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This is a fairly typical 1930's British comedy thriller yarn, only with
a slightly better cast and plot albeit managing on much the same meagre
budget. This makes it only slightly more interesting than the usual
"quota-quickie" of the time, unless you like and love the humour of the
Hulbert brothers and ditto the entire Bulldog Drummond canon like me.
To an Unbeliever there is only Fay Wray to appreciate, unless you're
mesmerised over the size of Jack Hulbert's chin.
To the fan though there is much pithy humour to be had, admittedly sometimes a bit slapstick and even awkward, but generally there's a credible and amusing banter going off between Jack and Claude throughout the film. Claude's best work came later with his collaborations with Will Hay, especially in My Learned Friend, but Jack's film work was simply to fund his stage work - he never made any classics. I suppose that was also the reason Ralph Richardson starred here as a manic baddie. Jack always looked a little lost without his wife Cicely Courtneidge by his side too - utterly faithful to her, in this he didn't even (and looked like he didn't want to) Kiss The Girl!
The climax resolves itself into a chase involving the British Museum and the London Underground, and is generally handled pretty well - although watch out for Jack jumping through the Tube train window!
Have seen this film several times now and generally chuckle/grin/smile most all of the way through. Always enjoy seeing the Underground and the British Museum settings again. Excellent "escapist" antidote to today's generally depressive "gloom and doom" national atmosphere. These days, I feel we need more of this type of film and less of the kind that's too light on dialogue and too heavy on violence and special effects.
Released in the U.S. as 'Alias Bulldog Drummond', Bulldog Jack is just
about the only one of a long series of patriotic Jack Hulbert comedies
to survive the test of time and still be entertaining without being
somewhat alien today.
The past is another country, so they say, and this piece of the past seems to have another London Underground system.
The film is very ably directed by Walter Forde, the former silent comedian who directed Rome Express and three other Hulbert comedies. It has a witty script by J.O.C. Orton, Sidney Gilliat and Gerard Fairlie, worked humorously around the serious 'Sapper' characters created by H.C. McNeile.
There is some gorgeous early film noir photography by Mutz Greenbaum on excellent sets of the British Museum and tunnels and an abandoned station on London's 'Central' Underground Line built at the Gaumont British studios at Shepherd's Bush (which just happened to be on the Central Line).
They changed the names of stations in the film to fictitious ones (though, oddly, later expansion of the real Central Line adopted two of the station names from the film) but there was a genuine closed 'Museum' station (called Bloomsbury in the film) which I can remember seeing the abandoned platforms of while passing from Tottenham Court Road to Holborn on the Central Line back in the '60s. It's not visible now. I've looked.
However, the idea for the film is said to have come from writer J.O.C. Orton noticing the abandoned Brompton Road station on the Piccadilly Line. Still, there are such a lot of abandoned stations in London that it could have been any one of them.
The film is remarkable for an incredibly eccentric performance by Ralph Richardson in the role of the master criminal Morelle, and as being the first of a number of British films that American star Fay Wray appeared in without ever being asked to scream once. In this film she looks simply beautiful - as ever - in some very beautiful clothes not suited at all to adventures in elevator shafts and tunnels. But her clothes never seem to get dirty once which is how it should be.
There is also amusingly able support from Jack Hulbert's brother Claude as bumbling upper-class twit Algy Longworth - a role he seemed born for with his cartoon mouth and flappy ears.
In part we have to thank producer Michael Balcon for the film being so watchable today as he was the only British producer at the time inclined to apply high production values to comedies.
But we must also thank German expatriate Alfred Junge, who had designed for British silent classic Piccadilly, and who would go on to work with Powell and Pressburger on The Canterbury Tale, Colonel Blimp and A Matter of Life and Death (US title: Stairway to Heaven).
His stunning work is really only let down by the occasional use of models which are a little less than convincing but quite acceptable in the spirit of a very silly film which abandons reality fairly early on.
It is perhaps best to see this film in its very crisp Super 8 version, which, at only one hour long, disposes of the tedious, unfunny and dated dialogue scenes at the beginning of the full feature to leap right into the action with an impressive and dangerous accident on The Devil's Bend.
The somewhat aboriginal fight scene in the British Museum is beautifully crafted and well worth seeing, and I am still pondering over how many takes there must have been to get the boomerangs to perform precisely as well as they did.
The film has a very exciting climax on the Central Line (which at the time hadn't extended quite as far west as the film takes it) but I shall not spoil the ending for you by saying any more than that.
