It's hard to sit through early talkies made in 1929, even if they've been archivally restored until they're as glistening as the day they were released. There are, of course, exceptions: Alfred Hitchcock's "Blackmail," F. Richard Jones' "Bulldog Drummond" ... ahm....ahm...ahm...and I'm thinking it over! Well, definitely "Blackmail" & "Bulldog Drummond," anyway. "Blackmail" also exists as a breezy silent film, but the charm of "Bulldog Drummond"is to hear, for the very first time, the beautiful voice of Ronald Colman, then 38, in the title role.
Independent producer Samuel Goldwyn may not have been the first to crack the new market, but he was far and away the classiest. Captain Hugh Drummond is bored out of his skull, so he takes out a London Times advertisement, announcing that he's ready for adventure. Phyllis Benton (Joan Bennett, then nineteen) asks him to rescue her uncle (Charles Sellon as Hiram J. Travers) from the clutches of the villainous Dr. Lakington (Lawrence Grant). Drummond & his loyal buddy Algy Longworth (Claude Allister) are on the job! Unlike many creaky vehicles of this transitional era, "Bulldog Drummond" moves at a breathless clip & there's even time for a 75-year-old gag about halitosis, drolly communicated to one of the bad guys by Bulldog: "Even your best friends won't tell you." It's also a treat to see Lilyan Tashman as the nasty femme fatale Erma. Tashman was one of Hollywood's best-dressed blondes until her early death in 1934.
Everything about the production is fresh & funny & audiences clamored to pay the $2 (pre-Depression) admission fee. Colman worked 18 hour days to earn his first Oscar nomination for this one, although he finally demanded a less exhausting schedule. He made 26 more films over the next 28 years & finally won an Oscar on his third try for 1947's "A Double Life." And Bennett, less alluring as a blonde than as the bottle brunette she would become in 1938, still had a sense of her own worth by refusing to make a screen test. (She was still working 75 films later, well into her seventies.) Based on the novel by Herman Cyril "Sapper" McNeile & the play by McNeile & Gerald DuMaurier.
© 2007 - Monica Sullivan - Air Date: 7/4/07
Bulldog Drummond (1929)
USA - 1929