The Amateur Cracksman has struck again, and the police are baffled. Despite his success as a thief, A. J. Raffles (Ronald Colman) is giving up his life of crime for Gwen (Kay Francis), the woman he loves. But that is before he discovers his best friend, Bunny (Bramwell Fletcher) is deeply in debt. To save his friend, Raffles (1930) decides to pull one more job - steal the diamond necklace belonging to Lady Melrose (Alison Skipworth).
This was a fun, enjoyable movie. It's very much like the 1939 remake, if a bit more static in places (this is 1930, after all. Sound is still an infant). Regardless, the film's creative team tries to insert some movement and action to the proceedings, which does help to make the film seem less talky.
Ronald Colman is the perfect choice for A. J. Raffles. He's charming, debonair, well spoken, and someone you can imagine scaling walls - all the things that are needed to make the audience root for him. His relationship with Bunny is just the icing on the cake - Raffles is a loyal friend. Bunny may not deserve him - he's in debt because of gambling - but this loyalty makes Raffles even more attractive. There was no question as to who would play Raffles in this version. Mr. Colman had proved so successful with Bulldog Drummond the previous year that Sam Goldwyn rushed this film into production (TCM article).
We wanted more Kay Francis. Gwen disappears for much of the film (as Raffles cases the premises to steal Lady Melrose's jewels), then returns towards the end. One thing that her absence accomplishes is to make sure that it takes some time before she realizes that her fiance is actually a robber. Had she been around, we might be shaking our head at how stupid she is for not realizing his hobby (shades of Lois Lane not recognizing Superman when he is wearing glasses!) Once we see her later in the film, Gwen is pretty quick to catch onto Raffles' objective, so it was sadly expedient to not have her around for a bit.
The clever, witty script caused the original director, Harry d'Abbadie D'Arrast, to push for a comedic style. It was deemed to be too fast by producer Goldwyn for Ronald Colman - Mr. Goldwyn saw Mr. Colman as less a comic than a wit, and changed directors; though neither Mr. D'Arrast nor his successor, George Fitzmaurice was listed in the credits (AFI Catalog). By casting actors like Ms. Francis and David Torrence (Inspector McKenzie), both of whom prove to have excellent repartee with Ms. Colman, the film is smart rather than silly.
With excellent reviews, like this New York Times review which said that Mr. Colman "does well by the part" and Ms. Francis "is also excellent," the film turned a tidy profit (The Women of Warner Brothers: The Lives and Careers of 15 Leading Ladies by Daniel Bubbeo). It isn't surprising that it would be remade in nine years with David Niven in the lead. Both films are enjoyable and well worth a viewing.