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The early Goldwyn Colman films had a lovely atmosphere all of their
own. Just learning to cope with sound they exhibit an echoey creaky
staginess which in turns is charming and irritating when watching a
romantic adventure/mystery. Every action was pointed and often laboured
with the handed down techniques from silent days, meaning once seen you
seldom forget it. It's the same with Raffles, a ridiculous script if
there was one (heavily mucked about with from the book) but if you
don't see it for 20 years you'd probably remember every act and scene.
Raffles has been a reformed ex-Cracksman for a few hours but finds he suddenly has to help his limp friend Bunny repay £1000 within 2 days and he only knows one way to get it. An invite to Lady Melrose's country house for cricket and a garden party of hundreds provides him with the chance and also a gang of six ineffectual Cockney burglars who skulk around in the dark loudly laying their plans. The scene where the burglar is caught and venomously points out Raffles on the stairs is pivotal to the film but it never recovers from the clumsy handling of it did Colman know what to say at that point? Colman was great in the role, his clipped accent and perfect diction usually used to good effect. Good support was from Kay Francis who played his understanding girlfriend although she didn't get to say Divine, and David Torrence the chunky and heavily cloaked Scotland Yard Inspector. Favourite bit: the torchlit confrontation between Raffles and Crawshay in the bedroom at midnight.
Simple old fashioned entertainment - I stick it on every few years without fail because with all its faults I like this one.
This first sound version of Raffles was one of those roles that Ronald
Colman with his impeccable diction and British charm took a patent out
on that only Robert Donat ever infringed on during their careers. Both
of those guys did heavier acting roles than Raffles, Colman most
certainly in A Tale of Two Cities, Random Harvest, and A Double Life.
But Raffles was the kind of part that audiences really liked Ronald
Raffles is a celebrated cricket player and as such has entrée into all the proper British upper class homes of the between the two World Wars period. He also has an interesting sidelight as a thief, in his own way, admired even by the police for his skill at his craft as Cary Grant in To Catch A Thief.
Colman has made up his mind to steal a valuable necklace from Alison Skipworth, but a rather nasty complication sets in in the person of Bramwell Fletcher a friend who seems to have written a check for far more funds than he has. Fletcher attempts suicide at Colman's apartment and Colman says he'll help.
In this very short, barely over 70 minute feature film, Colman has the unusual task of, accomplishing his objective in stealing the necklace, avoid detection by the police in the person of amiable Scotland Yard Inspector David Torrence, help poor Fletcher out with his problem, and last, but certainly not least win the love of long time girl friend, Kay Francis.
In a very cleverly written script Colman does accomplish nearly all, but the strength of Raffles is the telling of the tale of how he managed it all. Let's say that Colman is one clever guy who thinks very fast on his feet.
Despite the well chosen supporting cast by Sam Goldwyn, Raffles is a film held together by the charm and personality of Ronald Colman. Much the same way as the 1939 version of Raffles that Goldwyn did is held together by David Niven.
And if you're a Ronald Colman fan who like I could listen to him recite the Erie County Phone Directory, than Raffles is an absolute must for you.
Samuel Goldwyn was a legendary film producer, who frequently knew what
the public wanted. The line of his films that became classic is first
rate: THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, BALL OF FIRE, THE
PRIDE OF THE YANKEES. He also had his favorite stars. One of them was
Ronald Colman, whom Goldwyn skillfully shepherded through a number of
films, most importantly his necessary first talkie BULLDOG DRUMMOND. As
I mentioned in my review of that film, Goldwyn wished to avoid the
pitfalls that destroyed so many silent film star careers, most notably
Colman's rival John Gilbert. DRUMMOND turned out to be a stunningly
great opening sound film for the vocally gifted Colman.
For many years after Goldwyn chose Colman's properties. This was (in the main) a good thing. He got Colman the roles in ARROWSMITH and CLIVE OF India and other hits of the 1930s, and lent him out for LOST HORIZON and THE PRISONER OF ZENDA. But he could make errors of judgment - no producer is flawless. Having seen the wonderful success of BULLDOG DRUMMOND (culminating in an Oscar nomination for Colman as best actor - he lost to George Arliss as DISRAELI), Goldwyn searched for other films of literary merit. Sapper had written the Bulldog Drummond stories. Goldwyn found the stories of E. J. Hornung about the "Amateur Cracksman" Raffles.
