Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Overlooked Films: Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937)

Many of the films I review here don't live up to expectations, and I'm compelled to make snide remarks about them. Not so this time. Maybe it's because I expected this one to be bad, and it wasn't. Thanks to the wacky performance of Ray Milland, it was FUN.

That's not to say I'm a Bulldog Drummond fan. At least not yet. I haven't read any of the 19 novels, never seen a TV episode, never heard the radio show, and, until now, hadn't seen any of the 26 movies. But after seeing this one, I am a fan of Bulldog Drummond Escapes.

Milland's appeal here is that he seems more than slightly crazy. He's an adventurer who craves mystery and danger, and doesn't care who knows it. This is the same sort of divine madness that makes Doctor Who such a great character.

And Milland gets an assist in the humor department from Reginald Denny (as his pal Algy) and E.E. Clive as his manservant. There are also some good scenes with Guy Standing, who plays a long-suffering Scotland Yard inspector.

Sadly, this was Milland's only appearance as Drummond. The list of others who've played the role is impressive, including such names as John Barrymore, Ronald Coleman, Ralph Richardson, Tom Conway and Walter Pidgeon - - BUT, will they deliver that touch of insanity I enjoyed so much from Milland? Somehow I doubt it. I fear he may have spoiled me.

If you, too, care to be spoiled, the entire film is presented below (courtesy of YouTube), and the sound and picture quality is superior to that of my cheapie DVD.

NOTE: The stills below are labelled "Bulldog Drummond Comes Back." Why? Beats me. That was the title of another 1937 film, featuring John Howard in the title role. Actually, "Comes Back" would have been a more appropriate title for this one, because it opens with him coming back from some exotic adventure - and he never "Escapes" from anything.

More Overlooked Films, etc., at Sweet Freedom.


Cap'n Bob said...

If this is the only BD that Milland made, I saw it. Sorry, old sock, but I thought it was awful (as did my other Tankon attendees). Drummond spent half the picture driving furiously along foggy country roads between two estates full of weird people. Is that the one? The car was neat, and Heather Angel was angelic, but the story was threadbare.

Prashant C. Trikannad said...

I have never seen a Bulldog Drummond movie before and the slide show makes me want to see this one and get acquainted with Ray Milland in the role. I like the prospect of watching a superior quality film on youtube and hopefully it won't "buffer" too much either.

Evan Lewis said...

It's true, Cap'n, there was nothing special about the story. I didn't even think much of Heather Angel. And there was a little furious driving. But Milland - as the weirdest of the weird people - gave the picture life.

Rick Robinson said...

I've not read any Drummond, though I'm curious about the books. Not so much about the films.

Cap'n Bob said...

Milland was a good actor, all right. It's a shame he ended up doing roles like the two-headed transplant.

David Vineyard said...

I know this is an old one, but I thought I would point out a few things. First, Ronald Colman is far and away the best and funniest Drummond with Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back the best of the films with Loretta Young, Warner Oland, and C. Aubrey Smith. It is played tongue in cheek and a first class production. Walter Pidgeon's Calling Bulldog Drummond is fun too, with television Bulldog Drummond Robert Beatty and James Bond's M, Bernard Lee as villains.

The radio series ran quite a few years, but the television series was only a half hour pilot 'The Ludlow Affair' shown as an episode of Doug Fairbanks anthology series and available on You Tube in a good print.

Barrymore didn't play Drummond (he did Holmes, Raffles, and Arsene Lupin) but was Colonel Neilson in the John Howard series, often having fun in various disguises and replaced by H. B. Warner on his death.

John Lodge is the closest to the literary Drummond physically and his outing the closest to a Drummond book. You may enjoy the Drummond books, the first four form a long account of his epic , battle with Carl and Irma Peterson
and the fifth Irma's revenge, Female of the Species, but you should be warmed these are books of their time (1919 through the 30's) and there is a great deal of class consciousness, racism, and twenties style silly ass blathering that makes Lord Peter and Albert Campion sound normal to be got around. If you want Sapper at his best try the short story collection Jim Maitland, those stories are more like the films than the actual Drummond adventures. The five Drummond short stories read a bit better than the novels.

I enjoy the Drummonds for what they are. He was a direct influence on the Saint, James Bond, Mike Hammer, and Dirk Pitt, but I knew what I was getting into going in.

If you go digging over at Steve Lewis Mysteryfile blog you can turn up my longish piece on Drummond to see what you are getting into. For something more like the films I would suggest Dornford Yates Jonah Mansel and Wiliam Chandos books like She Fell Among Thieves and Blind Corner. They take much less adjustment to read.

And for a note of irony Gerard Fairlie, the writer who took over the series when his friend H. C. McNeile died, was the model for Bulldog Drummond, an actual commando who at age 50 parachuted into occupied France, between penning Drummond's wartime adventures, and taught the resistance how to kill with their bare hands and or knife and how to blow things up.