George Raft

They Drive By Night

Birth Name:  George Ranft

Birthdate: September 26, 1901

Number of Films that George Raft Made with Humphrey Bogart:  2

The Lowdown

While Leslie Howard might have given Bogart a jumpstart on his film career by insisting on his casting in The Petrified Forest, George Raft could be given equal, although inadvertent, credit for helping Bogart when Raft chose to pass on some of the biggest roles that would go on to define Bogart’s career.

Tired of gangster parts, Raft passed on High Sierra.  If you believe the Hollywood apocrypha, it was Bogart himself that convinced Raft not to do the role – so that he could swoop in afterwards and snatch it up.  The same goes for The Maltese Falcon, which Raft supposedly turned down because he didn’t want to work with inexperienced director John Huston.  Raft even claimed to have turned down the role of Rick in Casablanca, although it seems that story might be more legend than fact.

Coming to Raft through Bogart initially left me scoffing at the actor for his poor career choices and his reported behind the scenes ego.  (Although, my starry-eyed fandom seems to conceal those same faults in Bogart as I continue this film-by-film journey.)  But as I’ve continued to watch Raft’s films, I’ve been won over.  In fact, I’ve grown to be rather fond of his reserved nature and bold confidence on screen.

Born in Hell’s Kitchen, trained as a nightclub dancer, and receiving his big break next to James Cagney as an uncredited dancer in Taxi!, Raft actually reminds me of a much more subdued version of Cagney.  He’s short, good looking, and has more charm than can be contained onscreen.  Yet, while Cagney was always bubbling over emotionally until an eventual explosion, Raft let his inner turmoil simmer far beneath the surface, reserved until his character could no longer avoid the inevitable blowup.

Sharing just two films with Bogart, they will forever be tied together by the career decisions that Raft made along the way.  Were they the right choices?  Would the films that Raft rejected have been as good with Raft in the lead?  I can’t imagine it.  But who knows?  If a few of his no’s had been yesses, perhaps George Raft would be considered Hollywood’s Greatest Leading Man.

The Filmography

Invisible Stripes – 1939

Invisible Stripes 2

With the great Flora Robson . . .

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Raft plays Cliff Taylor, an ex-con who tries to turn over a new leaf after
being released from prison.  I can’t say enough good things about Raft in this one, as his relationship with his mother in the film (played by the amazing Flora Robson) is the heart and soul of the story.  The plot of a parolee who just can’t stay on the right side of the law might not be all that new and original, but Director Lloyd Bacon gives every scene room to breathe with an even, unhurried pace.  Raft plays this one close to the vest and has great chemistry with everyone in the cast.  Bogart even gets to come off as a likable gangster!  You can read my original write up on the film here.

They Drive by Night – 1940

They Drive By Night 2

With Bogart and George Tobias . . .

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Raft plays trucker Joe Fabrini, brother and business partner to Bogart.  Raft is relatable as the blue collar driver who’s trying to work his way from the bottom to the top of the shipping industry.  His time onscreen with Bogart is really well done as they’re able to pull off an authentic brotherly relationship.  Raft also has some really fun scenes with Alan Hale who eventually becomes Raft’s boss when he hires Raft to help run his trucking company.  And the way that Raft is able to create tension as he painfully dodges Ida Lupino’s romantic advances is some of the best work in the film.  While the plot devolves into an uninspired courtroom murder drama, this movie is still worth a look based on the first ¾ of the film alone.  You can read my original write up on the film here.

They Drive By Night – 1940

They Drive By Night Poster

My Review

—Some Decent Melodrama— 

Bogie Film Fix:

3 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director:  Raoul Walsh

The Lowdown

The Fabrini brothers (George Raft and Humphrey Bogart) do their best to maintain a living as long distance truckers despite the constant threats of dangerous roads, sleep deprivation, and bosses who try to swindle them at every turn.

What I Thought

Okay.  I’m on board with George Raft.  He reminds me a lot of a more subdued version of James Cagney.  Both guys are small in stature, good looking, and great actors.  Don’t get me wrong, Raft isn’t nearly as charming and charismatic as Cagney, but he does a great job of playing men who are wound tight and ready to explode.

The chemistry here within the entire cast is superb.  Raft and Bogart work well together playing brothers with a very believable sibling dynamic.  Raft and Alan Hale have a lot of fun moments as they fall into business with one another.  Raft and Ann Sheridan make a great couple.  (Full disclosure – I’d pay to see Ann Sheridan watching paint dry, so I’m a little biased.)  And Raft gets to squirm alongside of Ida Lupino in some of the film’s best moments of dramatic tension.

