Monday, June 20, 2016

Born To Kill (1947)

Born To Kill is a 1947 film noir released by RKO and based on James Gunn’s strange, overheated and disturbing 1943 novel Deadlier Than the Male.

The movie opens with a murder. The murder is important but it’s not absolutely central to the plot apart from the fact that it tells us something about the murderer. And the murderer is definitely central to the plot. We know the identity of the murderer but that’s just the beginning of the story.

Helen Brent (Claire Trevor) is in Reno getting a divorce. Sam Wild (Lawrence Tierney) has killed a man and a woman at the rooming house in which Helen is staying. Helen has no connection with the murder although she does discover the bodies. She does not call the police since she witnessed nothing important, has no idea who the murderer is and has no wish to become involved. 

On the train to San Francisco she meets Sam Wild. Unlike the audience she does not know he is a murderer. She does know that he is a very attractive man. He is clearly dangerous, has no respect for social rules and is little more than a well-dressed thug. To Helen that makes him very attractive. 

Sam more or less invites himself to the Brent house in San Francisco. Helen lives with her sister Georgia (Audrey Long). Actually they’re foster sisters. Georgia is fabulously wealthy. Helen is penniless and lives on Georgia’s charity. Once Sam figures out which sister has the money he loses interest in Helen and sets his sights on Georgia. Helen is more than a little conflicted about all of this. She loves Georgia but she resents her wealth. She is attracted to Sam but it’s pure lust - Helen is not dumb enough to consider even for a second marrying a man like Sam, but Georgia lacks Helen’s very extensive experience with men.

The main interest in the plot is in trying to untangle Helen’s incredibly twisted motivations. Sam is psychotic, violent and paranoid and suffers from delusions of grandeur but Helen is possibly even scarier. She has zero moral sense, she’s a practised and plausible liar and her whole life has been based on combining deception with selfishness. This would have made her an unpleasant enough person but the combination of Helen with Sam is clearly going to be exceptionally unfortunate. Helen will discover whole new depths of depravity.

The excellent screenplay by Eve Greene and Richard Macauley follows the novel fairly closely.

Robert Wise made a couple of surprisingly grim and pessimistic noirs, with The Set-Up (1949) being just as dark and perhaps more brooding than Born To Kill. When given the opportunity he really could plumb the depths of human misery although whether he really had a natural flair for this sort of material is debatable. Wise however had the ability to adapt himself to just about any genre.

Val Lewton, running RKO’s B-unit, had given him the chance to direct but Born To Kill was his first real A-picture for the studio. He clearly had absorbed a good deal of Lewton’s approach to film-making. Wise knew he had a good script and a good cast. He doesn’t go overboard with the noirish visuals, although with subject matter as noir as this he really didn’t need to. He does manage to ratchet up the tension very effectively as we wonder just how far Helen will go, and just how far she will allow Sam to go. Wise does a flawless job.

Lawrence Tierney missed out on genuine stardom (largely due to the fact that he had a reputation for being incredibly difficult to work with and somewhat unstable plus his liking for the bottle) but he is an authentic noir icon. He’s superb as the frighteningly intense and clearly insane Sam. Claire Trevor is just as good as a woman who is a mass of complicated and conflicting passions, none of them very admirable. 

With this movie you know you’re watching a real film noir because Elisha Cook Jr is in it. He plays Sam’s friend Marty and it’s quite a meaty role. It’s another little gem of a performance. Walter Slezak is fun as the not-too-honest but surprisingly efficient private detective Arnett. Esther Howard as Mrs Kraft, a friend of the woman murdered in Reno, is outrageously but enjoyably excessive.

Born To Kill is available on DVD in Region 1 and Region 2. The transfer is fine and there’s an audio commentary track featuring Eddie Muller with snippets from an interview with Robert Wise.

With some movies one can enter into a lengthy debate on their claims to film noir status. There is absolutely no need for any of that with Born To Kill. This movie is the real deal. This is hardcore noir. Claire Trevor and Lawrence Tierney deliver performances that are arguably the best of their respective careers. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Crusades (1935)

Cecil B. DeMille’s The Crusades is one of those wonderful Hollywood historical epics that has almost nothing to do with actual history. As a movie, though, it’s hugely entertaining. 

Released by Paramount in 1935 and costing $1.42 million (DeMille uncharacteristically running over budget and behind schedule) the movie was one of DeMille’s biggest commercial flops. DeMille was mystified by its failure and always believed it was a good movie. 

