Sunday, April 22, 2007


The Bulldog Drummond series was not one that was featured on TCM, but I recently got a chance see to the first Drummond talkie, a well-regarded film which is difficult to run across. The title character is Captain Hugh Drummond, retired from the British Army, who, in the novels by H.C. McNeile, drifts into becoming a brawny two-fisted adventurer, though in the movies, he wound up more like a typical movie sleuth. In the 1929 film, the dapper Ronald Colman plays Drummond, who is bored with his quiet post-war life; the first scene, featuring the comic shattering of the total silence of a men's club room, must have been the inspiration for the similar opening scene of the Fred Astaire classic TOP HAT. Colman advertises his services as someone looking for excitement, and he finds some when he gets involved in helping Joan Bennett, whose uncle is being held against his will in a mansion-like sanitarium. It's interesting seeing Colman as a thriller hero, playing against his usual laid-back persona; he even gets to strangle a bad guy to death with his bare hands! Another pleasure is the peculiarly fey but amusing acting style of Claud Allister as Drummond's buddy Algy. The shadowy mansion sets are wonderful, with a Caligarish look now and then (courtesy well known production designer William Cameron Menzies); sometimes the rooms look like they are right out of a Universal mad doctor castle. Lawrence Grant, Lilyan Tashman, and Montagu Love are suitably evil as the chief villains. The director, F. Richard Jones, has some nice "moving camera" touches. This is a solidly entertaining, mostly light-toned thriller, and a good one to see even if you think you don't like early talkies.

Between 1937 and 1939, Paramount made nine Bulldog Drummond B-movies, beginning with BULLDOG DRUMMOND ESCAPES with Ray Milland--and if memory serves me, I believe that one basically recycled the plot of the Colman film, though instead of an uncle, Milland rescues a young woman (Heather Angel) from a similar foreboding mansion filled with baddies. Most of the Paramount films, however, had John Howard in the title role, an actor I know mostly as Katharine Hepburn's loser fiance in THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, with Angel continuing as the woman Howard is constantly on the verge of marrying before he is tempted away on the eve of the wedding by some mysterious case or matter of national import. IN AFRICA begins with Howard and his butler (E. E. Clive) stuck at home without guns or trousers so they can't go anywhere before the wedding. However, Scotland Yard inspector H. B. Warner is kidnapped by notorious spy J. Carroll Naish, who spirits him away to Morocco to get the secret of a new British invention, the radio wave disintegrator (sounds like a good enough McGuffin to me!). Angel sees Warner being abducted and frees Howard so they can chase after him, in Howard's own plane, along with Clive and sidekick Reginald Denny, taking over the part of Algy. There are thuggish henchmen (including Anthony Quinn), ferocious lions, and a hidden bomb for our gang to deal with before the predictable but still exciting finale. Except for its exotic setting, this film is typical of the series. Howard is not the most dashing hero, but I grew to like him as Drummond. As the series goes on, the wedding shenanigans become tiresome, but are thankfully kept to a relative minimum here. Film buffs will recognize Fortunio Bonanova as a Moroccan cop. Short (just under an hour), fast-paced, and enjoyable, like most of the Paramount Drummonds. The series was later picked up by other studios in the late 40's with a variety of actors, but those appear to be out of circulation. [DVD]

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