My only real hang-up with the film comes with the ending when it devolves into a “he said/she said” courtroom drama.  The melodrama dial is already set at a “9” here, so I shouldn’t be surprised that they went with the old “murder trial” convention to decide the fates of all involved, but I do feel like it was a bit of an unrealistic cop out for the film to end that way.  I think it might have been more in line with the characters and the story to have Lupino and Raft’s final confrontation be a more privately painful moment.

But there’s so much right with Raoul Walsh’s direction here that I can’t fault the film for too much.  Walsh is one of my absolute favorite Bogart directors having worked on Women of All Nations, The Roaring Twenties, They Drive By Night, High Sierra, Action in the North Atlantic (uncredited), and The Enforcer (uncredited).  He knows how to build a story, get the most out of his actors, and frame each shot like it could be a movie still worth hanging on your wall.  I’m excited to add him to The Usual Suspects soon.

The Bogart Factor

Bogart plays a regular joe with his portrayal of Frank Fabrini.  It’s essentially a “good guy” version of the blue collar role that he played in Black Legion, and Director Walsh makes sure that he has plenty of time to flesh out his character despite the fact that he’s only the fourth billed actor in the film.

Raft and Bogart get the opportunity to build a good natured brotherly relationship before the plot gets dark, and we’re given ample time with Bogart’s Frank and his wife Pearl (Gale Page) as we see him torn between providing for his wife and fulfilling her dreams of a having a baby.  When the Fabrini’s truck is finally wrecked and Frank loses his arm, Bogart has created a deep enough character that it’s a gut wrenching moment to watch him tell his brother that he should have been left behind in the burning vehicle.

It’s not Bogart’s show to steal here, but he does a great job with a large supporting role.

The Cast

George Raft plays Bogart’s brother and trucking partner, Joe Fabrini.  Raft is authentic and relatable as the industrious trucker who’s willing to work hard in order to get ahead.  Besides this film, Invisible Stripes, and Some Like it Hot, I’m not familiar with Raft’s work, and I feel the urge to start exploring the rest of his filmography.  Raft’s biggest talent as an actor is the ability to play his emotions close to his chest until it’s time for the drama to really kick in.  I think I’m a big enough man to finally let his off screen tension with Bogart go . . .

Ann Sheridan plays truck stop waitress Cassie Hartley who falls for Raft after he’s more than a little persistent.  Sheridan does a good job of giving us the impression that she’s a good girl who’s perhaps done some dark things in her past, and she has some really nice scenes with Raft as they share a hotel room for a night before eventually falling in love and making a life together.  I can’t get enough of Sheridan, and this is one of her best Bogart film appearances.

Ida Lupino is Lana Carlsen, the femme fatale that bumps off her husband so that she can go after Raft.  Lupino is lots of fun here as she smolders away, doing whatever it takes to keep the money she married into while making advances on a man who wants nothing to do with her.  The moment where she makes the decision to leave her husband in the garage with the car running is done to perfection.  Just a moment of realization flashes across her eyes – then there’s a short pause before passing the garage door sensor – Director Walsh and Lupino put together a wonderful little murder scene.

Alan Hale plays Lupino’s gregarious husband, Ed Carlsen.  Ed’s the trucker who made good, finally opening his own company, and it’s a crime – A CRIME, I TELL YA! – when Lupino bumps him off.  What kind of sick mind thinks it would be a better world without Alan Hale?!?  It’s insanity in its purest form . . .

Roscoe Karns plays the good natured, pinball-addicted, milk truck driver for Ed Carlsen, Irish McGurn.  Karns is a scene stealer in the best possible way, and it’s a real treat to have him in the film.  The moments between Karns and Hale when they play drunk are laugh-out-loud good.

Classic Bogie Moment

In a rare turn, Bogart gets to play both goofy and dramatic here.  One of his very best mugging moments from any film comes when he’s trying to mime his excitement about a sale to George Raft behind the back of a prospective client (George Tobias) which gives us this great pic for your classic moment from the film:

They Drive By Night Bogart

The Bottom Line

I’d go ahead and make this one a must see.  It’s not a perfect film by any means, but it’s a great supporting role for Bogart where he gets to explore a lot of character depth and nuance.

