Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1937)
Bulldog Drummond at Bay (1937)
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Ever since I started "Reviews and Stuff"," I've been meaning to write reviews of my favorite 1930s movie series--the "Bulldog Drummond" films from Paramount. I've been holding off, because there was a mystery entry, a film I couldn't seem to get my hands on: "Bulldog Drummond at Bay." (I even wrote a post announcing my intention to do this where I gave an overview of the series and talked about the actors and otherwise went on at great length about the series... something regular readers of these posts know I hardly ever do. But, then I discovered the existence of the unseen movie, so I put the project on hold.)
Dating from 1937, "Bulldog Drummond at Bay" SEEMED to be a film that would take place between Ray Milland's outing as the character in "Bulldog Drummond Escapes" and John Howard's first turn at Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond in "Bulldog Drummond Returns".
I've watched the mystery film now, and I regret waiting. Not only is it not very good, but it has none of the elements that I loved about the films featuring Milland and Howard. (And if I'd been smart and looked the film up at Internet Movie Database, I would have instantly realized that it is NOT part of the Paramount-produced series, but rather a straggler from the character's previous cinematic incarnations.)
So, with reviews of "Bulldog Drummond at Bay" and "Bulldog Drummond Escapes", I'm finally doing a series of reviews that have been planned for almost two years.
[b]Bulldog Drummond at Bay[/b]
Starring: John Lodge, Dorothy MacKaill, Victor Jory, Hugh Miller, and Claud Allister
Director: Norman Lee
Retired British Army Captain Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond (Lodge) is drawn into a plot by an arms-manufacturer (Miller) and the sinister spy Gregoroff (Jory) to steal a highly advanced aircraft. The biggest question for Drummond, however, isn't so much as how will he defeat the bad guys, but how will he score with the lovely spy Doris (MacKaill)?
When viewed through the prism of someone who's seen the superior Paramount "Bulldog Drummond" series that started the same year as this film was released, "Bulldog Drummond at Bay" is a sorry mess of a movie that can be summed up primarily as a waste of potential.
Lodge is decent enough as Drummond, except that he comes across as a little slimey as opposed to playful and fey (as portrayed by Howard and Millan), and he seems stupid at times, particularly during the gags with the comings and goings of his house-keeper and a dead body (that may or may not have been entirely dead). In fact, he seems almost as dense as Algy (Allister), his best friend and comic-relief sidekick throughout the various Drummond films.
Speaking of Algy, the use of that character is a perfect illustration of what's wrong with "Bulldog Drummond at Bay" when it's compared to the six films that make up the Paramount series. Not only is Algy badly used in every sense--he's some sort of raging alcoholic who'll drink anything, and he's so ineffectual that one has to wonder why Drummond even bothers to consider him a friend--but the wife and child that made the character so entertaining and unusual in the Paramount films are not referenced at all.
Also absent are Drummond's faithful manservant/sidekick Tenny and his old friend Colonel Nielsen of Scotland Yard. Without these supporting characters--and Algy being such a non-character--"Bulldog Drummond at Bay" might just as well be some generic adventure tale of a gentleman detective who stumbles on a spy ring. And it's a badly written generic adventure tale, with leaps of logic so great they'd be setting records in the Olympic event, and a plot so poorly constructed that characters (like Algy) drop in and out of it with no real rhyme or reason.
For all that's bad about "Bulldog Drummond at Bay"--and the bad does outweigh the good to the point where I don't think there's any reason for you to waste your time on this film--there are some good moments. The peril Drummond ends up in when he infiltrates the lair of the spies is gives rise to some genuine excitement and suspense; Gregoroff is one of the most dastardly villains to ever grace the silver screen; and the secret of the plane everyone is chasing after leads to a nice twist at the end of the film.
The actors also give good performances in their roles (despite my reservations regarding Lodge's performance, he's okay), with Jory really shining as the bad guy. It's a shame that their talents are wasted on such a bad script.
[b]Bulldog Drummond Escapes[/b]
Starring: Ray Milland, Heather Angel, E.E. Clive, Guy Standing, Reginald Denny, Porter Hall, Fay Holden, and Walter Kingsford
Director: James P. Hogan
As "Bulldog Drummond Escapes" opens, daredevil adventurer Captain Hugh Drummond (Milland) is returning from an extended trip abroad. Over the objections of airport officials, he lands his private plane in thick fog before jumping into his sports car and speeding off to his country estate. Along the way, he comes across Phyllis Clavering (Angel), and before the night is out, he has to decide if she's a damsel in distress, or a mentally unstable woman, as her sinister wards (Hall and Holden) would have him believe. Before this most unexpected adventure is over, Drummond finds himself not only captured by a ring of spies, but finds himself heads-over-heels in love with Calvering. But will either of them live long enough to make good on the promise of romance?
"Bulldog Drummond Escapes" spends its first few minutes introducing the viewers to the main character and the supporting cast, and then proceeds to present a story that is not only engaging, but which features subplots that will continue to develop over the next five sequels, such as Algy's relationship with his wife and his struggle to balance a life of adventure with his friends Drummond and Tenny with that of a responsible husband and father; Colonel Nielsen's ongoing attempts to force Drummond to just behave like a normal citizen and stop sticking his nose in government business; and Drummond and Clavering's marriage plans that are forever interrupted by various bad guys and disasters.
Despite the fact that the first "Bulldog Drummond" films appeared in the 1920s, you would be well served to ignore those and just start your viewing with "Bulldog Drummond Escapes" and the other Paramount-produced films that follow it, particularly if "Bulldog Drummond at Bay" is any indication of the quality of the films that came before the Paramount series.
What makes this film, and its sequels, so much fun is the interplay between the characters and the snappy dialogue. The relationship between Tenny and Drummond is particularly fun.
Cast-wise, everyone does a fantastic job. Milland is adequate as Drummond--John Howard will replace him in the role in "Bulldog Drummond Comes Back"--but he is greatly bolstered by excellent performances from E.E. Clive (as the ever-unflappable manservant Tenny) and Reginald Denny (as the ever-stressed and freaked-out Algy, who is trying to help Drummond out of his latest jam while supporting his wife as she gives birth to their first child). Heather Angel's character of Phyllis Clavering is something of a non-entity in this film, but she does as good a job as can be expected with the part... and she's as cute as ever.
With its fast-paced, well-constructed script and solid characterizations of a likeable group of people who are joined together by a sense of adventure, fun, and mutual respect, "Bulldog Drummond Escapes" is a great start to an excellent series of films.
Good and solid entry in the Bulldog Drummond series. Fine cast, a very short and direct movie, suspenseful and nicely done.
The fourth installment in the Bulldog Drummond series. This 1937 movie stars Norman Lee, John Lodge (as Drummond), Dorothy Mackaill, Victor Jory, and Claude Allister. Drummond battles foreign agents trying to steal plans for a top-secret British aircraft. OK but nothing special.
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