The character of Raffles first appeared in a series of stories written by E.W. Hornung in Cassell's magazine beginning in 1898. The stories proved so popular that Hornung eventually assembled them into three separate books: The Amateur Cracksman (1899), The Black Mask (1901), and A Thief in the Night (1905). In 1906 Hornung also co-authored a Broadway play based on the Raffles stories called Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman. Two silent film versions of the play were made in 1917 (starring John Barrymore as the title character) and in 1925.
The 1930 Ronald Colman film of Raffles was the first talking version of the story. Colman was fresh off the big success of his first talkie Bulldog Drummond (1929) when producer Sam Goldwyn snapped up the rights to Raffles as a vehicle for him. To help ensure the same success as Bulldog Drummond, Goldwyn even hired the same screenwriter, Sidney Howard, to pen the Raffles script.
Raffles was rushed into production in order to build on Colman's quickly gaining career momentum with Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast in the director's chair. However, halfway through filming, d'Arrast was fired from Raffles when Sam Goldwyn made it clear that he was not happy with the early rushes. According to Raffles Assistant Director Bruce Humberstone, the dispute came down to a matter of pacing. "I think it was all playing too fast for Goldwyn, and he had trouble making out some of the words," Humberstone told Goldwyn biographer A. Scott Berg. "Harry d'Arrast said that comedy had to be played at a certain speed, but Goldwyn didn't think it fit in with Colman's style." "You and I don't speak the same language, Mr. Goldwyn," d'Arrast reportedly said to him. "I'm sorry, Mr. d'Arrast," replied Goldwyn, "but it's my money that's buying the language!" Another director, George Fitzmaurice, who had worked with Ronald Colman on five earlier films, was hired immediately to pick up where d'Arrast had left off. He was on the set the very next day and received the sole director's credit on the finished film.
Raffles proved to be a solid hit, just as Goldwyn had predicted. "Ronald Colman is ideally cast as Raffles, and handles the serio-comic role with a deft touch that makes it one of his best roles to date," said one reviewer. "He is given beautiful support by the alluring Kay Francis, whose sophistication and charm make her an ideal team-mate for the star." Raffles raked in a nice profit of $1.2 million upon its initial release. "Considering the condition of the country," wrote Sam Goldwyn in a memo to his General Manager Abe Lehr on October 2, 1930, "I think this is marvelous."
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: George Fitzmaurice; Harry d'Abbadie d'Arrast (uncredited; fired, replaced by Fitzmaurice)
Screenplay: Sidney Howard; Eugene Wiley Presbrey (play "Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman"); E.W. Hornung (novel and play "Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman")
Cinematography: George Barnes, Gregg Toland
Art Direction: Park French, William Cameron Menzies
Film Editing: Stuart Heisler
Cast: Ronald Colman (Raffles), Kay Francis (Gwen), Bramwell Fletcher (Bunny), Frances Dade (Ethel Crowley), David Torrence (Inspector McKenzie), Alison Skipworth (Lady Kitty Melrose), Frederick Kerr (Lord Harry Melrose), John Rogers (Crawshaw), Wilson Benge (Barraclough).
by Andrea Passafiume