Tuesday, September 22, 2009

At the (old) movies: 'Bulldog Drummond'

Some notes from the local cinephile society’s latest presentation….

“Bulldog Drummond” (Samuel Goldwyn, 1929) was Ronald Colman’s first talking picture, and he’s the main reason for seeing it – right out of the box, he’s the same handsome, debonair guy that we’re used to seeing, casual and not stilted, unlike some of the folks who share the screen with him. (Or like Cary Grant in his early appearances.)

No doubt about it: For years, if you had derring that needed doing, Colman was the man who'd get it done.

His co-star in this film is Joan Bennett, who was still a teenager and looks it; in the early scenes, she seems positively prepubescent.

Colman plays Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond, who, bored after World War I (and apparently too impatient to wait around for World War II), takes out a want ad seeking excitement. He winds up rescuing a rich guy from kidnappers.

Yep, that’s the plot, pretty much. But unlike some other early talkies, “Bulldog Drummond” has much to recommend it. It’s less stagy than, say, much of what MGM was doing at the time. The action scenes aren’t bad, considering the era, and director F. Richard Jones isn’t afraid to move the camera.

Two notable co-stars: Claud Allister, who must have gotten a royalty for years whenever anyone used the word “twit,” and Lilyan Tashman, who, as the villainess, does a lot of squinting; if only her character had used her talents for good – or at least seen a decent optometrist.

Colman made a sequel, “Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back,” a few years later. I’d very much like to see it – the cast includes Loretta Young, and it’s supposed to be quite funny. (Nunnally Johnson’s name is on the script, and that’s almost always an indication of first-rate goods.)

Unfortunately, because of the kind of copyright quagmire that Hollywood seems to specialize in (the Marx Brothers’ “Animal Crackers,” which was unseen for many years, comes to mind), “Bulldog Drummond Strikes Back” cannot legally be shown in the United States.

If only we could put Colman on the case – and tell him to keep his eyes peeled for a shady, sexy copyright lawyer who squints a lot....

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