Reviews of Bulldog Drummond
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Bulldog Drummond, the first talkie in a long series of films based on the iconic British hero, has a slightly “indie” feel from a Hollywood perspective, but it is well in line with Great Britain’s tradition of rebellious heroes. Drummond (played by Ronald Colman, who would play the character in two movies) is a WWI veteran that finds peace and civilian life tedious. To break monotony, he whistles to raise eyebrows at the fussy gentleman’s club he frequents. When he can’t take it anymore, he sends a classified begging for adventure.
If this sounds like the making of a black comedy, Bulldog Drummond makes for an often fun one filled with cheeky English humor. This becomes increasingly clear after Phyllis, a distraught American woman, answers his ad asking him for help. An earlier letter, for instance, came from a woman complaining about her husband’s obsession with raising goldfish, so she asked Drummond in the letter to either kill the goldfish or her husband. When Drummond travels to the countryside to meet with Phyllis, the innkeeper offers him a room with two beds telling him to “use his own judgment,” making this clearly a pre-code movie. Indeed, where would British comedies be without sexual innuendo? Of course, the British are always good sports about poking fun at their own stiff upper-lips. Bulldog Drummond and his upper-class friends are particularly fond of exclaiming, “By Jove!”
Once Drummond meets Phyllis (Joan Bennett) the movie starts coasting towards the horror mystery line while never losing its sense of fun. Colman is particularly suave when Drummond is trying to act heroic in front of the distraught lady. Apparently, Phyllis’s uncle is being held hostage by a team of mad scientists led by Dr. Lakington (Lawrence Grant). Her uncle is kept outside and has apparently gone insane. Once in the chambers of Dr. Lakington, no one can leave the premises. Bennett is surprisingly dull and lifeless as Phyllis, but the weird hospital story creates a creepy funhouse backdrop that more than makes up for the flatness of her character.
Bulldog Drummond is endearingly weird in a cheerful sort of way. It alternates between laughs and chills and has a quirky sensibility. Not only did it launch the sound series of Bulldog Drummond films (two silent films were made before this one), but in some ways set the tone for film noir with its use of contrasting light and darkness. At other times it is a clear spoof of horror films with its grotesque faces that emerge from the darkness and ominous shadows. By the time we get to a theatrical interrogation scene climaxing the film in Dr. Lakington’s torture chamber of a laboratory there is little doubt that this is a parody of the macabre gothic horror films of the silent era. Ultimately, Bulldog Drummond laced noir with horror while spoofing them both.
Best of all, Bulldog Drummond has the kookiest gang of mad scientists ever. They are so bizarre that they are funny and thank goodness for that. Without a doubt, the film doesn’t want them taken seriously and makes them vaudeville baddies. When they follow Drummond to the inn they even have a humorous confrontation with a drunken accordion player.
Lilyan Tashman is excellent as Irma Peterson. She’s smart, stylish, and sly. She is the perfect villainess and especially funny when she uses charms on Drummond’s bumbling buddy Algy (Claud Allister). This makes her a perfect match for Colman’s Bulldog Drummond, who is reminiscent of a young Cary Elwes in his swashbuckling roles like Wesley from The Princess Bride. Colman, in turn, has some of his best moments sharing a conversation with a crook (Montagu Love) in which they discover similarities between themselves.
Bulldog Drummond is a fresh and original movie with a quirky tongue-in-cheek nature. Its climax serves as a thrilling example of England’s fascination with zany car chases. Drummond saves the day in the end as much as a hero who still thinks he’s a WWI pilot can. Finally, Bulldog Drummond has the kind of weird indie story that would translate well into a modern movie and become a sleeper hit. Just think of what Guy Ritchie would do with this script!