Hornung had written these stories beginning in 1899. He had married a young woman who had an interesting brother named Arthur Conan Doyle, who just happened to create the most exciting and interesting pair of literary figures in the Victorian and Edwardian period: Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson. Hornung wrote too, and he decided to show what he thought of his brother-in-law's success. He created the noted social success, Mr. A.J. Raffles - Britain's leading cricketer (what happened to Dr. W. R. Grace?). Raffles is constantly in the social columns as well as the sports columns. But he has a double life. To be able to maintain his position, he is a skilled burglar. Most of his burglaries are at the expense of his friends.
George Orwell wrote a fascinating look at the Raffle stories as compared to the more violent crime stories of the 1930s. It was called "Raffles and Miss Blandish" referring to the ill-fated heroine of the novel, "No Orchids For Miss Blandish". Orwell pointed out that the Hornung tales were quite good (in the first series or two - they did not maintain their level of competence in the later tales). But they actually were acute studies in the social class problems of their day. Raffles is forced to be "the Amateur Cracksman" because he does not have the income needed to maintain his friendship with the social elite that his cricket playing has gotten him entry into . Therefore, he is treading a fine line. As he puts it, "We were in society, Bunny, not part of it." So when, at the end of the stories, he is exposed as a criminal, he has been socially obliterated. As Orwell says, a nobleman who steals, once he is out of prison, is still a nobleman. Not so a poor cricketer.
Unfortunately, the story that is the basis of RAFFLES is not a good one. It has scenes where he (Raffles/Colman) manages to get out of close scrapes, but the Scotland Yard Inspector (David Torrence, in a good performance) is not being fooled. There are too many points in which only Raffles could be in those situations by being a thief, the very thief Scotland Yard seeks. That Raffles escapes at the end, using Torrence's own mackintosh, and making even the Inspector laugh at what a good fellow he really is, seems forced.
It does not help that his social code, of coming to the aid of a friend, involves him with risking all for his pal Bunny (Bramwell Fletcher). Bunny is a weakling who enjoys gambling - and keeps running up preposterous debts. In real life he'd be abandoned by everyone as a pest and a leech. Colman decides to pull off one more crime to rescue Bunny. Interestingly Bunny's money problem is solved, by him collecting the award for the capture of "the Amateur Cracksman" at the end. Although Colman is willing to do this, Bunny does not seem unduly upset that his friend is ruining himself for him.
With this weak script, the film collapses. Colman, Kay Francis, Frederick Kerr, Torrence, and Alison Skipworth do well. Mention should also be made of a rival, lower class burglar who provides a bit of menace. But the film still is too weak to be of more than cursory interest to the viewer. Hence my rating of 5. I may add that while Goldwyn did a sequel to BULLDOG DRUMMOND with Colman, he never did a sequel to RAFFLES. However, in the late 1930s he revamped Raffles and shot it with his new Colman, David Niven, in the title role.
"Raffles" was produced by Sam Goldwyn and photographed by Greg
the genius who was to help create "Citizen Kane" eleven years after
Raffles the English gentleman has a discreet sideline as a burglar and jewel thief. The press has dubbed him 'The Amateur Cracksman', and as such he has become a household name. Now that he has fallen in love with the sophisticated Gwen (Kay Francis) and proposed marriage to her, Raffles has decided to retire from crime. However, his old pal Bunny is in a spot of bother. Bunny has been playing cards again, and has run up a gambling debt of £1,000. If Bunny is to be rescued from his predicament, Raffles will have to take on the Melrose 'job' ...
Ronald Coleman gives us his trademark suave Englishman in the title role. We see him burgling a jeweller's shop wearing a top hat (note the excellent Toland touch of the policeman silhouetted against the window drape). Our first real glimpse of the hero comes on the dance floor as he sweeps Gwen around in a romantic waltz. On the cricket field at Lord Melrose's place, Raffles is of course dashing, and wins the game (even though he was not supposed to be playing - he invited himself along for the weekend at the last minute). Even when Inspector Mackenzie has him on the ropes, Raffles remains the epitome of poise and wit.