Humorous dialog is the big plus for this film, and it's not even so-called
'British humor'. Is this a spoof or not? That's the best
The fast pace combined with the typically weak early 30s British audio quality means you have to listen closely to catch a lot of the humor, but there are also visual slapstick and spoof-like moments too.
Having enjoyed several of the Bulldog movies starring John Howard (and the one Ray Milland entry), this movie was especially enjoyable for its `spin' on the characters and series. Use of the London Underground helps the atmosphere and staging as well as providing some humorous references in the dialog.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Jack Hulbert plays a polo player named Jack Pennington who literally
runs into Bulldog Drummond when Drummond's car is sabotaged to stop
Drummond from helping the young woman (Fay Wray) back in London.
Drummond's arm is broken in the crash and he asks Hulbert to take his
place in order to get the information that will let him help the fair
damsel.Hulbert of course refuses to give up the ruse and soon with the
aid of Algy he's trying to rescue the kidnapped girl and best the
villainous Morelle (Ralph Richardson).
Moving like the wind this is a damn fine little comedy mystery. Hulbert is absolutely hysterical as the Drummond wannabe as he blusters his way in and out of danger. His insanity is absolutely charming.(He would repeat the same sort of nonsense to much the same effect three or so years later in Kate Plus Ten an adaptation of an Edgar Wallace story thats gotten better with each viewing. Fay Wray has never looked more stunning. I'm so used to her in American films which seem now never managed to show her beauty the way that this film does. As Morelle Ralph Richardson is a truly demented evil genius. Its clear he's dangerous, however he's so genuinely smooth that you almost by that he could be a nice guy.
The action is first rate with the climatic underground train sequence rightly held out as a key reason to see the film. One can easily imagine that the final twists and turns had audience members seeing this on a big screen shrieking.
This is a really good film and one wonders why its not currently out on DVD or, apparently, available for TV broadcast in the United States, since its easily one of the better mysteries of this sort.
Yes you really do want to check this film out.
(I don't know if I'd consider it a Bulldog Drummond film, partly because its so humorous, partly because Drummond isn't really in it and partly because its kind of atypical for the films that are real Drummond films. It is but its not. CAn we call it a semi-Drummond film?)
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
** small spoiler **
Bulldog's car is sabotaged and he crashes into another car on his way to a mysterious mission. As it turns out, the driver of the other car is a great fan of Bulldog's work and his lifestyle.
So, while Bulldog is mending in the hospital, the fan agrees to take on Bulldog's work for him. Thus begins an exercise in comedic silliness that only the Brits can do.
It's not hysterically funny. It just has that sort of laid back, gentle, situation type humor that the Brits do better than anyone else.
There is also enough tension and mystery to make all the running about worth while.
I gave it the nine it deserved.
This film, released in the USA as 'Alias Bulldog Drummond', was the seventh Bulldog Drummond film. It was made a few months after 'The Return of Bulldog Drummond', the highly political Mosleyite Drummond film in which Ralph Richardson played Drummond for the only time. In this film, Richardson plays the villain, Morel (or Morelle). Drummond himself is briefly played in this film by Atholl Fleming, who was not very well known and only appeared in eleven films in his entire career. Drummond is injured and confined to hospital near the beginning of this film and asks another man to take his place at a meeting with a mysterious woman and report back to him, and authorises him to impersonate him and pretend to be Drummond himself. This bizarre idea was cooked up by actor Jack Hulbert, who wrote the story, as a vehicle for himself. Hulbert was a popular comedian and tap dancer in British films of the 1930s and as unlikely a man to be in a Bulldog Drummond film as can be imagined, or could be imagined then, for that matter. Hulbert was a strange-looking man with a hatchet face and an enormous pointed chin, rather like Mr. Punch. Despite these unfortunate looks, he dressed, behaved and acted like an irresistible Romeo in many films, including this one. Hulbert cast his younger brother Claude Hulbert in this film as Drummond's sidekick Algy Longworth, and that was very successful, as Claude Hulbert had no difficulty at all in acting like a twit. (Whether he was one I wouldn't know, but many were in those days.) All these men with slicked-down hair and top hats and effete manners grate on the nerves today, but it was ever so fashionable in the 1930s. Fay Wray plays the girl in distress in this film, an undemanding part which she had no trouble in mastering. The butler Tenny is played very boringly by Gibb McLaughlin in this film, where he is called 'Denny', which was a mistake, as all Drumondonians will know. The film was directed very adequately by Walter Forde. It is treated very much as