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George Raft

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Western Guy
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Re: George Raft

Postby Western Guy » November 16th, 2014, 4:45 pm

George Raft's career really faltered during the 1950s, as evidenced by the many overseas productions in which he participated (a fate also suffered by such former leading men as Brian Donlevy, Forrest Tucker, Dane Clark, Richards Carlson and Conte, etc.). Where Raft did briefly shine was in ROGUE COP and SOME LIKE IT HOT, where he played exactly the hoodlum roles he had tried to distance himself from - and these were two super-bad "bad guys", much worse than the gangsters he had played in the Warner films EACH DAWN I DIE and INVISIBLE STRIPES. His gangster in A BULLET FOR JOEY was certainly a less sadistic specimen than Dan Beaumonte or "Spats" Columbo but the film itself didn't turn out to be anything special either critically or commercial, despite the star teaming of Raft and Robinson. But I find it a fine entertainment - with the added allure of Audrey Totter (a very sweet lady who always reminded me of Gloria Grahame).

My problem with the picture is the ending. Why does Raft (apparently deliberately) walk into that gunfire?

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Joe Macclesfield
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Re: George Raft

Postby Joe Macclesfield » November 16th, 2014, 5:55 pm

Yes, one of the lesser convincing moments of the film. According to one source, Raft's comment upon the completed The Maltese Falcon "There but for the grace of me, go I." was his only recorded witticism, which - needless to say - is nonsense. I remember hearing a BBC Radio interview with George. The interviewer pointed out to him that he'd died in a good few of his movies. George's quick reply was: "Well, I had to have some redeeming qualities!" This broke the interviewer up.
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Western Guy
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Re: George Raft

Postby Western Guy » November 16th, 2014, 6:34 pm

Actually, Joe, the "redeeming qualities" was one of the reasons George signed with Warners after vacating Paramount. J.L. basically told Raft that while some of the roles he would be handed might consist of the criminal element these parts would be tempered with sympathetic traits. And such was the case with his two Warner gangster outings. What I still find strange, however, is Raft's decision to turn down HIGH SIERRA yet almost plead to go on loan to appear in THE HOUSE ACROSS THE BAY - both films feature a lead character who is a gangster who dies at the end, but the Warner film had a much more impressive pedigree than the abysmal United Artists outing.

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moira finnie
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Re: Souls at Sea (1937)

Postby moira finnie » June 19th, 2015, 1:13 pm

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I finally caught up with Souls at Sea (1937), thanks to a night of Bob's Picks on TCM this week. This lovely, strange but memorable film may feature George Raft's best role, in large part because the director Henry Hathaway got Raft to play a sympathetic, nuanced individual--not a type--or a block of wood. He plays Powdah, an unlettered but goodhearted sailor whose instincts draw him into a close friendship with a scholarly man of action--Gary Cooper. The story, drawing on the dramatic moral dilemmas posed by life, features vividly depicted scenes of life on a slave ship and on another passenger ship enroute to America. The story was inspired by an actual, notorious shipwreck in the 1840s. Gary Cooper and George played shipmates and friends were very convincing as buddies and both gave fine performances. While the underlying story was tragic and occasionally gruesome, there was considerable humor injected into the movie even in the romance between Frances Dee and Gary Cooper, when he tries to emulate Sir Walter Raleigh on a muddy street. Cooper is very good in his low key but intelligent character, but there was another actor who really shone here.

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Simply put, it was George Raft who was quite wonderful and refreshing here. In his scenes with co-star Gary Cooper, (who also played an atypical character, noteworthy for his sophistication and literacy), Raft was playful and comradely. In his tender scenes with the guileless ladies maid (Olympe Bradna) he fell in love with on the ship bound for the New World, Raft was quite unexpectedly endearing. As his character of Powdah tells her: I'm cheap."I'm no good. I'm nothin'. I even stole a piece of poetry to tell you you was beautiful." His inarticulate yearning is completely winning here. In their final scenes together, as he removed his earring made from his mother's wedding ring and slipped it on his beloved's finger, he had me pretty misty-eyed, but when I heard Robert Osborne say that George did not wish to take this part had my jaw-dropping. Holy cats, did Raft need career advice or what?!Their final scenes together, as he removed his earring made from his mother's wedding ring and slipped it on his beloved's finger had me pretty misty-eyed, but when I heard Robert Osborne say that George did not wish to take this part had my jaw-dropping. Holy cats, did Raft need career advice or what?!

