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Bulldog Drummond Escapes(1937)

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teaser Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937)

In this nicely crafted B-movie, Ray Milland became the eighth actor to play British adventurer Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond. The character first appeared as a policeman in a short story by H.C. McNeile for The Strand Magazine. McNeile, using the pseudonym Sapper, reworked the character into a roguish gentleman adventurer for the 1920 novel Bulldog Drummond. The character made his movie debut two years later in a British production of McNeile's novel; he made his Hollywood debut in the 1929 film Bulldog Drummond, starring Ronald Colman. McNeile eventually published ten Drummond novels, four short stories, four plays, and one screenplay. He died in 1937, the year Bulldog Drummond Escapes was released. The Drummond stories were continued by his friend Gerard Fairlie, who is credited alongside McNeile for the play that inspired this entry in the series. Film adaptations based on the character of Bulldog Drummond spanned five decades and several studios.

The character Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond is a decorated veteran of WWI, who grows bored with his postwar lifestyle. He offers himself as an adventurer or detective for hire, because his heroic exploits during the war prepared him to detect crimes and foil spies. In addition, his natural charm helps him romance women and exchange witticisms with his man servant Tenny and pal Algy Longworth. Drummond epitomizes the English rogue--impish but suave, adventurous but refined. Before James Bond, there was Bulldog Drummond.

In Bulldog Drummond Escapes, the good captain has just returned to England. While driving along a foggy road to his estate, Rockingham Lodge, he barely misses Phyllis Clavering when she jumps in front of his car. As he tries to revive her, he hears shouts in the distance, followed by gunshots. He leaves the road to investigate, prompting Phyllis to drive away in his car. He tracks her down to nearby Greystone Manor, where her guardian Norman Merridew assures Drummond that he is taking good care of Phyllis. The captain is unconvinced, however. He believes there is something sinister afoot at Greystone Manor, and his suspicions are born out when Phyllis slips him a note begging him to help her.

Like the seven actors who played the character previously, Milland boasted a debonair persona, polished accent, and smooth charm, which made him a good fit for the character. The Welsh actor began his career in England where a role in The Flying Scotsman landed him a contract with MGM. Relocating to America, Milland paid his dues playing second leads for MGM. In 1934, Paramount signed him to a long-term contract at the urging of Carole Lombard who had costarred alongside him in Bolero and We're Not Dressing. The studio was still constructing Milland's image and building his career when he was assigned to Bulldog Drummond Escapes; shortly after, he was cast in the lead opposite Jean Arthur in Easy Living. Written by Preston Sturges, this screwball comedy elevated Milland to stardom. Whether it was because of his new stardom or whether the studio decided Milland was better used in high-profile films, the actor did not reprise his role as Bulldog Drummond. However, Paramount continued with the Bulldog Drummond series, producing seven more films over the next two years. They replaced Milland with John Howard.

The appeal of a film series--any series--is not the plotlines but the characters. Viewer satisfaction is dependent on seeing Bulldog Drummond repeatedly outwit an antagonist, chase down a criminal, or thwart a spy ring. Likewise, audiences expect Drummond to interact in certain ways with familiar costars and cohorts. In that regard, the cast of character actors in supporting roles add texture and substance to the cookie-cutter plots. Drummond's valet, Tenny, is a man of few words, and those words are usually wry and pointed. Just after meeting Phyllis Clavering, Drummond has a witty exchange with Tenny, played by E.E. Clive, who milks his lines by enunciating every syllable. After Drummond explains that he almost ran Phyllis off the road and now he must find her, Tenny asks, "Does it portend, sir?" subtly referring to the inevitable romance that follows such an encounter.

Drummond is forever tangling with the by-the-book Inspector Colonel Reginald Nielson, played in this film by Sir Guy Standing. Drummond coolly provokes the tightly wound Colonel, who huffs and puffs in response. Drummond surrounds himself with his old war buddies, particularly Algy Longworth (identified erroneously as Algy Langworth in the film's credits), portrayed by Reginald Denny. Algy is about to become a father when the film opens, and Bulldog has promised to stay at the hospital to keep his nervous pal company as he awaits the birth. But, the call of adventure is too great, and Drummond soon leaves for Rockingham Lodge. Later, when Bulldog bites off more than he can chew, Algy leaves the hospital to rescue his friend from a sticky situation. Drummond's thirst for adventure often leads Algy astray.

While Milland starred in only one entry in Paramount's Bulldog Drummond series, several of his costars stayed on. Denny and Clive appear in all eight of the Paramount films, while Heather Angel, who played Phyllis Clavering, costarred in five. Sadly, Bulldog Drummond Escapes turned out to be Standing's last film; the 63-year-old actor died a month after release. John Barrymore stepped in to play Nielson in three films, matching wits with Milland's replacement, John Howard.

Production values can make or break low-budget films that are part of series. Director James Hogan was experienced in directing b-movie series, including the Ellery Queen films in addition to the Bulldog Drummond titles. Hogan, cinematographer Victor Milner, and art director Earl Hedrick (under legendary production designer Hans Dreier) created an effective atmosphere of mystery and suspense by relying solely on lighting effects and set design.

With Milland in the starring role, a cast of experienced character actors, and respectable production values, Bulldog Drummond Escapes is a worthy addition to the series.

Producer: William Le Baron, with Stuart Walker
Director: James Hogan
Screenplay: Edward T. Lowe, based on a play by H.C. McNeile and Gerard Fairlie
Cinematography: Victor Milner
Editor: William Shea
Art Direction: Earl Hedrick, Hans Dreier
Costumes: Travis Banton
Music: Boris Morros
Cast: Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond (Ray Milland), Madge Perry (Heather Angel), Todd Harrington (Reginald Denny), Janet (E.E. Clive), Colonel Whitcomb (Sir Guy Standing), Police Officer Pat O'Reilly (Fay Holden), Mr. Becker, the gambler (Walter Kingsford), Jim, aka Slug (Patrick Kelly ), Sister Margaret (Charles McNaughton), Sister Patricia (Clyde Cook), Mother Superior (Frank Elliott), Gower (David Clyde), Nurse (Doris Lloyd), Drunk (Zeffie Tilbury), Blodgson (Barry Macollum), Dixon (Colin Tapley), Reporter (Ernie Stanton), Reporter (Pat Somerset), Woolsey (Robert Adair), Attendant (Bobbie Hale), Attendant (Gunnis Davis), Customs Officer (John Power), Bobby (Henry Mowbray).

by Susan Doll

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