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Algy, Bulldog Drummond's right-hand-man, is getting married. Bulldog attends; on the way home, in the fog, he enters the (apparently deserted) mansion of Prince Achmed in search of a phone. He finds none, but he does find a body - which disappears when he summons a bobby. Bodies keep disappearing as Drummond keeps summoning the authorities, particularly his long-suffering upstairs neighbor, Captain Nielsen; the ever faithful Algy also finds his wedding night disrupted by, among other things, some emergency code-breaking. And of course, there's a beautiful woman there's always a beautiful woman in this case, Gwen, who turns out to be the daughter of the dead man who started all this. Written by
Jon Reeves <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Bulldog Drummond was sort of the James Bond of the 1930s (not least because in both cases, a rather thuggish and brutal book character was made more gentlemanly and dashing on screen). Ronald Colman had a huge success with 1929's Bulldog Drummond, which is fairly creaky as a film but unquestionably showed him off as one of the first actors to understand acting for talkies, and remains watchable today because of his relaxed and charming presence.
Where it took three or four increasingly over-the-top Bond films before the spoofs started coming, two of the next three Drummond films (all made in 1934) were at least semi-tongue-in-cheek-- sort of like if Casino Royale and In Like Flint had followed immediately after Dr. No. While the British Return of Bulldog Drummond (with Ralph Richardson as the only screen Drummond apparently as racist and violent as the original) was serious, Bulldog Jack starred the rather dire comic Jack Hulbert as a nebbish ineptly posing as Drummond (with Richardson again, phoning in a performance as a shaggy-haired villain). And then there's this sort-of sequel to the 1929 Colman film ("sort of" because apart from Colman it's a completely different cast, crew and even studio), which is ostensibly a straight thriller, and quite suspenseful in parts-- yet has a self-mocking, absurdist edge far beyond anything in the 1929 film.
Under the fast-paced direction of Warner Bros. veteran Roy Del Ruth, there's a definite screwball influence here, with bodies disappearing and reappearing and Colman reacting to it all with a kind of bemused unflappability that goes well beyond even Powell and Loy's approach to detective work in The Thin Man. For a 1930s film it's startlingly self-referential and conscious of being a movie-- Colman declines a ride because he says it fits his image better to be seen disappearing into the fog, and at one point he flat out predicts that this is just the moment when a beautiful woman in distress should appear at the door, which of course she does. You half expect Basil Exposition's father to turn up and help him advance the plot.
Warner Oland makes a nicely exasperated villain, part straight man and part genuine menace, and though Charles Butterworth's exceedingly dim Algy is a bit tiresome (when Algy turns out to be a ex-wartime cryptographer, you're startled to discover he can even read), it's a genuine delight to see C. Aubrey Smith playing a real character and not Stock Crusty Old Gent #1.
Now then, if this is so good, why haven't you ever seen it? Unfortunately, 20th Century (not Fox yet) only owned the rights to the story it's based on for a certain period, so though they still own the film itself, they no longer have the legal right to exhibit it in the US. So it's never been released to TV here (although for some reason they have shown it on TV in Britain, and passable copies reportedly circulate in this country duped from British TV broadcasts). Fox ought to look past the constant repackaging of its ten most famous movies, write a small check to the McNeile estate for permanent rights and then make a big ballyhoo about the rediscovery and video release of a lost classic from the golden age of Hollywood.
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