Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1947)

Not to be confused with Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back (1934)!

Captain Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond (Ron Randell) does what comes natural to him – he stumbles into a mystery. After World War II, there has been a minor epidemic of stolen identities, with some very active criminals of dubious taste swindling their ways into the inheritances of people who died during the war.

One Ellen Curtiss (Gloria Henry) visits a lawyer following a newspaper ad concerning the inheritance of her aunt, but the good man already had a visit by a different Ellen Curtiss (Anabel Shaw) weeks before. Scotland Yard inspector Sanderson (Carl Harbord) tries to sort things out, but someone shoots him while he’s having a talk with the Gloria-Henry-Curtiss - let’s call her Ellen #1 from now on. Drummond kind of adopts Ellen #1’s cause against Ellen #2, but various developments make it devilishly difficult to decide if he’s betting on the right heiress. Usually, he’d just follow his “sucker for a pretty face principle” and decide his loyalties from there, but both Ellen’s have pretty faces, so some actual detective work might be in order.

However, the question is if the clues our intrepid hero is following have been laid by someone else to lead him to a foregone conclusion.

When last time we met a Hugh Drummond around here, World War II hadn’t happened, and Drummond was a weird mix of upperclass dandy and adventurer. Not surprisingly in the age of noir, Australian Ron Randell’s version of Drummond seems a bit closer to the hard-boiled detective archetype, though certainly more on the easy-going side of it. Drummond has lost his upper class accent, and his valet has become non-existent (sacrilege, clearly), while he’s driven around by some junior reporter named Seymour (Terry Kilburn). Sidekick Algy (Patrick O’Moore) seems to have fallen victim to sudden brain growth, and has left true Algy-ness for only mild idiocy. On the plus side, Algy isn’t as annoying as in earlier incarnations anymore.

Apart from keeping the Drummond character close to changed contemporary tastes after the end of the War, part of these changes certainly have something to do with Randell, whom it would be difficult to take seriously with the earlier films’ approach to the character. However, Randell does provide Drummond in his second and last outing in the role with enough charm it’s still easy to think of him as a version of the movie Drummond we know, even if this character might as well be every other post-War charming rogue.

Where most of the older Drummonds I’ve seen were very pulp-like affairs with much kidnapping of pretty ladies by moustache-twirling villains, Strikes Back MkII is a mystery loosened up by a bit of a punch-out from time to time. The script actually manages to make the identity mystery at the plot’s core mysterious without having to become too silly, with some cleverly applied red herrings, and the good sense to show Drummond as suavely confused by the whole affair as is only good and proper. Our hero, it turns out, is no Sherlock Holmes, but he’s tenacious and willing to admit to himself he just might have bet on the wrong woman (and hey, they’re both pretty enough to ask out afterwards), and does mistrust the obvious in perfectly fitting manner.

B-movie stalwart director Frank McDonald keeps things moving at the appropriate sprightly pace, does some noir-lite things with expressionist lighting, and obviously knows the one thing a film like this shouldn’t do is stop for boring dithering pretending to be characterization or to take too much time off his audience’s life with comic relief. The jokes we get are even funny.

I honestly don’t know what more I could ask of a series b-movie made in 1947. A lot of fun, Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back delivers.

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