Wednesday, September 12, 2012

In short: Bulldog Drummond At Bay (1937)

This version of Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond (John Lodge) lives an especially quiet life in the country. His butler has been replaced by a housekeeper and a dog (it's the dog's turn to be stuffed into a cupboard by the bad guys), and no fiancé he can avoid to marry is around.

Of course, this being Drummond, his peace is disturbed soon enough, though not by the usual damsel in distress but by evildoers looking for inventor Caldwell (Richard Bird) whose experimental airplane technology they want to sell off to the highest bidder. Before you can say "Jolly good, old chap", Drummond insinuates himself into the affair, tussles with a female henchman (Dorothy Mackaill) who might have plans of her own, and learns that his enemies work under the guise of an organisation working for world peace. Clearly, a wish for peace can only hide madmen and blackguards, and just as clearly, Drummond will put a stop to their plans.

Yes, I'm still making my way through the Bulldog Drummond films. This'll be the last one for a while, though, or I'd have to rename this blog into "The Bulldog!?", which nobody wants. And yes, this is another Drummond film made in 1937 - though this time in the UK - with again a different actor playing Drummond, and again a title that has nothing at all to do with the film I was watching.

John Lodge is the least interesting Drummond I've encountered until now, for his version of the character completely lacks in the intensity, the romantic enthusiasm and the sense of humour film versions of the character usually have. As Lodge plays the character, he could be just about any British upperclass guy punching foreigners (this time with a certain indirect whiff of being Russian Jews that doesn't outright state their national and religious affiliations but does imply it, which of course is still much less unpleasant than the state of affairs in the actual books) in the face. The script could have renamed Drummond to John Smith and nobody would have been the wiser, really. Even Algy (Claud Allister) is only in the movie for a few short scenes. Not that I can honestly say I'm sad about that.

The film's best moments are whenever Lodge shares the screen with Mackaill. While the chemistry between the actors is not exactly intense, and Lodge does not exactly breathe excitement, the romantic quipping is more fun than the rest of the film's dialogue, and Mackaill seems a lot more lively than Lodge himself.

Consequently, there are ten minutes or so right at the end when her character becomes the film's hero for a while that turn what was an okay matinee piece before into something more fun. I suspect "Doris Thompson at Bay" would have been the more exciting movie. Of course, we can't have a mere woman winning the day (think of the cooties!), so Drummond takes the heroic role over again soon enough, dragging her off to end her adventurous job and marry him. Sometimes, one has to hate movies for being of their time.

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