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Bulldog Jack (1935)

'I shall be very disappointed if we don't find somebody gagged and bound!'

Captain Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond first appeared in Bulldog Drummond, a 1920 novel by 'Sapper' (Herman Cyril McNeile). McNeile produced follow-up books, and - in collaboration with Gerard Fairlie - plays; on his death, Fairlie continued the series. Carlyle Blackwell was the first movie Drummond in Bulldog Drummond (1922), but Jack Buchanan (Bulldog Drummond's Third Round, 1925) and Ronald Colman (Bulldog Drummond, 1929) modified the hero's screen image: Blackwell was a two-fisted upperclass bruiser like the (fairly unpleasant) book character, but the silent Buchanan and the talkie Colman made him a suave, slick gentleman sleuth, forging the template followed by most subsequent movie Drummonds (who include Kenneth MacKenna, Ray Milland, John Lodge, John Howard, Tom Conway, Walter Pidgeon and Richard Johnson). Sapper's novels are offensive tosh, shot through with racist attitudes which would seem to make Drummond an ideal Mosleyite fascist, but the character had an enormous currency, and the screen adaptations tended to downplay the nastiness.

Oddly, Bulldog Jack is among the best films in the series - though it's a light send-up of their conventions. A vehicle for the big-chinned comedian Jack Hulbert, it has a surprising canonicity - with McNeile and Fairlie both involved in the script, along with Hulbert and Sidney Gilliat - and a decent cameo from the unfortunately-named Atholl Fleming as the adventurer. It opens with Drummond en route to a meeting with a mystery woman (Fay Wray) who has sought his help in a time of rare peril and some typical sneaky conspirators sabotaging his car, whereupon he crashes into Jack Pennington (Hulbert), a cricketer who dreams of adventure, and breaks his arm. With Drummond laid up, Jack takes over and teams up with the hero's usual supporting cast - butler Denny (Gibb McLaughlin) and silly-ass Algy Longworth (Claude Hulbert) - to tackle a good mystery, with Ralph Richardson (who had played the hero in The Return of Bulldog Drummond, 1934) as an Einstein-look criminal mastermind and a cracking finale involving a chase through a disused London Underground tunnel which has afforded the villains access to the British Museum so they can loot a valuable art object.

Some of the comedy is surprisingly subtle - like the stream of visitors to Drummond's flat who disappoint Jack as he eagerly awaits the beautiful damsel in dire peril - and the jovial, stupidly intrepid Jack is an amusing caricature of the books' and the films' daring but often ridiculous hero. Algy, usually the comic relief in Drummond stories, interestingly becomes an exasperated straight man when partnered with a hero who isn't cleverer, luckier or more dignified than he is. The script has some pulp verve (the villain is after The Goddess With a Hundred Hands) and director Walter Forde stages good action and mysterioso sequences; in America, some of the backchat was trimmed and the film was released as Alias Bulldog Drummond, a more-or-less serious adventure.

First published in this form here.

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