Ostensibly The Crusades deals with Richard I of England and his involvement in the Third Crusade, although mostly it focuses on the relationship between Richard and his bride, Berengaria of Navarre. It incorporates certain incidents and characters from earlier Crusades and mixes real history with a good deal of extravagantly imaginary material.

In real life the disastrous defeat of the Crusader army at the Horns of Hattin in 1187 and the subsequent capture of Jerusalem by Saladin provided the impetus for the Third Crusade.

The subject matter was well chosen given that the Third Crusade pitted the greatest and most celebrated Muslim leader, Saladin, against the greatest and most celebrated Christian leader of the era, King Richard I (Richard Lionheart) of England. Both Saladin and Richard are heroes not just of history but of legend and romance and both certain qualify as larger-than-life characters.

In the film Richard’s motivation is joining the Crusade is rather odd - it is the only way he can be released from his betrothal to Alys, sister of Philip II of France. Unfortunately by the time Richard’s army reaches Marseilles he’s run out of money and his army has run of food. King Sancho of Navarre comes to his rescue, supplying Richard with all the supplies he needs. There’s just one condition - Richard must marry Sancho’s daughter Berengaria (Loretta Young). Richard agrees but there will be trouble as a result, given that Alys has decided to accompany him on Crusade.

The first half of the movie focuses almost entirely on Richard’s complicated marital difficulties and the plots hatched against him by jealous rivals among the many kings and princelings taking part in the Crusade.

The action finally kicks in when Richard besieges the city of Acre, held by Saladin. From that point on there’s a great deal of action, interspersed with an extremely fanciful romantic triangle involving Richard, Saladin and Berengaria. Richard has vowed to take Jerusalem and Saladin has vowed to stop him and neither man has any intention of backing down. The ending, about which I propose to say nothing, is likely to come as a considerable surprise.

Henry Wilcoxon is surprisingly good as Richard – he’s terribly heroic of course, but he does bring also bring out his fundamental irresponsibility and hot-headedness, and his somewhat shabby treatment of Berengaria, so there is more to the characterisation than you might expect. The only thing wrong with Wilcoxon is that he doesn’t quite have the charisma that a hero of an epic needs. Ian Keith is very good as Saladin, although again it’s a performance that lacks that vital spark of charisma. 

Both Richard and Saladin begin the story as ambitious and arrogant men of violence (although tempered in both cases by a sense of honour). As the tale progresses they become more human and eventually they develop a mutual respect. It’s perhaps a little surprising to encounter actual character development in a movie like this.

As Berengaria Loretta Young is very pretty and outrageously noble and self-sacrificing. Most of the supporting players are adequate, although C. Aubrey Smith is perhaps just a little hammy (as he always was) as a Christian holy man. DeMille’s adopted daughter Katherine DeMiIle is delightfully spiteful as Alys.

Visually this movie has all of DeMille’s many strengths as a director. His framing of shots is exquisite and imaginative. DeMille was not a great believer in moving the camera unless he really needed to do and mostly he didn’t since he was a master of the art of creating a sense of movement and dynamism within a static frame. As always the more complex his shots and the more extras he has involved in them the more impressive DeMille’s skills become.The siege of Acre in this film is one of his great cinematic achievements. 

The sets are magnificent of course. 

The most interesting thing about the movie is the message it conveys. For a movie about war it’s actually very pro-peace. And for a movie about a clash between religions it’s actually a plea for religious tolerance. DeMille hired Harold Lamb, an historian and a fine writer of historical fiction, as a technical advisor on the film. Lamb’s historical fiction is notable for its even-handedness towards other cultures and his influence can I think be seen in the script. 

The Crusades is a movie about war, love and religious faith. On the whole, despite the liberties it takes with history, it’s remarkably successful and it looks magnificent. A very underrated movie by a great director. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Green for Danger (1946)

Green for Danger is a 11946 British film adaptation of Christianna Brand’s 1944 novel of the same name, widely regarded as something of a minor masterpiece in the detective fiction genre.

The setting is a temporary emergency hospital in England in August 1944. Most of the casualties seem to be victims of the V-1 attacks that were reaching their height at this time. At the beginning we are introduced to the surgeon, Mr Eden (Leo Genn), his anaesthetist Dr Barnes (Trevor Howard) and a collection of nurses and the voiceover informs us that within 24 hours two of these people will be dead, and one will be a murderer.

