30 January 2007 | JohnHowardReid
Good Morgan, Bad Barrymore!
There are possibly many other silent films that are packed chock-a-block with even more sub-titles than the 1917 Raffles, but I'm glad to say I've not yet encountered them. This one contains nearly three hundredan average of nearly five titles a minute. True, some of them consist of only a sentence or two, but most of them fill the whole screen. And such titles they are too! They're not the least bit funny, witty or comic. Just dull, wordy, prosaicand often unnecessary. What's more, the editor makes little attempt to integrate the titles smoothly. Due to George Irving's shockingly bad direction, they jar, jar, jar! Irving also has not a clue in the world how to shoot close-ups so that they relate to the long and medium shots.
As usual, Barrymore overdoes the histrionics. A few of the other players, notably Mrs Brundage (and to a lesser extent, Miss Mayo) follow his lead, but the movie is saved by two outstandingly effective performances. Frank Morgan makes an excellent Bunny, and Frederick Perry (who was actually Hornung's choice to play the leada choice supported by Scribner, his American publisher) manages to overcome the creaky script to give a sympathetic yet quietly charismatic impression of an astute detective who is nobody's fool. Perry has the requisite presence and assurance. He quietly out-acts Barrymore at every turn.
Most of the other players are competent enough. It was good to see Kathryn Adams as Gwendolyn, but Evelyn Brent, who plays her friend, Ethel, virtually disappears from the movie as soon as she's introduced.
Aside from the opening ship-board Prologue, production values are minor. The script's settings are otherwise pretty much confined to the stage play.