a comedy thriller, with jolly music of a humorous intent laid on too thick, and people colliding on stairs, and that sort of thing. It must not be taken seriously as a Bulldog Drummond thriller, as that was not the intention at all. The chief interest of this film historically is that a lot of it was shot in the recently decommissioned (25 September 1933) Central Line underground station known variously as 'Museum' or 'British Museum', depending on the time one refers to. In the film, the stations' names are changed, so that Holborn becomes 'High Holborn' (the name of the road above), and Museum becomes 'Bloomsbury' (the area in which it lies). Museum Station lay and still lies between Tottenham Court Road Station and Holborn Station, and I have recently suggested to Mayor Boris Johnson its reopening in order to relieve the desperate overcrowding at Holborn Station, which has become intolerable and a danger to the public owing to the intensity of office development in that area and the thousands of extra people who use the station every day. This film made free use of the abandoned Museum Station, and one sees a great deal of it as it was two years after closing, when it was still in what is called in Britain 'pretty good nick', meaning 'pretty great shape' in American dialect. In the story, this abandoned station is linked to the nearby British Museum by a tunnel, through which villains gain access to priceless ancient treasures. The yarn is good, the film is not bad, one can have fun and stare incredulously at Jack Hulbert's chin, and imagine the 'lost underground station' being restored to its former glory.
I was not aware of the character Bulldog Drummond before watching this
movie. This movie seems to be a fun way to make a comedy out his kind
of stories, though. While the set up was a bit weak - Drummond
basically handing over his everything on little more than a whim - it
worked okay within the (silly) movie. For this is a silly comedy. It
does have a crime plot, but it's not that good, and not at all in
focus. It's about Jack Pennington and the goofs he is forced to solve
this crime with. Jack Pennington himself is mostly a comic relief with
a hard to pin-down personality. He does deliver some fun lines, mostly
the dismissive ones between himself and his sidekick. This relationship
is the highlight of the movie - but only certain scenes and situations.
At its worst parts, the movie is dumb gags with sound effects. These
can be good, but in this movie isn't. For instance, I Initially liked
the visual gag of the spiral staircase, but it lasted way too long to.
Jack Hulbert does not impress with his acting, either. It might be that his style was more suited for the his era, as it bear similarities to other comedies of that time. But there's still something with his way of delivering many of the lines that distracted you from the punchline. At times it felt like he was on the verge of breaking into laughter. The other performances in the film did not feel off in this way.
But then again, maybe I am too young for these kind of movies? Or maybe I am not well enough versed in comedies like this to appreciate them? Either way, the movie did not work for me now.
Following the lines of this film, a few years later 20th Century Fox
did a version of The Three Musketeers where the Ritz Brothers take the
place of the real musketeers and tell part of Dumas's story. It's not
one of my favorites. But Alias Bulldog Drummond where the real bulldog
is incapacitated so Jack Hulbert takes his place as Fay Wray goes to
him for help.
Algy who was never much help to Bulldog Drummond in any event is also along for the ride. It doesn't go too good at first, Fay Wray who is seeking help for her father gets kidnapped, Paul Graetz her father who the crooks really want is also kidnapped and Scotland Yard is put out no end.
As it turns out Ralph Richardson in one of his earliest films is the leader of a gang of jewel thieves. They want Graetz to make a duplicate of a valuable necklace to replace the original when they steal it. Richardson and his gang are playing for some very high stakes.
Jack Hulbert and his brother Claude who plays Algy have some nice comic bits in the film. Richardson is quite the suave master crook. There are some nice scenes in the London Underground where Richardson's crew have made their hideaway and there's a great climax involving a train, shades of The Taking Of Pelham 1-2-3.
As for the real Captain Drummond, who cares if it's an ersatz bulldog as long as the job gets done.
Why isn't this movie better known? If you're a fan of comedy and/or
detective drama, this is the perfect movie for you.
Bulldog Drummond breaks his arm in a car accident and can't work, so he enlists the help of the other guy in the collision to stand in for him until he recovers. So begins a hilarious case where "Bulldog Jack" (Jack Hulbert) does his best to behave the way he believes a detective should, only he's pretty dense and makes plenty of stupid decisions with sidekick Algy (Claude Hulbert) including setting a door on fire when they're locked in a small room in order to escape.
The case involves a brunette Fay Wray who provides the eye candy in this stylishly-photographed thriller-comedy. If you get a chance to see it, do! What are you waiting for?
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