Monday, February 1, 2010

Bulldog Drummond's Road to the Wedding:

There are eight films that make up the Bulldog Drummond series produced by Paramount Pictures between 1937 and 1939. It's a highly entertaining string of action/adventure/comedy films that are undeservedly obscure. (They are, for example, better on just about every level than the better-known "Mr. Wong" films from the same period.)

The “Bulldog Drummond” films are based on a popular British boys’ adventure book series by H.C. "Sapper" McNeil. (I've no idea how faithful they are to the source material, but based on what little I know about the original books, I think they're pretty far afield. But no matter. Fans of classic comedy and action will enjoy them... and I hold they're "must-see" for fans of Indiana Jones, because I suspect these films were among George Lucas' inspiration for those movies.

The Bulldog Drummond Films from Paramount Pictures
A wealthy man of noble heritage, Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond was a combat pilot in WWI and when he returned from the war, he found life too boring. So, he became an adventurer and amateur detective. His faithful manservant Tenny was always ready to join him, as was his life-long friend, Algy Longworth. Tenny was the perfect gentleman’s gentleman (despite the roguish ways of his youth, and his love of motorcycles), and Algy was the very model of the typical upper-class twit (but with a strong sense of right and wrong). Later, the trio was joined by Phyllis Clavering, Drummond’s fiancé who sometimes showed herself to be Drummond’s equal in resourcefulness and spririt. They were further assisted by a mutual friend of Drummond and Clavering, Colonel Nielsen of Scotland Yard.

The title role of Bulldog Drummond was first played by Ray Milland. As of the second film, that role was taken over by John Howard, and I think he made a far better Drummond; Milland’s Drummond seems somehow more fey than Howard’s version, more upper-class playboy than adventurer.

The part of Drummond’s ladylove, Miss Clavering, was also played by two different actresses over the course of the series. In the first film, she was played by Heather Angel, who left the series for a while, but resumed the role later. In the intervening features, Phyllis Clavering was played by Louise Campbell. Both actresses did a fine job in the role, but Angel is not only prettier than Campbell, but she presents a more energetic Clavering, so I prefer her in the role.

The part of the long-suffering Colonel Nielsen, who wanted nothing more than for Drummond to stay out of official police and military business, was initially played by Guy Standing, and then by H.B. Warner in the final installments. In between, the part was played by John Barrymore, who, in the twilight of his career by the late 30s, had been relegated to B-features. However, Barrymore’s presence elevated the entire series, as he brought a level of talent, energy, and comedic timing that isn’t evident until you watch an episode in which he appears and follow it immediately with “Bulldog Drummond’s Bride.” Warner isn’t a bad actor, but his performance seems pale and lifeless when compared to Barrymore. I believe it’s a testament to Barrymore’s talent that he brought so much to the series, without being a scene-stealer; his contribution wasn’t fully noticeable until he was no longer making it.

Out of the cast of regulars in the series, only E.E. Clive and Reginald Denny appeared in each installment.

E.E. Clive played Tenny, Drummond’s perfect gentleman’s gentleman, who was both a loyal servant and a valuable resource in assisting Drummond and his companions with their adventures. It’s evident in the series that Tenny and Drummond are close friends as well as servant and master, and the chemistry between Clive and Howard on-screen make this bond even more real.

Reginald Denny portrayed Drummond’s best friend Algy with an ever-present twinkle and goofy physical comedy. The character was the official “comic relief” of the series (although every character and actor had their downright silly moments in this lighthearted adventure series). Although dumb as a post, and a bit on the cowardly side, Algy is ever loyal to his friends and ultimately reliable when push comes to shove. The character rounds out the cast nicely, and his happy marriage is probably one of the reasons Drummond and Clavering are constantly trying to tie the knot.

A running subplot/gag through most of the films is the fact that Drummond and Clavering are ALWAYS on the verge of marriage when some dangerous adventure disrupts the wedding plans. Even the extreme measures taken Drummond and his friends in “Bulldog Drummond in Africa” and “Bulldog Drummond’s Secret Police” can’t keep the wedding on track. However, in “Bulldog Drummond’s Bride” not even a mad bomber can stop the nuptials from taking place... even if it ends up being one of the oddest weddings on record!

Look for the first four reviews tomorrow!

No comments:

Post a Comment