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Thursday, 4 January 2007

Bulldog Drummond's Secret Police (1939)

This sprightly slice of complete hokum sums up exactly what I love about the pulp detective film genre of the thirties and forties. It's complete nonsense, of course, but it tells its formula story with such a joie de vivre that it's impossible not to enjoy it. This is my fourth Bulldog Drummond movie, all of which were based on the long running series of books by Sapper, and I think this is my favourite so far. It has to do with Drummond moving into the main house of his large estate just as people discover that there's a large amount of treasure hidden away inside the secret passages, a treasure that people are willing to kill for.

The rest of it fits the formula to a tee and that formula is a good one. Captain Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond is always about to marry his long suffering fiancee, Phyllis Clavering, but as the date approaches so inevitably does something else to cause yet another postponement. That something is invariably adventurous, dynamic, dashing, insert your favourite movie adjective here, and Drummond can't help but get involved. Many of the cast stayed remarkably consistent, at least as far as I've seen so far. Ray Milland played Drummond once, but John Howard has taken the role every other time. He's a good choice, being at once lively yet traditional and dynamic yet grounded.

The rest of the cast are as good if not even better. Heather Angel portrays his fiancee as very feminine yet somewhat capable in a tight spot for thirties movies. His idiot friend Algy, who is usually getting himself into trouble through sheer ineptitude, is played by Reginald Denny, who does it so well that we get quickly tired of his character while enjoying the way he's played. There's also the excellent E E Clive as Tenny, Drummond's 'gentleman's gentleman', always there to back him up in whatever he's doing, and H B Warner as Colonel Nielson of Scotland Yard.

I'm noticing Warner more and more lately and it's becoming very obvious that he was a wonderful actor. I've seen his legendary turn as Jesus Christ in Cecil B De Mille's silent King of Kings and firmly believe it to be the best take on the role I've seen yet. I didn't notice him the next few times out because he tended to play distinguished character parts that didn't get a lot of screen time, but recently I've enjoyed him immensely as Mr Gower, the drugstore owner who becomes a bum in the alternate Bedford Falls in It's a Wonderful Life; as the stubborn and righteous bishop in the wartime American propaganda movie, Hitler's Children; and as Chen Tsu, almost the only decent thing about The Adventures of Marco Polo. He doesn't get a huge amount to do in the Bulldog Drummond movies bu he's certainly a welcome addition.

Now for the other two Bulldog Drummonds in the Treeline Mystery Classics box set and I can go out and look to see how many others were made.

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