Raffles (1939): Sam Wood’s Crime Comedy, Starring David Niven and Olivia De Havilland

Sam Wood directed Raffles, a light crime comedy starring David Niven and Olivia de Havilland, released in December 1939, same month as Gone With the Wind (also starring De Havilland).

This is one of several screen versions of the 1899 short story collection by E. W. Hornung, “The Amateur Cracksman.”  John Barrymore portrayed Raffles in the 1917 silent Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman, and Ronald Colman later played the part in the talkie Raffles.

Sidney Howard, better known for Gone With the Wind (also in 1939),  was given credit as co-author of the script with John Van Druten, as he had been the writer of the 1930 version. Howard died four months prior to the release of this film.

Niven plays the titular role, A.J. Raffles, the celebrated cricketer and honored guest in parlors and country estates of high society. He uses his status to an advantage in his secret career as “The Amateur Cracksman,” a master burglar and safecracker, always one step ahead of Scotland Yard.

Old school friend Bunny Manders introduces Raffles to his sister Gwen, with whom Raffles had been infatuated a decade ago. Raffles falls in love with her all over again, and she with him.

When Bunny confides a gambling debt over which he is considering suicide, Raffles promises help. He plans to accept a weekend invitation to the country house of Lord Melrose, where Lady Melrose’s jewelry should solve Bunny’s problem.

However, another guest is Inspector MacKenzie incognito, who suspects Raffles of being the Cracksman. Raffles then plots to frame a petty criminal with the jewel theft, but keep the jewelry.

David Niven as A.J. Raffles
Olivia de Havilland as Gwen Manders
Dame May Whitty as Kitty, Lady Melrose
Dudley Digges as Inspector Mackenzie
Douglas Walton as Bunny Manders
E. E. Clive as Barraclough
Lionel Pape as George, Lord Melrose

Running time: 72 Minutes