"All bubbles and froth - no taste," says Lord Melrose, giving his verdict on champagne. It is a reasonable comment on the film itself, which for all its pretensions to style is basically an inelaborate crime flick. We have the 'two Englands' crudely juxtaposed - one urban and ugly (the cloth-capped burglars from the pub, the 'pea soup' fog in London) and the other bucolic and 'refayned' (Lady Melrose's soiree). The film takes it for granted that the lower classes are unpleasant.
However, there are good things in this movie. The cricket match is fun, and tolerably well done, though Raffles' bowling action is highly dubious and the umpire's position would make lbw decisions interesting to say the least. The skylight scene on Raffles' apartment roof is an arresting image.
There is also a large portion of baloney. Does Scotland Yard protect country houses against burglary? Is this best done by surrounding them with a dozen detectives throughout the night? Why don't these detectives catch the various burglars who enter the premises? If closing the sash window is enough to stop the burglar alarm from ringing, then it isn't much of a burglar alarm. The 'common' burglars crouch in the shrubbery and talk aloud, spelling out their plans in pedantic detail, conveniently allowing Raffles to overhear. Is it not slightly more probable that they would have worked out what to do before entering the property?
The film ends in a flurry of increasingly silly activity. Blatant undercranking of the camera makes Raffles' escape dash look ridiculous, and his place of concealment is laughable.
Verdict - An enjoyable crime caper with absurd elements.
Ronald Colman is "Raffles," a gentleman burglar who wants to retire but
can only manage to do it for a couple of hours. Colman's costar is Kay
Francis as Raffles' lady friend Gwen, and Bramwell Fletcher plays
Bunny, a young man Raffles wants to help.
In the 1939 version, maybe because of the code, Raffles is a Robin Hood type who robs for the excitement and fun of it but then helps someone in need with the money or returns the merchandise. In this version, he steals, period, and in fact presents Gwen with a bracelet from one of his crimes. This film skips the whole beginning of the '39 film showing Raffles' acts of kindness, but the rest of the story is the same. Raffles decides to retire and start life anew with Gwen, but his friend Bunny shows up with a gambling problem and needs to cover a 1000 pound check by Monday. Raffles, alas, needs to do one more job.
Ronald Colman is delightful as Raffles, dashing, charming, and handsome as he cleverly attempts to escape the clutches of Scotland Yard. It's a wonderful role for him, as it was for David Niven in 1939. Kay Francis is wasted but is a good match for Coleman.
Fun film with a fine performance by Colman.
The idea of an upper class 'Amateur Cracksman' who steals jewelry for a
living has a romantic aura about it and should make for a better movie
than "Raffles" turns out to be. The punch line of many scenes is
telegraphed, the plot is simplistic, unadorned and full of holes and
the ending is absurd.
Ah, but it stars 'The Voice', Ronald Colman, and that makes all the difference. Colman and his mellifluous voice glide through every scene and anesthetizes an unbelievable story just by talking. Here he was at the height of his popularity as the dashing cricketer/thief and has as his leading lady Kay Francis, one of the loveliest stars of that era. She is unfortunately given little to do in a meager role as his fiancé. But there are some other Hollywood stalwarts in the cast, among them Alison Skipworth in one of her ditzy socialite roles and silent film bad guy David Torrence, a Scotsman with a thick Scottish accent, as the investigating detective. Also Bramwell Fletcher and Frederick Kerr, a very elderly gentleman I found delightful in "Waterloo Bridge (1930)" in the same blustery, old duffer-type role.
"Raffles" is uncomplicated and good fun, and about as deep as a dish of water, but worth your time to see and hear Colman say things - doesn't matter what, just listen to him talk. Thank TCM for dusting this one off.
Considering that this film came out in 1930, you need to cut its sound
a bit of slack. While it's pretty easy to understand the actors talking
(better than many 1930 films), because the sound technology was so new
it was still far from perfect. The film has a strong and very definite
hissing sound to much of it. And, like other films of the early sound
era, it's rather quiet because there isn't the usual incidental music
in much of the film. This is not a complaint--just an observation. They
used such music very sparingly because back in 1927-1930 to get
incidental music you literally had to have an orchestra just off camera
performing live while the scene was shot--they hadn't yet learned how
to add the music later. So, cut the film a bit of slack in this
department--it IS pretty good for 1930 and the sound in many films of
this and the previous years was a lot worse (such as 1929's "Coquette"
which is almost unwatchable due to its WILDLY fluctuating sound).