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Interestingly, Olympe Bradna and Frances Dee, as two disparate characters from drastically different backgrounds who are thrown together on ship, have more of a rapport with one another as they try to sort out their feelings for the strange men they meet on this fateful voyage. Their private scenes together parallel the relationship between Cooper and Raft--though Bradna's down-to-earth insights seem to come from experiences that Dee could only imagine.

Another aspect of the film that impressed me once again was Henry Hathaway's use of the camera in tight settings which he did here and in the later black and white Western, Rawhide (1951) as well as the lush color film, Niagara (1953) using the diagonals, shadows, long halls, cramped spaces and low ceilings to set up an emotional maze for the ship-bound characters (and may have been influenced by Murnau-like expressionism). Gosh, what an underrated filmmaker. Hathaway also used humor in unexpected ways to lighten the mood in the film. Two favorites were when Cooper and Raft sing in their shared prison cell, using their bandaged thumbs (they were hung by them by the British Navy!) to make shadow puppets on the wall. The other humorous scene was when Virginia Weidler reciting a dramatic poem about attacking Mohawks. Forgetting the words, Gary Cooper quietly helped fill in the blanks for her. You can see that scene here:

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Did anyone else see this film and could you share your impressions, please?
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Re: George Raft

Postby Western Guy » June 19th, 2015, 3:54 pm

Well . . . when the topic of George comes up, I add my two cents -- or whatever they're worth.

Moira, George's career was in high swing when he was offered the role of Powdah in SOULS AT SEA. And he'd already gained a reputation as a role-turn-downer at the studio, eventually achieving a record of 22 suspensions at Paramount (which I'm sure would have been exceeded had he lasted more than three years at Warners). He initially rejected SOULS because he thought the character was unsympathetic (as written) and he was already tiring of having his characters die at the end of his movies. Both Anthony Quinn and Lloyd Nolan were suggested as replacements (Quinn told me he remembered this and was eager to step into Raft's shoes -- Nolan, on the other hand, could not recall being offered the part, though of course he did fill in for George on later roles, such as THE MAGNIFICENT FRAUD). Anyhoo, the story is that Raft feared competition (as later was the case with Bogart) and forfeiture of his reported $4,500 weekly salary, desperately needed to support his legendary generosity and his expensive habits and so accepted the role. It has been erroneously reported that George received an Academy Award nomination for his role. Not true, but he does display fine acting talent (which usually was the case when paired with a strong co-star and directed by a director the caliber of Henry Hathaway). I'd also recommend George's follow-up adventure role in SPAWN OF THE NORTH. Another great performance, helmed again by Hathaway and co-starring Henry Fonda, Dorothy Lamour and John Barrymore.

BTW: Please take a look at this. I believe it must have been George's last interview, as he died in November of that year. It's a reason why I adore George Raft. The tough guy really comes across as a gentleman:

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moira finnie
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Re: George Raft

Postby moira finnie » June 19th, 2015, 4:03 pm

Thanks, Stone, I was hoping you would have more background. It's been awhile since seeing The Spawn of the North but I'll check it out again. I bet hearing about the good actors being considered for the part he was turning down got his attention.

Thanks for the interview clip. I have a weakness for Molly Picon too.
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Western Guy
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Re: George Raft

Postby Western Guy » June 19th, 2015, 5:07 pm

One more interesting tidbit, albeit behind the scenes during the filming of SOULS AT SEA. Raft was questioned by the FBI in connection with the whereabouts of Murder Incorporated chief Louis Lepke, who at the time was in hiding. Raft claimed to have no knowledge other than having a slight acquaintance with someone who knew both Lepke and his associated Jacob "Gurrah" Shapiro. Not totally satisfied, the agents then questioned co-stars Gary Cooper and Frances Dee - about Raft. Cooper said that his pal George had a tendency to live beyond his means and had a distorted sense of loyalty to his New York associates, who were not always of the best character. It was Miss Dee who had the most succinct answer, given some years later: "Everyone knew he (Raft) was a gangster."

But as friend Cagney said: "Raft was of the underworld, not in the underworld."

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Re: George Raft

Postby RedRiver » June 20th, 2015, 3:48 pm

I'm not familiar with SOULS AT SEA. I'd love to see it. I appreciate Hathaway's work. I recently gave away my copy of George Raft in THE GLASS KEY. It was kindly delivered to me by someone on this board. I watched it twice. Passing it on felt right!


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