Tuesday’s Overlooked Film: Raffles (1939)

This week’s installment of Todd Mason’s ongoing series is in honor of one of my favorite actresses, Olivia deHavilland, who turned 96 on July 1st.

Raffles is no less than the FOURTH screen adaptation of the 1899 novel by E. W. Hornung, Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman. It should be said that this is essentially a shot-for-shot remake of the 1930-Ronald Colman starrer (surely, Niven was given the role because he bore more than a passing resemblance to Mr. Colman). So who is to say if I had not seen this one first, what I would think.

In any regard, Raffles is a light romantic caper bolstered by the performances and interaction between the leads David Niven and Ms. deHavilland.

To say it is a minor film is not necessarily disparaging, especially when considering that it was released during “Hollywood’s Golden Year” of 1939, when another starring deHavilland reigned supreme; it was a small indie feature called Gone With the Wind. That said, I remember my enjoyment of this film quite fondly, as it always put a smile on my face 🙂

In our story, jewel thief, AJ Raffles (Niven) decides to give up his life of crime for the love of socialite Gwen (deHavilland), his high school sweetheart. This reformation is short-lived (of course) as he is tempted one last time.

It should also be noted that Dame May Whitty is featured in this film. Largely unknown by audiences today, she was a renowned stage actress who found a second life of sorts in the movies, with roles in such films as The Lady Vanishes, Mrs. Miniver and Suspicion.



  1. I would be hard-pressed to think of a better Colman imitator than Niven.
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  2. Jack Deth says:

    Hi, iluv and company:

    Wonderful choice!

    David Niven is one of the most solid and dependable, yet under rated actors of the 20th century. Nearly impossible for him to turn in a bad performance. Especially in the devil may care, stiff upper lip arenas. He’s absolutely great in ‘Raffles’. In what is basically a template for his supreme cat burglar, Sir Charles Lytton in ‘The Pink Panther’. Mixed in a British twist on ‘The Thin Man’ film franchise.

    Saw him last week on TCM opposite Leslie Howard in ‘The First of the Few’, or ‘Spitfire’. Which Niven made right after ‘Raffles’. And more than held up his own as the future WWII fighter’s test pilot.

  3. A charming little film, I remember liking it when I saw it way back when. I’m a big fan of the 1970s TV version with Raffles played by Anthony Valentine – it is a little tougher on the character but has a real black charm all its own.
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