There’s clearly plenty of potential for romantic tensions. Dr Barnes and his nurse fiancĂ©e have just broken off their engagement while Mr Eden definitely has a roving eye. And Mr Eden has an emotional entanglement of his own to sort out.

A very minor very routine operation goes tragically wrong. There was absolutely no reason why the patient should have died but nonetheless he did.

There will have to be an inquest of course but at this stage it seems to be just a tragedy. Until an accusation of murder is unexpectedly raised, and another death follows. This time there is no room for doubt - this was quite clearly murder.

Inspector Cockrill (Alistair Sim) now makes his appearance. Not altogether surprisingly this leads to a slight change of tone, with Sim injecting some witty banter and even whimsicality into the proceedings. This change of tone is a little jarring and from this point on the movie shuttles uneasily between taut mystery thriller and cynical acerbic comedy.

Cockrill’s whimsicality is knocked out of him a little when the murderer strikes again. There aren’t very many suspects left - as Cockrill had already pointed out only a handful of people could possibly have been in the right place to commit the first two murders. Despite the limited pool of suspects the identity of the murderer remains as mysterious as ever. The climax is in the gloriously melodramatic style beloved of golden age mystery writers.

This film boasts a fine cast. Trevor Howard and Leo Genn are excellent as the two doctors who dislike each other intensely. Sally Gray is pretty good as the good-natured but faithless Nurse Linley. 

Naturally once he makes his belated entry Alistair Sim proceeds to totally steal the movie. He’s in fine form as the unconventional, perpetually amused but deceptively sharp policeman.

Writer-director Sidney Gilliat was a major figure in the British film industry throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s. His screenplay (co-written with Claude Guerney) offers the right mix of mystery, suspense, romance and humour.

The setting is used exceptionally well. The makeshift and temporary nature of the hospital, hastily converted from a picturesque Elizabethan country house, gives the film an interesting atmosphere. With V-1 buzz-bombs flying over and exploding randomly at various points throughout the movie it also emphasises the temporary and fragile nature of wartime relationships. It was shot at Pinewood and is a fine example of just how good a movie shot entirely in the studio can look.

This movie combines two sub-genres I’m usually not overly fond of - the medical drama and the wartime mystery - but it combines them very well indeed. The movie is reasonably faithful to the book insofar as plot is concerned but has a quite different feel, much more cynical and darkly humorous. This is entirely the result of the casting of Alistair Sim, but while he threatens at times to unbalance the film he’s so much fun to watch that it’s impossible to object. and somehow the two discordant halves of the film hang together.

Green for Danger offers an excellent mystery plot, an interesting setting and Alistair Sim at the top of his game. This all adds up to tremendous entertainment. Highly recommended.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case (1943)

Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case was the second of Columbia’s ten Crime Doctor B-movies made between 1943 and 1949. Crime Doctor originated as a popular radio series. Warner Baxter starred in all ten films.

Crime Doctor is psychiatrist Dr Robert Ordway (Warner Baxter). Apparently there’s a strange backstory about Dr Ordway suffering from amnesia but this isn’t mentioned at all in this particular film. Actually there’s a good deal more weirdness to the backstory than that but I’m reluctant to say more since it might reveal spoilers for the first film in the series. In addition to his psychiatric practice Dr Ordway is a keen amateur crime-solver.

Jimmy Trotter (Lloyd Bridges) is an old patient who comes to ask Dr Ordway’s advice about his upcoming marriage to Ellen (Lynn Merrick). Dr Ordway advises them not to get married yet, at least until Jimmy gets a more suitable job. The job he has at the moment, as secretary to wealthy businessman Walter Burns, is a bit too similar to the job he had when his previous employer died of poisoning. Jimmy had been accused of murder in that case. Dr Ordway had been instrumental in obtaining Jimmy’s acquittal and perhaps Dr Ordway thinks that it is tempting fate for Jimmy to hold exactly the same sort of position again.

Dr Ordway’s misgivings turn out to be well founded. The Crime Doctor’s skills as amateur sleuth will be needed again, in another poisoning murder case with Jimmy caught in the middle.

There’s actually no shortage of suspects although the police naturally focus on Jimmy. There are plenty of tensions in the Burns household and to further muddy the waters there’s a cook who isn’t a cook at all and there’s the elderly Miss Patricia and her disturbing nightmares. Miss Patricia soon becomes another of Dr Ordway’s patients.

