May 23, 2016
I've wanted to see the 1930 Ronald Colman/Kay Francis version of Raffles for a very, very long time. I watched the 1939 David Niven/Olivia de Havilland version years ago -- I'm pretty sure I have a copy that I recorded on VHS from TCM when I was still in high school -- but my attempts to track down the 1930 version were always unsuccessful. I can remember the excitement whenever I'd see "Raffles" show up in my Now Playing guide, then the immediate disappointment when I'd inevitably see "1939" written next to it. (Oddly enough, the same thing happened for a while with another Ronald Colman movie. I really wanted to see his version of A Tale of Two Cities, but TCM would always be playing the Dirk Bogarde version instead. This was way before I became a Dirk fangirl, so I'd always shake my fist in the air, cursing whoever the heck this Dirk guy was, who thought he could possibly remake a role that was practically MADE FOR RONALD COLMAN. But I digress..)
I searched all the places high-school-me knew to search (basically ebay and the library) to no avail. At some point I stopped looking. For all I know it's probably been shown on TCM dozens of times in the last few years and I just didn't notice because it wasn't an obsession anymore. I had given up on the dream. *light goes out, curtain closes. silence*
A couple months ago I was searching for Ronald Colman on Amazon, and THIS came up in the search results. It's a Warner Archive double feature DVD with both the 1939 AND 1930 versions of Raffles. FINALLY!!
A lot of the time when I'm obsessed with tracking down a movie, there isn't any real reason behind my mania. It's usually just because I'm being a completist (Still trying to find the 1970 TV movie Upon This Rock to complete my Dirk Bogarde collection, argh!!) or the mere fact that the movie seems unattainable makes me desperate to attain it. I compare movies to boyfriends a lot but seriously... if you play hard to get I'm going to want to watch you EVEN MORE.
Anyway, the main reason I wanted to see this particular movie so badly is because the ending of the remake seems like it was tacked on to obey the production code. I desperately wanted to know if the pre-code version had the same ending.
The basic plot of both movies is essentially the same: Raffles is a (slightly less morally upstanding) modern Robin Hood -- he steals to help his friends and people in need, but he also might take a diamond bracelet or two for his lady friends. After deciding to settle down and get married he gives up the game. But when he finds out that a friend is in financial trouble, he decides to take on one last heist. It's clear in both movies that Raffles is essentially a good guy. He feels bad about his crimes, but he's also committing them (well, most of them) for good reasons. And after this last robbery (taking a necklace from a very rich lady, not like... robbing the community chest or anything) he's calling it quits. Now here is where the two films diverge:
The 1930 ending: The police enter Raffles' apartment. The chief inspector spies a plane ticket to Amsterdam, apparently the place to unload hot diamonds, and Raffles confesses. But just as he's about to be arrested he pulls a daring escape, asks Kay Francis to meet him in Paris, and then disappears into the night. THE END.
The 1939 ending: The police enter Raffles' apartment. The chief inspector spies a plane ticket to Amsterdam (9 years later it's still the best place to unload hot diamonds.) Raffles confesses. But just as he's about to be arrested he pulls a daring escape. Then he goes back to his apartment, has a small love scene with Olivia de Havilland (no promises of Paris this time) and heads off to keep an appointment to TURN HIMSELF IN to the Chief Inspector at 7pm. THE END.
That ending always struck me as so unusual... why does he evade arrest and then turn himself in anyway? It felt very tacked-on, like the original movie ended with his escape and then because of the code they had to add the part where he gets his just desserts. Having finally seen both movies now, I feel vindicated, but also kind of bummed out because it just reminded me that the code watered down so many otherwise great movies.
That being said, I did enjoy the remake (I re-watched it after the 1930 version last night.) David Niven makes a fantastic Raffles. I still prefer Colman, but they both pull off the effortlessly-suave-and-likeable-criminal thing very well. The remake isn't as tight as the original (despite both clocking in at 72 minutes) but the cast does include Dame May Whitty, and honestly that's reason enough to watch anything.
Now I just need to watch the 1917 John Barrymore version...
Ronald Colman photos from this awesome site