6 November 2008 | robert-temple-1
Calling Margaret Leighton
This was the 21st Bulldog Drummond film, and was the last attempt at making a serious feature film based upon the character. It brought to an end 29 years of serious Drummonding, and the remaining four Drummond films were all absurd and worthless pastiches. So this was truly the end of an era. In the two previous Drummond films, the title role had been played by the suave and charming Tom Conway. This time Drummond was played by Walter Pidgeon, his single time in the role. Pidgeon was also suave and charming, but was not a young man by this time and lacked the energy and vivacity for the part. In any case, the director Victor Savile was clearly infatuated (if only in the directorial sense) with Pidgeon's female co-star in this film, the remarkable Margaret Leighton. We get plenty of closeups of her, but none of Pidgeon. Pidgeon was evidently happy to let Margaret Leighton steal all her scenes, as it must have amused him that in her role as a woman police officer masquerading with him as a crook to infiltrate a criminal gang of thieves, she was taking over the film. Pidgeon was not an egotist. I knew him slightly when I was young and he was old. Despite his impeccable manners of a gentleman, which were perfectly genuine, he could be a bit difficult at times and did not suffer fools gladly. He had an excellent sense of humour and laughed heartily and deeply. He was a passionate drinker of strong coffee, and the twinkle in his eye was natural and innate. Despite the many decades of difference in our ages, we 'clicked', and if circumstances had permitted, we could have had long and meaningful conversations, whereas our conversations were never long, and our acquaintance was passing. However, I gained enough of a personal impression of him to judge his worth, and that was high indeed. He was an extremely interesting, thoughtful, and amusing man, and he was far from superficial. He is best seen in 'Mrs. Miniver' (1942), for which he was nominated for an Oscar, and 'Advise and Consent' (1962). In this film he is just walking through the part, and although he manages the charm part of being Bulldog Drummond, he frankly does not manage the action part, and he was clearly under no pressure to do so, as the director was rather effete anyway, and Margaret Leighton was happy to do all the business, and was enjoying herself so much they all just let her get on with it. She was a magnificent actress, although she was best on stage, where I saw her a few times, and was dazzled by her stage presence. I had no idea during the time I knew him that Larry Harvey had once been married to her, as he never mentioned her. (But then he wouldn't, as it might have upset Paulene, I suppose, who is a fiery gal, or was back then.) This Drummond film does not have a trace of humour anywhere in it, not a single laugh, gag, or witty line. It is treated absolutely straight as a crime detection film. The cinematography was by Freddie Young, later famous for 'Lawrence of Arabia', 'Doctor Zhivago', etc., though there is little sign of his genius in this early effort. I knew him too, and he was a very quietly spoken and thoughtful fellow, wholly dedicated to his work, whom everyone liked, and I don't suppose anyone ever disliked. This Drummond film makes good watching, if only to see the amazing Margaret Leighton, and it does not disappoint as a Drummond film either except that Tenny, the Inspector, and Phyllis Clavering all are missing. Algy Longworth is there, played fussily by David Tomlinson, but he is not funny, nor does he try to be. As the last 'real' Drummond film, this one has an air of dignity about it, as the true series finally bows out and leaves the screen forever. It is not commercially available on DVD or video, and you have to be ingenious to acquire a copy from the right collector, as most of the television airings (where I first saw it) have ceased. Let's hope that some day an enlightened company will bring out a DVD set of 'The Complete Bulldog Drummond', because although the first silent film appears to be lost, the second does survive in a single copy, and it would be a fascinating thing to have all these films gathered together and accessible.