"Raffles" is about a gentleman who is also an amateur thief--and a very talented one. While his society friends adore Raffles (played by Ronald Colman at his charming best) because of his wit, sporting skills and fine manners, they don't realize HE is this thief. Much of the film concerns his attending a particular weekend party in order to steal a necklace so he can use the money to help a friend in dire straits. However, along the way he meets up with a swanky lady (Kay Francis) and he's torn between his life of crime or becoming 100% legitimate for her sake. What will Raffles do? And what will Raffles do when ANOTHER crook shows up as well?! All in all, "Raffles" is a pleasant and a bit too talky film. Personally, I think it would have been better with more outdoor scenes and action. But again, 1930 was still a transitional year for sound and the stagy production was pretty typical. I also thought Raffles' 'brilliant' escape at the end was anything but. However,the acting was good and it was nice to see a detective who was NOT stupid (a common and rather dumb cliché of the 1930s and 40s). Well worth seeing but not among Colman's best work.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
As much as I've always revered Ronald Colman, this film just hasn't got
it! By "it" I mean continuity...and common sense.
Colman plays a gentleman jewel thief named Raffles, who decides to give up crime and marry Lady Gwen (Kay Francis). When Raffles' friend's debts mount up and he attempts suicide, Raffles plans one more jewel heist to provide him with finances to cure his money problem. He plans to steal the Melrose necklace, which was once the property of Empress Joséphine, but now belongs to a rather goofy old woman whose equally goofy husband walks as if he has filled his pants (Frederick Kerr). But, to screw up his heist plans, a gang of amateurish thieves are trying to steal the necklace at the same time. A Scotland Yard detective gets wind of their plot -- although the script never quite tells you how (a real oversight). But during the investigation of the theft, the detective begins to suspect Raffles. Up until this point, I found the movie to be quite poor. But then the love between Colman and Francis bring the movie to a more sophisticated level, and the tone of the movie changes, much for the better. Raffles returns his booty, then escapes and he and his lady head for Paris.
Colman is as suave and sophisticated as ever, and perhaps gives the only modern performance in the film. Kay Francis, is good, although she was better slightly later in her career.
This is worth watching...at least once, but it won't end up on my DVD shelf.
Although this is not the first rendition of "The Amateur Cracksman"
made for film, it is certainly my favourite- Due to the combination of
Kay Francis and Ronald Colemand... And mainly due to Kay.
In this version of "It Takes a Thief to Catch a Thief" (or so the dialogue says in the film), there is an almost-sadness between Kaye Francis and Ronald Coleman, and this is refreshing. There is something about Kay that is making Ronald Coleman want to straighten out, and who would not want to get straight after meeting Kay Francis? This is 1930, before the "Code" dictated what could be said (and done) on the screen- Ergo, Kay and Cole get away with all kinds of fun stuff. Never mind what "stuff" - they just get away with it- And Coleman just plain "gets away" - and the "how" in this film makes it worth watching.
Once Kaye gets into the comic spirit of things, she fits in rather well and wears the mantle of a comedienne like a trouper.
God Bless Kaye Francis and Ronald Coleman, this film is very fun!
Ronald Colman is Mr. Raffles, a gentlemen, a respected citizen of the
community. But, what many don't know is that he's "The Amateur
Cracksman," a jewel thief. Apparently, that's how he makes his way. But
when he does a job, in order to help a friend out of a jam, things get
sticky, as the job's under less than ideal circumstances. Kay Francis
is his loving fiancée, whose devotion may be tested when she learns of
his deceitful ways. Alison Skipworth portrays the wealthy lady of the
house, whose jewels are the apple of his eye. He has even her fooled,
as she singled him out as one of her favorite people at her party,
where the heist is supposed to take place. To add to the mix, real
burglars enter the house and run into Mr. Raffles.
Honestly, Ronald Colman has never been one of my favorite actors, as it seems to me that he overacts. The only movies I like with him in it are adventures or historical types, like If I Were King, which is one of my favorite of the genre, and The Prisoner of Zenda. The Talk of the Town and Champagne for Caesar are good, too, but I can think of others I didn't care for, which I won't list here. But the point I was making was that, I really loved this film, because the viewer is immersed into his predicament and the director made good use of time and place. Frankly, I saw this because Kay Francis was in it. But I'm glad I discovered it. I hope you will, too.
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