RAFFLES. Samuel Goldwyn, 1930. Ronald Colman, Kay Francis, Bramwell Fletcher, David Torrence, Alison Skipworth, Frederick Kerr. Based on the story collection (and the subsequent play based on it) The Amateur Cracksman (1899) by E. W. Hornung. Directors: Harry d’Abbadie d’Arrast (uncredited); fired and replaced by George Fitzmaurice.


   I had a strange experience while watching this movie, and of course I’m ready to tell you about it. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I watched this movie over the span of two successive evenings, even though it’s only a miserly 72 minutes long.

   I’d enjoyed the first half immensely and was looking forward to the second half with considerable anticipation, only to find the second half a sorry letdown, and I for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out why.

   What had happened? Were they off budget and the production crew had to wrap things up too quickly? Scouring the Internet after the fact, it seems as though something like that did happen — as you will spotted yourself if you haven’t skimmed through the credits above too quickly.

   A. J. Raffles, as you may know, is well-known even today as “The Amateur Cracksman,” quite fictional of course, and as a character, a gentleman burglar and house thief created by E. W. Hornung, who married a sister of Arthur Conan Doyle. The stories of his exploits were quite the rage in late Victorian England (approximately 1898 to 1905), but instead of my telling you more about them, I’d prefer to send to Mary Reed’s long and informative article about them, which you can find on the primary Mystery*File website.


   In this first talking picture version of the Raffles stories, it is Ronald Colman, of the well-modulated British accent (and therefore a perfect choice in that regard) who plays the title character, and Bramwell Fletcher who plays his good friend and close associate, Bunny Manders. (Fletcher was last mentioned on this blog as one of the players in the The Mummy, which came out in 1932, but he was young enough to wind up his career in television in 1967.)

   If my count is right, there were five earlier silent films with Raffles as a character. This 1930 version was followed by another in 1939, the one that starred David Niven, which I wish I could tell you that I’ve seen, but which I have to admit I have not. In spite of a good cast, however, including Olivia de Havilland, it does not seem to have gathered very good reviews.

   But as you won’t have forgotten my saying so earlier, this earlier production showed a lot of promise. After proposing marriage to his lady friend Gwen (Kay Francis), Raffles promises himself an end to his career as a burglar, only to be confronted with Bunny’s gambling debts — a matter of some thousand pounds — with only a weekend between then and disaster.


   So it’s off to the country and the Melrose mansion, which is also the home, not so coincidentally of the Melrose diamonds. And not only are Raffles and Bunny present, along with the usual assortment of house guests, but also a gang of lower class thieves with a Scotland Yard inspector hot on their trail, all of which are complications that Raffles had not counted on.

   And when Gwen suddenly appears as well … and this is where I had to stop watching on the first evening.

   To say that the next night’s continuing viewing proved disappointing is an understatement indeed. From a well-paced first half, an A-level production, the second half is a helter-skelter mish-mash of attempted break-in’s — some successful, some not — close calls, sudden shifts of scene, and gaps in the story line that a hansom cab could have plowed through easily.

   There is one plus, though, that I would be remiss in not pointing out. Kay Francis’s character seems to light up from the slightly soporific to a lady with a mission and a delightful gleam in her eye when she deduces the truth about the man she’s promised her heart to. What a delightful adventure! she thinks (in those not-so-innocent pre-Code days).

   And it should have been, and what’s more, it could have been, I’d like to believe, and I do.