Invisible Stripes – 1939

Invisible Stripes

My Review

—Better Than You Might Think—

Your Bogie Film Fix:

2 Bogie out of 5 Bogies!

Director: Lloyd Bacon

The Lowdown

A recently released convict (George Raft) does his best to go straight after prison, but his conscience gives way to the need to support his family.

What I Thought

This was my second viewing of Invisible Stripes, and I have to say that I liked it much better this time. The cast of George Raft, William Holden, Jane Bryan, Bogart, and Flora Robson is one of the best ensembles I’ve seen in a while, and all the character relationships really crackled – especially Raft and Robson who give us most of the heart in this film.

I can see why this movie might not have gotten the most glowing reviews. The story of an ex-con trying to go straight had been done so many times before this that it must have felt like old cliché. Bogart does his absolute best with the role that he’s given, but he’s underused, and a young William Holden still seems a little green as it’s only his fourth film. All that aside though, the film is entirely watchable and keeps the drama and action chugging along at a pace that held my interest even on a second viewing.

Director Lloyd Bacon did so many good films with Bogart that he’ll eventually need to go into ‘The Usual Suspects.’ He handles this film well, especially in the quieter, character building moments of love and loss with Raft’s family. Raft’s final line to his mother is so subtly done that I almost missed it, even though it’s an incredibly heart wrenching moment.

Make no mistake, Raft and Robson create an incredibly dynamic mother-son relationship here, and it’s easy to understand the love they have for one another.

The Bogart Factor

Playing ex-con Chuck Martin, this might be one of the most likable thugs that Bogart ever got to play. Right up until his final scene, we have to appreciate and respect Martin’s attempts to help George Raft’s Cliff pull himself up by his bootstraps – even if it’s not by legal means.

The part is small, so there are long droughts throughout the film where Bogart’s presence isn’t felt, but when he’s onscreen, he pops. Could they have used him more? Probably, but it wouldn’t have fit with the story. The film needed to spend its time building up the relationship between Raft and Holden. So I guess that if I’m going to watch someone play a likable bad guy, it’s a treat that it gets to be Bogart, even if the role is tiny.

The Cast

I’m not the biggest George Raft admirer, but I really liked him here as Cliff Taylor, the ex-con who tries to make good when released from the pen. Several scripts that Raft turned down in his career went on to become some of Bogart’s most iconic films, so maybe with the additional appreciation of this film, I can finally get on the George Raft bandwagon. He plays his emotions close to his vest and he did a wonderful job of making me believe that he loved and cared for his mother and brother. This film is re-watchable for me based on Raft’s performance alone.

William Holden plays Raft’s younger brother, Tim Taylor. Holden is fine in the role, but he has nowhere near the film presence that he would develop with another decade under his belt. Erring a bit on the side over overacting, Holden does have a number of good scenes with Raft, and decent chemistry with Jane Bryan as his love interest.

Flora Robson plays Raft’s mother, Mrs. Taylor, even though she was about six years younger than Raft at the time of filming. In my opinion, Robson’s performance steals the show, and I have an all new screen crush. How can you not love a mother like that? I wanted to hug and kiss her to death every time she appeared on screen. The work she does with Raft in this film makes me want to explore her filmography further to see what I’ve been missing!

Jane Bryan plays William Holden’s love interest, Peggy. Bryan is on my shortlist for actors that need to go into ‘The Usual Suspects,’ as she’s usually a pretty strong supporter in every film that I’ve seen her in so far. This is no exception, as she gets some pretty meaty scenes with Holden, and a couple of good chances to interact with Flora Robson. It’s a more mature role than her other two Bogart films, Marked Woman and Kid Galahad, and it suits Bryan well. I still need to follow-up on the rest of her filmography!

Don’t Forget to Notice

Hey! There’s a brief cameo by ‘Dead End’ Kid Leo Gorcey as Jimmy the stockboy with George Raft!

Classic Bogie Moment

Bogart was great with a little subtle innuendo. There’s a scene at a party where he’s cozily chatting up Lee Patrick on a couch when they have this exchange:

Patrick: I’m a rare animal, Chuck. I’m a natural blonde. That’s why you went for me quick, wasn’t it?

Bogart: Well, that . . . and other things . . .

Invisible Stripes

Look at that grin . . . Ladies and gentlemen, that’s a man with bad intentions on his mind!

The Bottom Line

Give it a shot, I don’t think you’ll regret it. Maybe not a must see for Bogart fans, but the relationship between Raft and Robson is worth it!