This week’s mystery movie was the 1937 Paramount film “Bulldog Drummond Comes Back,” with John Barrymore, John Howard, Louise Campbell, Reginald Denny and E.E. Clive.
Screenplay by Edward T. Lowe, based on “The Female of the Species” by H.C. “Sapper” McNeile.
Photographed by William C. Mellor, musical direction by Boris Morros, art direction by Hans Dreier and Franz Bachelin, edited by James Smith, sound by Harry Mills and Charles Hisserich, interior decorations by A.E. Freudeman.
Directed by Louis King. According to the AFI Catalog, the producer was Stuart Walker.
“Bulldog Drummond Comes Back” is available on DVD from TCM.
If you’re wondering why I picked such a dismal film, “Bulldog Drummond Comes Back” was chosen entirely by random number. Almost everything is wrong with it; it packs an astonishing amount of badness into its modest 64 minutes. It’s an atrocious print (apologies). John Barrymore, who receives top billing, serves no discernible purpose in the plot except to get in and out of disguises. Speaking of the plot, this is a mystery that requires every character to behave like an utter idiot. Bulldog Drummond projects seem to have bounced from studio to studio. Ronald Colman did one for the Samuel Goldwyn Co. in 1929 and another for Twentieth Century pictures in 1934. Jack Buchanan (yes, the Jack Buchanan from “The Band Wagon”) did a turn as Drummond in 1925 in a British version. Whether any of them are better than this is an open question since I probably won’t be exploring the Bulldog Drummond canon. As Paramount’s answer to Fox’s Charlie Chan films, this is a complete dud.
Reminder: I am always open to suggestions for mystery films, but dependent on what’s in the Daily Mirror vault.
Independent Exhibitors Film Bulletin (Sept. 11, 1937) raved: Weak hodge-podge attempt at thrills … second-rate dualler at best.
If this is a sample of the story material Paramount intends using for future productions built around the Bulldog Drummond character, may we suggest that they call the whole thing off. This incomprehensible yarn fails completely to capture the spirit of adventure that has made the Drummond books and pictures so popular. It may get by as lower berth material for smaller nabes and action spots, but even in that category it must be regarded as cheap, second rate film fare.
… with the exception of E.E. Clive and Reginald Denny, who are burdened with slim comedy, others of the cast give stilted, lifeless performances. Louis King’s direction shows haste and confusion.
Writing in the New York Times (Sept. 4, 1937), TMP said:
“Bulldog Drummond Comes Back” is unique for the simple reason that it is the first of the series in which the redoubtable Drummond is made subservient to Scotland Yard’s Colonel Neilson even in the cast billing. That, however, is probably just a natural consequence with a rookie like John Howard in the name role while the Inspector is John Barrymore. This is a minor point, though, since the picture is the pleasantest the Criterion has had in several weeks.
The current episode is, however, not the best Bulldog Drummond. The screenplay struck off by Edward T. Lowe from Sapper McNeile’s “The Female of the Species” has a wood pulp flavor and lacks character motivation.
John Barrymore, a tongue-in-cheek Colonel Neilson, enjoys himself immensely, demonstrating his versatility in disguise by emerging alternately as a grizzled sailor and a down at the heels hanger on in a Limehouse pub. E.E. Clive is always in character as Tenny, but John Howard’s Captain Drummond is more juvenile lead than astute detective. Ronald Colman still is our favorite Bulldog. Louise Campbell, a newcomer, is a charming Phyllis, a part that makes few demands of her.
For Monday, we have the friendly folks at a pleasant little pub.
Update: This is Forrester Harvey and Phyllis Barry.
Then again, the pub seems to draw some unsavory characters. The authorities do not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is John Rogers.
For Tuesday, we have a mysterious femme fatale. Nobody would approve of her goings-on.
Update: This is Helen Freeman.
We also have this mysterious mystery gent. (Apologies for the poor quality of the screen cap – the print is a murky dupe).
Update: This is John Barrymore in one of his disguises.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (mystery movie and all mystery guests) and Thom and Megan (Monday’s mysterious unsavory character).
For Wednesday, we have a mysterious butler, and being a Hollywood butler, he injects humor into the plot. And no, he most certainly does not approve of such goings-on.
Update: This is funny butler E.E. Clive.
Brain Trust roll call: Howard Mandelbaum (Tuesday’s mystery woman and mysterious mystery gent) and Thom and Megan (Monday’s mysterious barman).
For “Aha Thursday,” we have a mystery villain in very thick glasses.
Update: This is J. Carrol Naish.
And Wednesday’s mysterious “funny butler” is in civilian clothes. With a mystery companion.
Update: This is Reginald Denny and E.E. Clive.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (mystery movie and all mystery guests except Monday’s scarf man), Howard Mandelbaum (Wednesday’s mysterious funny butler), Sheila (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Jenny M. (Wednesday’s mysterious funny butler) and Thom and Megan (mystery movie and Wednesday’s mysterious funny butler).
For Friday, we have our mysterious leading man …
Update: This is John Howard.
… also our mysterious leading lady …
Update: This is Louise Campbell.
And finally, the mystery guest who gets top billing even though he is not the leading man and spends most of the film putting on various disguises for no apparent reason.
Update: This is Barrymore putting on yet another disguise.
Brain Trust roll call: Mary Mallory (Thursday’s mystery guests), Tucson Barbara (mystery movie and all mystery guests), Floyd Thursby (mystery movie, Tuesday’s mysterious mystery gent and Thursday’s mystery guest No. 2), Howard Mandelbaum (Thursday’s mystery guests) and Dan Nather (Wednesday’s mysterious funny butler).
Mary Mallory: He’s in the mystery movie but in another role.