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Monday, September 22, 2014

'Raffles' Double Feature DVD: Colman and Niven Male Versions of 'Mrs. Cheyney'

Raffles (1930)/ Raffles (1939)
Warner Archive spectacularly follows up its DVD releases of the Unreal TV reviewed DVD releases of the Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, and Greer Garson versions of "The Last of Mrs. Cheyney" with a double-feature release of the 1930 Ronald Colman and 1939 David  Niven versions of "Raffles" from the same era.

Like the "Cheyney" films, the "Raffles" movies are based on a popular charming central character who ingratiates herself or himself with members of the British social elite to facilitate heists. In the case of "Raffles," he earns the moniker of the amateur craftsman and relishes the related notoriety.

The similarities continue with both Cheyney and Raffles experiencing pangs of conscience that make for good storytelling.

The titular Raffles is A.J. Raffles, who is a famous cricket player by day and sneak thief by night. One twist is that some of his crimes have altruistic motives.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, wonderfully captures the spirit and fun of the "Raffles" films.

In the case of the 1930 Ronald Colman version, Raffles has decided to go straight when a financial bind in which a friend finds himself prompts our hero to go to attend a weekend party at a British country house that can be considered Melrose Place for the purpose of one last job. A local police official getting wind of the impending theft adds to the fun.

Watching the titular scoundrel manipulate circumstances so that they are favorable to executing the crime, witnessing that offense occur, and savoring the ensuing cat-and-mouse game all make for great '30 styles sophisticated comedy fun.

Colman and Niven do equally well in the role of Raffles; the primary difference in the portrayals is that Colman plays the part a bit more broadly. This portrayal goes well with the more live-stage vibe of this version, which is made in the wake of the silent films that typically also have a live-stage sensibility and require broader gestures to compensate for the lack of sound.

The bottom line is that they simply do not make them like "Raffles" (or "Cheyney") anymore largely because they simply do not make them like Colman or Niven (or Crawford, Shearer, or Garson) anymore. It is difficult to imagine even George Clooney properly managing the role of Raffles.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding this double feature is strongly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.