First a bit of background:
Bulldog Drummond is a British fictional character, created by H. C. McNeile and published under his pen name “Sapper”. After an unsuccessful one-off appearance as a policeman in The Strand Magazine, the character was reworked by McNeile into a gentleman adventurer for his 1920 novel Bulldog Drummond. McNeile went on to write ten Drummond novels, four short stories, four stage plays and a screenplay before his death in 1937. The stories were continued by his friend Gerard Fairlie between 1938 and 1954; further books were published in the 1960s and one in 1983.
Images are screen shots from TCM. Technical details are from Wikipedia. I previously reviewed Bulldog Drummond’s Peril.
The theme alludes to a series of “Bulldog” movies, and that is the case. I count 23 film titles, most including “Bulldog” Drummond, in the listing of Bulldog Drummond films on Wikipedia. The first is from 1922, and the last was 1969. That is quite a span. I have one other “Bulldog” Drummond on DVD, and I will entertain you with it in a future posting.
I have only seen two of the movies, but each seems to feature Bulldog Drummond about to get married to the lovely Phyllis Clavering (Louise Campbell). Here we see the sex-on-a-stick arriving at Captain Drummond’s abode, removing her expensive coat to reveal more of her slinky body. Drummond’s butler, Tenny (E.E. Clive), is about to take the coat as Drummond (John Howard) looks on. Things go downhill from here.
Drummond’s friend Algy Longworth (Reginald Denny) phones. He has had an incident on the road. Somebody has spread tacks. Can Drummond come to his assistance? In walks the villainous Mikhail Valdin (J. Carrol Naish). Yes, he knows about the tacks. Yes, it was his own doing. Will Mr. Longworth please come with Mr. Valdin? No options are offered.
Immediately after Drummond leaves his butler and his lovely fiancée alone in the apartment, a mysterious and striking woman appears at the door. Is this the Drummond residence. Yes? Then please get my bags. When Tenny steps outside in the dark everything goes dark for him. The woman is Irena Soldanis (Helen Freeman). She is the sister of Mr. Valdin. Her husband has died just a year before. He died at the hands of the executioner for undisclosed crimes. Captain Drummond was behind her husband’s downfall. Some retribution is in order. And that’s what the movie is all about.
Colonel Neilson (John Barrymore) of Scotland yard arrives at Drummond’s apartment shortly after Drummond returns to find everybody gone. The butler enters the door from outside, recovering from a blow to the head. Drummond receives a riddle, the solution to which directs him to the first stage of an all-night chase to rescue sweet Phyllis. He advises Colonel Neilson not to intervene. The killers have promised to do away with Phyllis if police get involved. Drummond sets off.
Does Colonel Neilson follow Drummond’s advice? He does not. We next see him disguising himself as a down-market fisherman. His assistant, Sanger (John Sutton) assists.
The remainder of the plot involves a cat and mouse game played by Valdin and Soldanis against Drummond. He is alternately taken prisoner and allowed to go free, all the while provided with additional clues to follow and continue the chase. The chase culminates with Drummond, Phyllis, and Longworth imprisoned in a locked room with leaking gas slowly seeping in and a timer set to ignite the gas. The villains make their escape by car, but are chased by Neilson and associates. Tenny arrives to shoot the hinge pins off the door just in time for all to escape as the place explodes in flames. Neilson arrives with his prisoners in tow, just in time for them to witness the failure of their elaborate scheme.
And that’s the sum of the story. Nobody gets killed. Nobody screws. No naked breasts. Just an Agatha Christie plot with more action. None of the roles require front-line acting. Barrymore is, of course, the real star. A 21st century director might have brought audiences to the edge of their seats, but Louis King either chose not to or was unable.
The movie is based on McNeile’s The Female of the Species, alluding to the deadly Irena Soldanis, and not to the smashing Phyllis Clavering. Rudyard Kipling previously made the phrase popular.