There’s a dream sequence that can be seen as an anticipation of Hitchcock’s Spellbound, although it’s obviously much less ambitious and visually bold. It’s still not bad for a B-picture. The movie makes use of flashbacks, also fairly bold since film noir had not yet made this technique so all-pervasive in crime movies.

Warner Baxter had been a big star in the 30s but by the 40s his career was looking slightly shaky and a recurring role in a B-movie series was more than welcome. Baxter was starting to look just a little battered but his performance is enthusiastic enough.

Lloyd Bridges (looking very young indeed) gives a hyperactive performance that verges on hysteria at times but then his character does seem to have a knack for landing himself in trouble. Quite a few of the performances are slightly odd. Or perhaps it’s the script that’s slightly odd, or the actors were just doing what director Eugene Forde wanted. Dr Ordway’s nurse seems jumpy and highly strung to say the least (I’m not sure of the identity of the actress but I think it’s Constance Worth). Ellen is a slightly strange character as well.

The whole mood of the film is rather uncertain, as if the intention had been been to aim for a somewhat whimsical feel but the whimsy ends up being unevenly distributed and sometimes jarring. Eugene Forde was a reliable and competent B-movie director so perhaps it was Eric Taylor’s screenplay that was responsible for the mood swings.

The Crime Doctor movies were quite popular (you don’t make ten movies in a series unless you’re reaching some kind of audience). The central idea is certainly interesting. Personally I love movies of this era that deal with psychiatry - they’re nearly always enjoyably bizarre.

There is a Crime Doctor DVD set that includes all ten movies but I’m not certain if it’s an official release or a grey market release. I haven’t seen it so I can’t tell you anything about the quality. I caught this movie on TCM. Their print is quite acceptable. 

This is very much a B-movie but despite its occasional oddness of tone it’s entertaining. I’m not sure I’d rush out and buy the boxed set but Crime Doctor’s Strangest Case is worth a look if it pops up on cable TV or if you can find it as a rental. Fans of B-movies of this period should enjoy it.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Naked Spur (1953)

The Naked Spur was the third of the much-admired westerns directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart. Mann had made his initial reputation with film noir (including the excellent Raw Deal) and his westerns had a decidedly dark edge to them. They also provided James Stewart with the opportunity to show what he could do in rather unsympathetic roles.

Howard Kemp (James Stewart) meets up with grizzled old prospector Jesse Tate (Milard Mitchell). Kemp is tracking an outlaw and Jesse may have picked up his trail. Kemp offers Jesse $20 to help him find that trail. Jesse could use the $20 and he figures it’s not a bad thing to help a lawman catch a killer. At least Jesse assumes Kemp is a lawman - why else would be be hunting an outlaw?

Kemp is also soon joined by Roy Anderson (Ralph Meeker) although he’s not overly pleased about finding himself with such an assistant, Anderson having been dishonourably discharged from the army and being obviously (as his discharge papers state) a man of very dubious moral character.

Catching up with convicted killer Ben Vandergroat (Robert Ryan) proves to be easier than expected. Hanging on to him and getting him all the way back to Abilene may be considerably more difficult.

Kemp now has a party of five to get to Abilene, the fifth member being Ben’s girl Lina Patch (Janet Leigh). Except that she isn’t Ben’s girl. Well, not exactly. Roy Anderson clearly figures that if she’s not Ben’s girl she might as well be his girl. That idea doesn’t go over too well with Lina and it’s obvious that Howard Kemp is not oblivious to her charms either. There are no prizes for guessing this this is going to be a rather tense situation.

The situation is made even more tense by the revelation that Howard Kemp is not a lawman. He’s a bounty hunter. Not a professional bounty hunter but an amateur who has a very good reason for wanting the five thousand dollar reward for bringing in Ben Vandergroat. It’s a long sad story. Howard had been in love with this really swell girl and they had made plans to get married but then he marched off to the war and when he returned he was in for a very unpleasant surprise. Whether the five thousand dollars will overcome his pain and sense of betrayal might be debatable but it will allow him to buy back his ranch.

Howard Kemp is not exactly your classic hero from the golden age of the western although he is in some ways a precursor of the anti-heroes that would populate the genre so tediously from the late 1960s onwards. He is a man driven by a sense of having been wronged but mostly he is driven by greed. He thinks money will heal his wounds.

