Sunday, July 4, 2010

100 years, 100 films 16: Raffles (1925)

I decided that I would watch two films based on E.W. Hornung's Raffles books so that I would be able to actually see the changing nature of film. A lot happened in the movies in the eight years between this film and 1917's Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman, and I was hoping that these two movies, thrown into contrast, would help illuminate what some of those changes were. And, in a way, the film did manage to throw some light on the changing nature of film during the silent era. I said of the earlier film that it was an entertaining if somewhat bizarrely amateur production. Well, the 1925 version removed the bizarre amateurism of the earlier film, but also managed to remove the entertaining parts of the earlier film as well.

It's just such a stodgy mess. The cameras refuses to move, and the actors refuse to allow themselves to be interesting. And oh, how they immasculated Raffles. In the books, Raffles is a totally immoral bad ass, who steals both for the thrill of it, and for personal gain. In the 1917 movie he was depicted as stealing largely for funsies, and because he could. But here, he's stealing for charity. I mean, honestly, what the hell kind of thing is that to do to a guy? "Oh, don't worry about me, you're still perfectly within your rights to like me, because I'm doing all this for charity." Why doesn't this goody-goody Raffles just give his own money to charity, rather than forcing rich people (who are in no way villified, so you're not even supposed to feel joy at their loss) to do it for him? It's never explained, but this action is just as morally ambiguous as his earlier screen version, but much, much, much less fun. And it isn't like you can make some Robin Hood argument for him, because he's shown here as being a wealthy gentleman, not a working class saviour of the people. Robin Hood doesn't give his own money to charity because he doesn't have any money to give. Raffles doesn't give his own money to charity because he's a stupid douche.

If the rest of the movie had been fun or interesting, or if House Peters had played a likable Raffles, then I could probably have excused his immasculation as just a necessity of Hollywood. But because nothing in this movie is interesting, I am forced to sit and wander exactly what the hell everyone involved in this movie was thinking. Why did they think this would be interesting?

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