Monday, September 26, 2011

George Raft, 1901-1980

George Raft and James Cagney in a production still from Each Dawn I Die (1939)

TCM is spending today marking the birth anniversary of Edmund Gwenn, so to be different, I'll point out that today is also the birth anniversary of George Raft. Raft was born to immigrant parents in Hell's Kitchen in 1901 and got to know much of the stereotypical petty crime and gangsterism that shows up as a trope in many of the New York-set movies of the 1930s. Raft, after becoming famous, would go on to have close relationships with any number of more prominent Mob types, something which was one of the subjects of the 1961 film The George Raft Story. Raft himself claims the movie had a lot of inaccuracies (what Hollywood biopic didn't?), but his acquaintances with mob figures are well-known. Raft eventually spoofed this memorably in Some Like It Hot where he memorably played Spats, the gangster looking for Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis.

Perhaps it's because of his personal experience that Raft became so associated with playing gangsters; they're roles that would have come naturally for him in those days before Method acting. Raft played Paul Muni's henchman in Scarface, which I blogged about back in January. His best role, however, is probably in the relatively pedestrian Each Dawn I Die, where Raft plays a gangster in prison with the wrongly-conviced journalist James Cagney; the two wind up teaming up together to deal with the brutal prison conditions as well as to try to help Cagney prove his innocence.

One thing that's often overlooked about George Raft is that he started out as a dancer; in one of his earliest movies, Taxi!, Raft plays a man in a dance contest who gets knocked down by James Cagney.

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