27 March 2008 | robert-temple-1
The classic Bulldog Drummond film
This was the second film of this title, the third Bulldog Drummond film to be made, and the first with sound (this being the first year of sound films). The original 'Bulldog Drummond' was a 1922 silent, which appears to be lost, starring Carlyle Blackwell. In 1925, 'Bulldog Drummond's Third Round' appeared, starring Jack Buchanan. A print survives, and has been shown at at least one film festival, but few have had the good fortune to see it. This is the classic Drummond film in a series which was to extend to 25 films, if one counts the 1983 satire 'Bullshot'. Ronald Colman is spectacular in the lead, perfect in every way for the part, wryly humorous, dashing, ardent, impetuous but thoughtful: in short, he was the very essence of Captain Hugh Drummond. The film opens with a famous scene, an amusing long tracking shot of the interior of the 'Senior Conservative Club' (fictitious, but modelled on the Carlton Club in St. James) in London, with old gents reading or nodding off in their leather armchairs. The first two times I saw this film, I thought it was meant to be Drummond's own club. But now I am inclined to believe that it is the club of his friend Algy, whose guest he is on this occasion. Drummond says to Algy that he is bored to tears: 'I'm too rich to work, but too intelligent to play'. Algy suggests that he place an ad in The Times seeking adventure, so he drafts one on the spot stating that he finds 'peace too tedious' and invites offers of danger and adventure. The Drummond books by 'Sapper' are based on a former Army captain from the late War, who gets together a band of former soldiers who had served under him in the trenches, in order to pursue adventure in peacetime. It played to the air of total disillusion which followed the First War, similar to that which engendered film noir after the Second War. The post-War motivation is essentially absent from this film, as it was ten years on and no longer fashionable to be moaning about it. This was the first and last sound film directed by the silent director F. Richard Jones, who died of TB the next year aged only 33. The villainess of this film is played chillingly by Lilyan Tashman (astonishingly aged only 20, though playing 40), but she died aged 34 in 1934. Claud Allister is an effete Algy with a monocle, his voice shrill enough to break a wine glass. He has a wonderful moment where he is awakened by a bird popping out of a cuckoo clock, and says: 'Is it really 2 o'clock? How I do detest bird life!' Lawrence Grant is wonderfully sinister as a mad scientist with a fake asylum. The film is stagey, old-fashioned, creaks at the joints, implausible, and Joan Bennett as the girl is so pathetically helpless and whimpering that one wants to scream with frustration. She only becomes the Joan Bennet we were later to know in the love scenes at the inn towards the end, where her voice suddenly deepens and she gets that Joan Bennett glint in her eyes, and the shrinking violet begins to turn into a prowling feline. Despite any flaws, this film is a true classic, conveying as it does so much period atmosphere and the overwhelming charm of Ronald Colman, who made most films he was in into absolute 'must-sees'. If you like Colman or you like Drummond, you have to see this.