves to not be such an easy journey and Invisible Stripes leans into the melodrama of it all. Raft has a hard time keeping a steady job because of his past and his family doesn’t have much means. As the young brother, Tim, Holden at first comes off like a jerk to his longtime girlfriend whom he wants to marry but we are able to understand his character as the film unfolds. Tim is insecure and worried about being a provider. He can not afford to marry his girlfriend and is enticed by the “getting rich quick” life of crime. Afraid that his brother might go down that same road, Cliff decides to help him find the money to settle down but this has consequences down the line.
At 22, Holden is still very young trying to figure out what kind of performer he wanted to become. The scenes with him and Raft are excellent. While they may not look like brothers at first glance, the two are able to create a believable bond. In an introduction by TCM’s Robert Osborne, Osborne said director Lloyd Bacon was tough on Holden but Raft came to Holden’s defense telling the director to “lay off the kid.” Another note about the production is in the scene where Holden and Raft get into a fist fight, Holden accidentally hit Raft in the eye and the injury opened a gash.
Invisible Stripes is a surprisingly gritty film. The climactic set piece features a well choreographed shootout and ensuing chase. Although it’s not a particularly great film, it is a solid one with a message that’s still relevant.