In fact the whole movie is about greed since Kemp is certainly not the only character motivated by the lust for money. A group of five people that includes a ruthless but resourceful killer with nothing to lose (he has only the hangman’s rope to look forward to in Abilene), an attractive young woman in whom three members of the party are taking a very close interest and a $5,000 reward that would be desirable if shared three ways but even more desirable if it didn’t have to be shared at all provides a perfect setup for some intense interactions.

It doesn’t quite pan out that way, largely because most of the characters are mere stereotypes. Robert Ryan is entertaining but Ben is your standard movie villain without a single redeeming characteristic and with zero depth. Jesse is a character who could have stepped straight out of a hundred other westerns. Lina is the feisty but fundamentally decent girl whose every action can be predicted. Janet Leigh’s performance is fine but Lina just isn’t very interesting. Roy Anderson is the cynical drifter who will do anything if there’s a profit in it for him although he’s made slightly more interesting by Ralph Meeker’s spirited performance.

That leaves it up to Jimmy Stewart to do most of the heavy lifting in the acting department. Fortunately he’s equal to the task and Howard Kemp really is a genuinely fascinating character. He’s rather unsympathetic but we admire his doggedness and Stewart gradually reveals some of the hidden depths of the man.

The script, by Sam Rolfe and Harold Jack Bloom, is very good at setting up interesting human dynamics but it’s a bit too obvious that this is a movie with a Moral Lesson to teach us. Which is a pity because mostly it’s a fine story.

Anthony Mann’s films are always stylish and visually impressive and this is no exception. The film was shot in Technicolor and looks terrific even if the TCM print has a few blemishes and looks just a tiny bit washed out.

The Naked Spur is an attempt to do a complex and intelligent western and it’s an attempt that succeeds reasonably well largely due to James Stewart’s powerful performance. Recommended.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Nocturne (1946)

A George Raft film noir is something that will always attract my interest. Raft is not everybody’s cup of tea but he’s one of my favourite movie tough guys. Nocturne was made by RKO in 1946 and the idea sounds promising enough.

The movie opens with smooth womanising songwriter Keith Vincent giving his latest girlfriend the brush-off. Vincent thinks he’s pretty good at this sort of thing but this time it doesn’t go too smoothly - he ends up with a slug from a .38 in his brain. Some dames just don’t take kindly to getting their marching orders.

When the police arrive they don’t take long to decide this is a clear-cut case of suicide. Vincent’s fingerprints on the gun and the powder burns make this fairly obvious. 

It isn’t obvious to Detective Lieutenant Joe Warne (Raft). Why would a rich guy like Keith Vincent shoot himself right in the middle of writing a song? Joe is one of those cops who worries when things don’t look quite right. When he worries he gets obsessive. It makes him a good detective but it gets him into a lot of trouble as well. At the moment Joe is already in trouble. In fact he is always in trouble with the Chief of Detectives. Joe has a rather pro-active approach to investigations and he tends to tread on people’s toes. The Chief of Detective admires Joe’s skills as a detective but he doesn’t like Joe’s habit of treading on the toes of the sorts of citizens who like to lodge complaints with the Department. Sooner or later Joe’s habits are going to get him kicked out of the force and it looks like it might definitely be sooner rather than later.

Joe Warne is not the kind of guy to let that stop him. And he does have a lead. Vincent’s last girlfriend was named Dolores. The only problem is, all of Vincent’s girlfriends were named Dolores. If they weren’t named Dolores he called them Dolores anyway.

George Raft was very much a tough guy both on the screen and off but as an actor he does the tough guy thing with a fair amount of subtlety. He plays the sorts of guys who are so tough they never have to make a big noise about it. The sorts of guys who never raise their voice because people soon learn that it’s healthier not give them a reason to do so. Raft’s performance is flawless. 

Raft was clearly a natural for playing villains but he grew tired of it and by the 1940s he was keen to play heroes instead. Nocturne gives him the chance to play a reasonably interesting hero in a good film. Sadly good parts like this would become increasingly rare for Raft by the end of the 40s.

Lynn Bari gets the femme fatale role as one of Keith Vincent’s Doloreses. Virginia Huston as her kid sister, night club singer Carol Page and Joseph Pevney as the piano player in the club where she sings provide fine support.

Jonathan Latimer’s screenplay provides plenty of juicy hard-boiled dialogue and Raft and Bari make the most of it. In his novels such as Headed for a Hearse Latimer combined hard-boiled style with very generous amounts of humour. He tones the humour down somewhat in this script. 

