A valuable painting is stolen from a museum and all that is left is a calling card from “the Amateur Cracksman” stating that he has “a better use for it”! Before Scotland Yard can even begin working on the crime, Maud Holden (Margaret Seddon) walks into their offices with the painting she’d received by post (through the mail). Informed by Barraclough that he needs funds for some bill, Raffles tells his manservant that he’ll be taking care of it that evening. Shortly thereafter, a cat is caught, setting off the alarm, inside a jewelry store. After the bobbies are satisfied there’s been no crime and leave, a dark figure dressed in a tuxedo cracks the safe and removes a diamond-encrusted bracelet. Arriving on the scene just outside is Inspector MacKenzie (Digges), who insists that they re-investigate the scene after reasoning that the cat couldn’t have gotten inside on its own. But the Amateur Cracksman has already escaped with his booty and left another identifying calling card.
Raffles, who’s a well known cricket player, arrives at a society party where his college classmate Bunny Mathers (Walton) introduces him to his sister Gwen (de Havilland). A romance begins as they dance together, though they’re frequently interrupted by a friend of Gwen’s, Lady Kitty Melrose (Whitty). Raffles is also introduced to Lord Melrose (Lionel Pape), who invites them to be guests at his country home for the weekend. But when Lord Melrose writes his home’s telephone number on a piece of paper for Bunny, he inadvertently presses it onto Raffles’s Hilton brand cigarette pack. Raffles takes Gwen home in a handsome cab, and both declare their love for one another. Later, ostensibly because of this relationship with Gwen, Raffles decides to return the bracelet he’d stolen in that same cigarette pack to Scotland Yard. Again, MacKenzie is curious about this Amateur Cracksman and his calling card’s promise that this was his “farewell performance”. His forensics expert soon discovers the telephone number on the cigarette box, and they soon learn that it’s assigned to Lord Melrose’s country home. Bunny visits Raffles, admits to a 1,000 pound gambling debt, and asks his friend for help. Raffles thinks for a moment, and then promises his friend that he’ll take care of it that weekend.
At the Melrose country home, a party is underway that includes all the principals and more, and will soon include the Inspector as well. Earlier at a cricket match, a burglar named Crawshay (Peter Godfrey) had discussed the home’s layout with the Melrose’s maid Wilson (Hilda Plowright). She plans to further help him by disabling the alarm system so that he can steal Lady Melrose’s bejeweled (emerald) necklace. Inside the estate, while Lord Melrose falls asleep during a piano recital, Raffles sees Bunny stressing over his debt and then eyes Lady Melrose’s emerald necklace himself. Inspector MacKenzie arrives to see Lord Melrose and, after informing him that the Amateur Cracksman has likely planned to rob the estate, is invited to stay incognito as Mr. Cameron; Bunny and Raffles are in the know, but Lady Melrose is kept in the dark because of her nervous nature, hence the Inspector’s cover. Through conversations with Bunny and Raffles during which he learns of various intricate dangling clues and coincidences, the Inspector begins to suspect that Raffles is his man, and Raffles knows it.
Raffles ends up talking Lady Melrose into keeping her jewels where she always does, in her bedroom, versus in the same and her husband suggests. But she does go through the motions for him, in front of Mr. Cameron, of having them placed in the safe. By now, Raffles has spilled the beans to Lady Melrose as to Cameron’s real identity. Later that evening, when everyone else has gone to bed, the two play a game of cat and mouse until Raffles notices that a window is open and learns that a burglar, assisted by the maid, is after the same jewelry. He interrupts the crime and obtains the necklace for himself, but the burglar notices Raffles’s watch. Meanwhile, the Inspector had noticed that the alarm was off, and he turns it on just it time for Crawshay, familiar to Scotland Yard, to be caught. The Inspector asks Raffles where he’d been, and he replies that he’d been reading in his bedroom as previously planned, but Gwen knows this to be false and, though she starts to piece everything together herself, she says nothing. Needing to pawn the goods, Raffles paints his hand with fingernail polish to make it look as if he’d hurt himself. Concerned about the cricket players next match, Lord Melrose, who’s offered a 1,000 pound reward for the return of the necklace, insists that Raffles go into London to have a doctor look at it. The Inspector allows Raffles to leave without searching him or his luggage because of something that Crawshay had said when caught – he plans to allow one thief to catch the other. —Classicfilmguide.com
When American director Sam Wood (1883-1949) first reported to Cecil B. De Mille as an assistant in 1915, Wood had already dabbled in real estate and acted on-stage under the name of Chad Applegate. A solo director by 1919, Wood worked throughout the ‘20s directing some of Paramount’s biggest stars, among them Gloria Swanson and Wallace Reid. He began his long association with MGM in 1927, working with personalities as varied as Marion Davies, Clark Gable, Marie Dressler, and Jimmy Durante. He guided the Marx Brothers through their two most profitable films, A Night at the Opera (1935) and A Day at the Races (1937), and turned out one of the most accomplished sentimental dramas ever made in Hollywood, Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). Hopping from studio to studio in the ‘40s, Wood directed Ginger Rogers through her Oscar-winning performance in Kitty Foyle (1940), successfully transferred Thornton Wilder’s highly theatrical Our Town (1940) to the screen (even the studio-imposed happy ending… read more