Mr. A.J. Raffles is a champion cricket player who does the odd burglary on the side. Just for sport, don’t you know, old thing? House Peters takes the lead and is supported by Hedda Hopper, among others. The inferior remake of the 1917 Barrymore version, which itself was not perfect.
Home Media Availability: Released on DVD.
It’s on the House…. Sorry, couldn’t resist it
John Barrymore had tackled the oft-filmed character of Raffles in 1917. Now, it’s time to see how the cast and crew of 1925 handled the tale. Motion pictures had changed considerably between 1917 and 1925 but you wouldn’t know it watching the later version of Raffles. The camera remains stubbornly nailed to the same spot. The sets and lighting are unimaginative and the acting is strictly of the “woe is me” category. Director King Baggot reveals his roots in the Nickelodeon era of film making.
First, a little Raffles refresher. Created by E.W. Hornung (brother-in-law of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle), A.J. Raffles is a champion cricket player who fights boredom and supplements his income by robbing from the rich and giving to himself. He is assisted by his posh bestie, Bunny, who also serves as the narrator for the books.
You will recall that our antihero’s anti-social behavior was toned down for the Barrymore version. Well, this time, Raffles is even further sanitized. He is less of a burglar and more of an extremely enthusiastic supporter of charities. He steals valuables and then returns them anonymously, donating the reward to the soldier’s fund. His “victims” are so happy to get their trinkets back that they don’t even bother to press charges.
Haven’t you heard the latest fad? Robbery! Good fun for all, really. And it’s all for charity. (Which leads to all sorts of questions: Are these donations tax deductible? If so, for whom? But I digress.) The scenario takes more liberties with the source material by making Bunny into a libertine and a police informant who eventually betrays his generous friend. This is on par having Dr. Watson turn out to be the Hound of the Baskervilles. Bunny, played by Freeman Wood, is a wastrel with a gambling addiction who sponges off of the generous Raffles in order to pay off his gaming debts.
Wood’s histrionic-riddled performance is pretty bad but the infamous Hedda Hopper wins the prize for worst in show. She plays Mrs. Vidal, the dangerously jealous woman from Raffles’ past. Hopper’s acting is straight out of an Edison melodrama: mugging to the camera, eye-rolling, dramatic gestures… It’s probably a good thing for all concerned that she changed careers.
House Peters takes over the role of Raffles and while not bad, he is given little to do except smile. And even he can’t rescue the film from the painfully contrived ending. Miss Dupont as Gwendolyn also fails to impress. The rest of the cast is underwhelming.
Raffles is a tedious and repetitive movie. Without the charisma of John Barrymore and Frank Morgan, all we are left with is a second-rate Robin Hood in a tuxedo. The overripe acting of Hedda Hopper offer some unintentional amusement but a little goes a very long way.
Raffles returned to the screen several times more, most notably played by David Niven and Ronald Colman, but has been absent for a while now. But good antiheroes are hard to come by and here’s hoping that Mr. Raffles will be resurrected for a new age.
Movies Silently’s Score: ★½
Where can I see it?
Grapevine Video has released a DVD-R double feature of both the 1917 and 1925 versions of Raffles.
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While reading your nominally scathing review (enjoyably scathing, I might add!), I too kept thinking that this would be a good character to build a movie or franchise around today. I would think the Coleman or Niven versions would be fun…have you seen them? Who would you like to see play Raffles today?
I have not yet seen the talkie remakes but both actors would be smashing in the part, I think.
Today? Hmm… Well, it would be a bit meta but Bendict Cumberbatch could be fun
I was thinking maybe Carrot Top, but hey, to each his own.
Your review has made me want to, erm, read the Raffles books. The movies? Not so much 🙂
The books are a ton of fun. Here’s a link to a free public domain edition.
Oh, free stuff! Thanks!
You’re welcome! 🙂
Whoops! Gave you the wrong link. THIS is the first book in the series.
Yeah, I saw that just now. Nothing against the missus, but this looks more like the real deal 🙂 Thank you again!
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