This is not in any sense one of those Hollywood mysteries played primarily for laughs. The tone is mostly dead serious but there’s plenty of wit. There’s only a small amount of outright comic relief, provided by Joe’s mother and one of her friends who are keen detective story fans who just love a good murder, and these brief interludes are actually quite funny.

So is Nocturne film noir? It has the noir visual style and the atmosphere. It has the ingredients needed for a film noir. Having the ingredients is not enough - they have to be utilised in the right way. Nocturne shows signs at various times of veering off in a decidedly noir direction, but generally seems content to be a hard-boiled murder mystery. It happens to be a very very good murder mystery that has a great deal of style and wit.

The Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD is absolutely barebones (not even a trailer) but it’s an excellent transfer.

Nocturne is a top-notch noir-flavoured mystery thriller. Very highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Raffles (1939)

Raffles, the gentleman-thief created by E. W. Hornung in the late 1890s, made the transition to movies as early as 1905. The popular 1930 movie version starring Ronald Colman was in fact the tenth film adaptation of the Raffles stories. Raffles’ career on the screen was far from over - he featured in two more movies during the 1930s and finally in a 1977 television series. Of the movies the best remembered may well be the 1939 Raffles with David Niven in the starring role.

Making an American Raffles movie in 1939 presented certain challenges. The Production Code was quite explicit in forbidding the glamourising of criminals and there’s no getting away from the fact that Raffles is a thief. The movie solves the problem about as well as can be expected in the circumstances.

One unfortunate decision made in regard to the 1939 film was to give it a contemporary setting. This works reasonably enough but it would have been more fun in an authentic Victorian setting.

The movie opens with the most daring exploit to date of the mysterious burglar known as the Amateur Cracksman. A priceless Renaissance painting has been stolen. The fate of the painting is much more surprising - a retired actress receives it in the post. What on earth can the Amateur Cracksman be up to now?

Of course we soon find out. The Amateur Cracksman is none other than the famous cricketer A. J. Raffles, the finest spin bowler of his generation. Raffles’ ability to bamboozle batsmen is matched only by his ability to baffle Scotland Yard. 

Raffles however now has a bit of a problem. He has fallen in love. And now he is suffering pangs of conscience. He decides to turn over a new leaf but his timing is rather unfortunate - his friend Bunny Manders (Douglas Walton) is in desperate financial straits and faces bankruptcy, social and professional ruin and prison. He appeals to Raffles for help but Raffles only knows one way to obtain money - by stealing.

Another minor difficulty is that Scotland Yard have had a lucky break in their hitherto fruitless investigation into the activities of the Amateur Cracksman and Inspector MacKenzie (Dudley Digges) is hot on his trail.

Somehow Raffles will have to contrive to save Bunny Manders, escape the clutches of Inspector MacKenzie and prove himself worthy of the love of Gwen (Olivia de Havilland). And he will have to do all this without breaching the Production Code and without betraying the spirit of Hornung’s celebrated anti-hero. Screenwriters John Van Druten and Sidney Howard will face as much of a challenge as Raffles himself. Ultimately they fail but in the circumstances they did their best.

David Niven gives his usual effortless and effervescent performance. The fascinating social nuances that are among the most interesting elements of the original stories (such as those included in The Amateur Cracksman in 1899) are completely absent here. The complexities in the friendship between Raffles and Bunny Manders are also ignored. This is slightly unfortunate since those elements (which are fully developed in the superb 1977 Raffles TV series) would have given Niven a lot more scope and he was a sufficiently capable actor to have given a more interesting performance. Still, an actor can only work with what the script gives him and within those limitations Niven does a splendid job.

I’ve always found Olivia de Havilland to be a bit on the bland side. She’s harmless here, although she hardly sets the screen alight. Dudley Digges was one of those fine old character actors who could always be relied upon to be entertaining and he’s in good form here. Dame May Whitty appears as an elderly aristocratic lady whose jewels are of considerable interest to Raffles, and to others.

Sam Wood directs in competent fashion. There’s at least one scene that echoes one of the  best scenes in the 1930 film. It’s not as good but it is an interesting homage.

The Warner Archive made-on-demand DVD includes both this version and the 1930 Ronald Colman version (which is excellent) so this two-movie disc is excellent value.

Raffles could defeat any safe ever built and any security system ever devised. The one thing he could not defeat was the Production Code. The result is a movie with some very good moments but in the final analysis it just doesn’t quite make it. Worth a look for keen David Niven fans.