Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Raffles (1939)


I am currently in graduate school to be a museum registrar. You are probably wondering what on earth that means. A museum registrar is in charge with taking care of all the objects within a museum. It is the most important job in a museum but it is not “sexy” like a curator or director or marketing or IT. The biggest task we are given is against theft. A museum’s storage area is the most protected place in the whole building or at least it should be if the museum can afford it. Art theft is a fascinating subject. I like reading about it in fiction and watching it in movies and TV. One of my favorite TV shows is Leverage where the characters Sophie Deveraux and Parker (one of the best TV characters ever) were art thieves before they turned good guys. I loved it when they used to have stories about stealing art. I always think if I were smart enough and quick enough I would like to either be a spy or an art thief…. I probably should not have admitted that at all hopefully any future employer will not read this and ever think I would really steal art works!! I do not have the guts or smarts to do so!
            I had to see the 1939 version of Raffles for three reasons: one, it dealt with art theft and two, Olivia de Havilland is in it and three, it was made in 1939.
            A painting in the National Gallery in London called The Medici Venus is stolen right off the wall. When the guards come to the painting there is a card inscribed with “Sorry, but I have a better use for it” and it is signed by The Amateur Cracksman. Sometime later an old lady named Miss Holden goes to Scotland Yard with the stolen painting. She tells the police she had received a letter about someone having seen her final performance when they were younger and has admired her ever since. The detectives are embarrassed.
            A young cricket player named Raffles (David Niven) is behind on his bills due to his extravagant lifestyle. The same night Raffles finds he is behind on his bills a man picks a kitten off the street and has it set off the alarm in a jewelry store to throw the police off. He steals a bracelet and gets away just in time before the police come in. That night Raffles goes out a nightclub with Gwen (de Havilland). He knows her brother from school and he is there with him. The brother has someone write down their address. The person writes down the address on paper and places the paper on Raffles’ cigarette pack to lean on it.
            It turns out Raffles is the Amateur Cracksman. He has a change of heart about being a thief he wants to put all that behind him because he loves Gwen. He sends the bracelet to Scotland Yard in his cigarette pack. The police find the address of Lord Melrose who has now become their suspect.
            At a cricket match that Raffles is playing in two helpers of the Melroses decide to rob their house. Gwen’s brother is in trouble from gambling he owes a thousand pounds. Raffles decides to help his friend by stealing one more time.
            A detective from Scotland Yard comes to the house based on the cigarette pack. He tells the party that he is there to stop a robbery. Raffles gets Lady Melrose to keep her jewels in her room but make it appear she put them in the safe. The maid in on the real robbery sees the jewels in the drawer.
            The detective suspects Raffles is the thief after everyone has gone to bed. The detective keeps an eye on Raffles’ door. He makes the detective follow him to throw off suspicion. Going back up the stairs Raffles sees the maid turn off the alarm and open some of the windows. Raffles catches the other help and fights with him. The thief notices Raffles’ watch. Raffles takes the jewels for himself from the thief’s coat pocket. When caught by the police the thief mentions the watch and the detectives figure there is something to what he says. When the detective asks Raffles where he was when the alarm went off Gwen remembers she did not see him when she went into his room after the alarm was triggered.
            Gwen talks to Lady Melrose about her necklace and how Raffles had talked to her about it. She overhears the detective telling another detective that he is sending the other thief to get Raffles. Gwen goes to Raffles to tell him the detective’s plan. Raffles puts the necklace in a bowl of tobacco to hide it. When the detective comes over he takes some tobacco for his pipe and almost sees it until Gwen dropped her cigarette to distract him while Raffles grabs the necklace and puts it into his pocket.
            The thief comes in the apartment. Raffles keeps him from taking the necklace and helps him get away. The detective figures out Raffles is the Amateur Cracksman. He tries to arrest Raffles but he gets away. Raffles leaves a letter for the detective to meet him at a post at seven that night to turn himself in after he sees Gwen one last time.
            David Niven and Olivia de Havilland worked very well together. I am not a huge fan of Niven but I liked him in this. This was his first starring American role and he did become popular but before the studio could put him in anymore starring films World War II broke out and Niven went back home to England to fight. De Havilland was borrowed from Warner Bros. The poor girl was put in this film just for eye candy. She was not very happy about making this film because she had just made Gone With the Wind. I would be totally upset if I were her as well. She comes from making this remarkable film where she plays one of the best film characters ever and then she makes this forgettable film.
            Raffles was a decent film with a good story. This a shot for shot remake of the same film with the same title from 1930. Sam Wood had finished making a film and came right into this one and was too tired to make it any different from the 1930 picture. I have yet to see the 1930 film with Ronald Coleman as Raffles so I cannot say which one is better. This version of Raffles is available to view on Youtube in parts. Give it a go especially if you are a fan of Olivia de Havilland or David Niven.