Sunday, March 1, 2015

Silent Sundays: Raffles The Amateur Cracksman (1917)

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“But if he has no fear, how can you capture him? The intelligent thief has an advantage over the intelligent detective.”

            If you follow this blog in any shape or form or have taken a look at past post you may notice that I like films that deal with thievery and grifting. I am a diehard fan of the show Leverage (look it up if you do not know what it is. If you have Netflix stop reading this right now and go watch the show!) and my favorite character was Parker who is a thief. Parker steals many things but her favorite things to nick are jewelry, money, and art. Well, the art thieving was more of Sophie Deveraux’s thing. Now the character of Sophie Deveraux was a girl after my own heart with the art thieving and grifting. The extremely weird person in me believes I was an art thief or a spy in another life because those are my favorite kinds of stories/plots/films/shows. I like stories/plots dealing with art theft because I love learning about that topic. I have degrees in Art History and Museum Registration so the topic of art theft and prevention was often discussed. I think anyone who is a thief and gets away with it for a while is a damn genius and also a damn fool. I would be terrified to even formulate a plan to steal works of art or even a stick of bubblegum! Stealing terrifies me because of the consequences of getting caught and thrown in jail. I have too much of a guilty conscience and throw that into the mix with anxiety … my brain is not a great place to be.
            Anyway to get back to the topic at hand (seriously after that can you see why my brain is a mess? Two trains of thought going on at the same time). Of course when I saw the title Raffles, Amateur Cracksman as a film I had to see it. That and I have seen the 1939version starring David Niven and Olivia de Havilland so I had an idea of what this version of Raffles was about.
            AJ Raffles (John Barrymore) is on a boat traveling back to London from Australia. A crooked man named Hawtree is also on the same boat. He has swindled thousands of people in India out of money through deliberate bad business deals. The country was very happy to have him leave. Also on the same boat is a woman named Mrs. Vidal who flirted with AJ and liked him.
            Hawtree owned very valuable pearls. Another woman on the boat tells AJ that Hawtree does not leave the pearls just lying around in his room. AJ has the cabin next to Hawtree. He sees Hawtree place the pearls in the heel of his shoe. That night AJ steals the pearls. Hawtree wakes up feeling as though he is being watched and calls for the boat detective. They find some evidence that leads them to AJ’s room. The detective tries to arrest AJ but he manages to fight his way out and jump overboard. Somehow AJ manages to get to shore with the pearls intact in his pocket.
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            A year later AJ has returned to London. At the same time there is a thief known as the Amateur Cracksman who has been causing trouble in London. AJ is invited with his friend Bunny (Frank Morgan) to stay at the home of a lord out in the country. AJ is especially looking forward to the trip because the lady of the home has a very well known expensive necklace. Another person invited to the home is Mrs. Vidal. Someone AJ had never planned on seeing again.
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            The lord of the house claims that the house is burglar proof and that none of his visitors should fear a visit from the Amateur Cracksman. The lord unfortunately did not know that his maid’s boyfriend, Crawshay, is a thief in the area and is planning on stealing the jewels for himself. Plus, the lord has invited a well known detective to the party so the home seems to be doubly secure. That night everyone leaves their valuables in the safe except for the lady of the home. She tells AJ that she has place the box in the safe to fool a thief but keeps the necklace near her bed at night. AJ does not go to bed. He stays up waiting for the right time for the Amateur Cracksman to strike. Him and the detective hear someone come in from outside. AJ takes down Crawshay. He tries to throw suspicion onto Crawshay and say that he is the Cracksman but the detective knows that Crawshay is a well known thief in the area. As he is being taken away Crawshay threatens to come after AJ when he gets out of jail. During or before all the fracas AJ manage to steal the necklace.
            The next day the detective tells everyone they are all suspects in the robbery and that Crawshay has escaped from police custody. AJ returns to London to his apartment as soon as he can. His departure upsets a young woman named Gwendolyn who likes him. Mrs. Vidal comments on how odd it is that whenever AJ is around the Amateur Cracksman makes off with a haul.
            Back in his apartment the police tell AJ that Crawshay is around looking for revenge. AJ confesses to Bunny that he is the Cracksman only because he knows that Crawshay is near. Somehow Crawshay is leaves without needing to tell the police who he is. The police come to arrest AJ but he manages to get away and the detective is actually happy that he got away.

            As I said I knew the story of Raffles, Amateur Cracksman because of the 1939 version. Two other versions were also made in 1925 and 1930. The 1930 version stars Ronald Coleman and the 1939 version is a shot for shot remake of the 1930 film. I have yet to see the films from 1925 and 1930. This silent version was not bad. John Barrymore was very good as AJ Raffles. He was so young and so handsome. I do not think I have ever seen Frank Morgan in a film as a young man. Now was he a young man in the sense you would think? Most likely not. He was younger than I am used to seeing him and he was also handsome. Raffles, Amateur Cracksman was enjoyable enough. It is not like the David Niven Raffles where we actually see him steal things. The film could have been a bit better but I liked it and I will say it is worth seeing.