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David Niven SOTM Night One


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With one night off in between the end of the regular baseball season and the start of the playoffs, I checked out TCM for the first time in two weeks and watched all of RAFFLES and about the first 40 minutes of BACHELOR MOTHER.


Niven was probably one of the very first stars from Hollywood's Golden Age to resonate in my consciousness as he happened to be in several well-remembered films from my childhood: CANDLESHOE, DEATH ON THE NILE, a later PINK PANTHER or two. So, I've always had a soft spot for him. None of those film are airing, I guess, as Ben M. indicated in his first introduction of the night that this retrospective will get no more recent than Niven's '60s work.


I haven't seen the Ronald Colman version of RAFFLES or any of the silent versions, so I don't know how Niven's performance compares. It would be easy, I suppose, to label Niven a poor man's Colman, so it's certainly not surprising he was cast in this film. Interesting to learn from Ben M. that Cary Grant lobbied for the role.


I'm a sucker for cat-and-mouse plots, and there are some fun scenes at the country estate and later at Raffles' flat, complicated not only by the unexpected arrival of a Scotland Yard detective but also a completely independent burglary attempt on the same necklace Raffles covets. There were some nice suggestive moments as when the detective discovers Olivia DeHavilland in Raffles' guest bedroom, and he keeps messing with the tobacco jar.


I was curious how the film would resolve itself, as Hollywood was well into the production Code era by that time. Raffles steals, but he always returns what he steals. Did that really make him a criminal who had to be arrested or killed by film's end, as the Code would have it? I won't reveal the ending for those who didn't watch, but it was surprisingly ambiguous, but still satisfying to the Code, I guess.


I was sort of surprised how short the movie was - about 70 minutes, maybe? It seemed to end rather abruptly, although I suppose there was no more story to tell. Dame May Whitty was a delight, as always.


Not sure if this was before or after GONE WITH THE WIND, released the same year, but these were certainly the kind of roles DeHavilland was trying to get way from, but even on a loanout to Goldwyn from her home studio of Warner Bros., she wasn't having much luck.


I have read a Darryl Zanuck biography that stated Zanuck made sure Niven was persona non grata in Hollywood for close to a decade after their horses collided in a polo match, which, the bio states, is the reason Niven didn't work in Hollywood for several years after RAFFLES. Mankiewicz says it's because Niven went back home to serve in the war, an explanation that seems more plausible, if not as juicy.


While this was my first time to see RAFFLES, this was at least my fifth or sixth time to begin BACHELOR MOTHER in my 15 years now of watching TCM. Somehow, I've never finished it, and I didn't finish it last night. It must always be second on the primetime bill, and I'm usually heading for bed before the second movie of the night is over. So, I've seen the first half of this movie about a half dozen times. I don't know that I necessarily need to see the ending - I feel I could predict it with about 99.9 per cent accuracy. It's probably one of those films where the setup is more interesting than the resolution. There are good five or six laugh out loud moments, like when Ginger Rogers says the baby was a Christmas present and the guy from her department says, "This Christmas or last Christmas?" Ha ha.


Two things always strike me when I watch: that is the lowest-maintenance baby in the history of babies; and attitudes certainly must have been different in 1939. Whereas in 2015, CPS will take your child away from you at the merest allegation, in this film, the "foundling agency" just keeps shoving the baby back into Rogers' arms no matter how often she practically screams that she's an unfit mother!


I think the same guy played Niven's butler in both movies, and he was funny in both.






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