Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934)

On the wedding day of his brain-dead sidekick Algy (Charles Butterworth), adventurer Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond begins to think about retirement in Sussex; after all, all that romance and excitement in his life is beginning to get tiresome, and now that Algy isn't around for a quickie anymore, what's left?

Drummond changes his mind very quickly when he leaves his friend's wedding and steps into a foggy London night, where he first meets a confused young woman (Loretta Young) - later to be named as Lola Field - and then stumbles upon a dead body lying in an empty villa. Strangely enough, once Drummond returns to the villa with a bobby in tow, the place isn't empty any longer but populated by Achmed (Warner Oland), the "oriental" (because Warner Oland) envoy or prince or something of a made-up country, and his henchpeople. There's no trace of a dead body anymore, and the bobby sure as hell isn't going to think anything bad about a decent gentleman like Achmed.

Drummond for his part returns to his home to call Algy away from his wedding night and ponder things quietly. Until the confused young woman he met in the fog appears on his doorstep right when Drummond - the creepy toffer - is fantasizing about his need for a woman in need. Her name is Lola Field, and she was actually looking for Drummond's neighbour Captain/Colonel/Inspector Neilson (C. Aubrey Smith) of Scotland Yard, for her uncle is missing, and people seem to pretend he never even existed. Of course, Drummond is instantly smitten by Lola and willing to help, and of course, the dead man he saw will turn out to have been Lola's uncle. From this point on, people will repeatedly be kidnapped from Drummond's living room, Drummond will repeatedly break into Achmed's villa, Neilson will doubt Drummond's sanity (he's right), and Algy's wedding night will be a no-show. Fun will be had by all.

This is the second and last time Ronald Colman was taking on the role of Bulldog Drummond - the actor's first appearance in the role being in 1929's Bulldog Drummond - and like his first outing this mystery comedy in the same spirit of style and verve responsible for The Thin Man is quite a bit of fun.

Unlike the earlier movie, Drummond Strikes Back does not feature the stiff and possibly slightly confused acting of an early talkie. Instead, the film is dominated by the type of slick and glossy acting I find typical of classical Hollywood films. Colman still is the stand-out actor here, hitting the right spot between charming and smug, convincing the audience that being a crime fighting vigilante must be quite the lark, and again pulling the rest of the cast with him in any scene he is in; the difference this time around is just that his colleagues don't need as much pulling and clearly are able to stand on their own feet.

Most of what I have written about the 1929 film stands here too, though the level of pulpy thrills has been reduced a bit - there's no mad scientist in place, the more risqué psychosexual undertones have gone missing, and Warner Oland's "evil oriental" (sigh) is a bit bland as a villain for my tastes - in favour of more comedic bits, which usually would spell doom for me liking any film. I don't mind in Drummond Strikes Back's case though, for most of the humour - except for the always insufferable Algy - is as witty and charming as what Colman projects.

Even though the movie's plot really is paper thing - the mystery Drummond is trying to solve isn't much of one, and there isn't much happening beyond kidnappings and rescues once the situation has been set up - it's a whole lot of fun to watch Colman having fun, delight at the often very stylish manner director Roy Del Ruth shoots his few yet finely made sets, and forget all about the rather nasty political background of the Bulldog Drummond books. Sure, there is Oland's "oriental" evil mastermind (sort of) to remind one of the latter, however, there's so little mean-spirited about his use I found it difficult to get annoyed. It's an unfortunate cliché in a generally good-natured film, and seems to me more of a sign of the times the film was made in than any sign of active racism of its makers; it's the difference between actively doing evil and being thoughtless.

Apart from that, I can only criticize Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back for making me unhappy Colman didn't star in more Drummond films, and that's a criticism born of the fun I had with this one as well as the actor's earlier stint as the character.


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