Before James Bond There Was Bulldog Drummond

Bulldog Drummond - Ray Milland & Heather Angel hide - Altered

Herman Cyril “H.C.” McNeile was a British soldier and author. While fighting in the trenches during the First World War, McNeile began drawing on his experiences to write short stories for the Daily Mail. Serving officers in the British Army were not allowed to use their own names to publish so McNeil was given the pen name “Sapper”. After World War I ended, McNeile switched to writing thrillers. He had several main characters that he wrote novels and stories about but, by far, his most popular character was Bulldog Drummond. McNeile based Bulldog Drummond on himself and his friend Gerard Fairlie. Drummond is a “brutalized by his experiences in the trenches and bored by his post-war lifestyle”. Drummond puts an advertisement in the paper and soon embarks on all kinds of adventures.

NPG x22859; (Herman) Cyril McNeile by Howard Coster

H.C. McNeile published the first Drummond book, Bull-Dog Drummond by Sapper, in 1920. The next year that book was adapted and staged in London and starred McNeile’s friend Gerard Fairlie. The novel was adapted again and produced as a 1922 silent film. Altogether, McNeile wrote ten Bulldog Drummond novels and several short stories. His stories were so popular that during the 1920’s McNeile was the “highest-paid short story writer in the world”. Sadly, McNeile’s career was cut short by throat cancer, which may have been caused by gas attacks he survived during World War I. He died on August 14, 1937. But while H.C. McNeile died, his most popular creation, Bulldog Drummond, lived on. McNeile’s good friend, Gerard Fairlie, wrote seven more Drummond books between 1938 and 1954. Two more books were written in the late 1960’s by Henry Reymond. And Bulldog Drummond’s popularity positively exploded on the silver screen with a total of 24 films starring fourteen different leading men. There was also a radio series that ran from 1941 to 1949 and even a thirty minute television episode in 1956. Bulldog Drummond also helped give birth to later literary and film adventurers, especially James Bond. Bond author Ian Fleming once stated that James Bond was “Sapper from the waist up”.

Bulldog Drummond - Clinch

Bulldog Drummond Escapes is the eighth Drummond film. It was based on the play, Bulldog Drummond Again, written by McNeile and Fairlie. It was released on January 22, 1937, just seven short months before H.C. McNeile died. Captain Hugh Drummond aka Bulldog, makes a dramatic return to England and almost immediately gets embroiled in a mystery when he nearly runs over a young woman on a dark road at night. As Drummond rushes to check on the unconscious young lady, he is distracted by shouts for help and gun shoots. While his back is turned, the woman jumps up and drives off in his car. Naturally, Drummond is intrigued and enamored and determined to find his mystery lady again. But the lady, Phyllis Clavering, is endangered by a scheming gang and Drummond may have bitten off more than he can chew.

Bulldog Drummond Escapes, while the eighth Drummond film, was the first made by Paramount under a ten year contract signed with H.C. McNeile. Although McNeile died soon after, Paramount went on to make make nine total films. Ray Milland played Drummond in Bulldog Drummond Escapes. John Howard played him in the other Paramount Drummond films. Despite their popularity, Paramount never really valued the films. Paramount dumped them in 1954 when they sold the films to another company for re-release and then simply never bothered to renew the copyrights and the films fell into the Public Domain.

Bulldog Drummond - Knockouts

Ray Milland seems to have fun playing Bulldog Drummond. He plays him as “impish but suave, adventurous but refined” and with a wild roguish smile that lights up his face whenever he thinks of going off on adventures or of his mystery lady, Phyllis. Phyllis Clavering is played by Heather Angel. Phyllis is a lovely damsel with a spine of steel. She gets rescued by Drummond and rescues him in return by bashing bad guys over the head. Heather Angel played Phyllis in five of the Paramount Bulldog Drummond films. Film fans who like Heather’s style can also see her in a comedy I reviewed recently. ( “Driving with a Dead Guy in the Back Seat”) Also along for the fun with Bulldog Drummond are Reginald Denny as Drummond’s best bud, and soon to be new father, Algy Longworth and E.E. Clive as Drummond’s long suffering butler Tenny Tennison (the butler was named “Denny” in earlier films but got a name change to “Tenny” because the film makers wanted to avoid confusion between “Denny” the butler and actor Reginald Denny). Also on board, Guy Standing makes his final film appearance (he died only a month after Bulldog Drummond Escapes was released) as Drummond’s sometime mentor / sometime nemesis Scotland Yard Inspector Colonel Sir Reginald Nielson.

Bulldog Drummond Escapes is a fun and adventurous film. It is short, only 67 minutes long, but the film is filled with Ray Milland’s Drummond trading witticisms with friends and foes alike and sneaking and climbing all over a dark, mysterious mansion. The thing I liked most about Ray Milland is the way he made Bulldog Drummond absolutely light up with glee at the thought of a new adventure. One of his best scenes is an exchange with Colonel Nielson, who is none to happy to have the roguish Drummond around to cut up his peace:

Col. Nielson: “I’m on vacation I tell you and I don’t want it ruined by you!”
Drummond: “But why should I go away when within two hours of my homecoming…”
Col. Nielson: “I knew it! I knew it! Now I suppose you’re going to tell me that you’ve met a girl.”
Drummond: “I have met a girl.”
Col. Nielson: “Oh, yes, yes. And the girl’s in distress I suppose?”
Drummond: “She is in distress.”
Col. Nielson: “Yes, and you are going to rescue her from some bearded villain, eh?”
Drummond: “He is bearded.”

Bulldog Drummond - Villains find Bulldog hiding

Bulldog Drummond Escapes is in black and white and is really beginning to show its age. The version I watched had audio that is clear enough but there is also a lot of staticky noise which is especially noticeable whenever there is no speaking. The video on my version also shows lots of damage: there are spots, scratches, and lines all over the place. I still enjoyed Bulldog Drummond Escapes but the damage left me a bit disappointed; I would have really loved a more pristine film. The Internet Archive has three versions that are FREE to download or watch online. After I had watched my version, I discovered that IA has a version that is much less damaged, with less static, less spots and scratches, a bit darker, and more sharp. Bulldog Drummond Escapes Version #1 is actually a version from Congress Films who bought Paramount’s Bulldog Drummond series for re-release. Version #2 and Version #3 are more damaged but still very enjoyable. IA has eight other Bulldog Drummond films available and I will review some of them in the future. IA also has some of the Bulldog Drummond radio episodes available as well as two books (one in print form and one in audio book form). However, book fans beware! Bulldog Drummond is very much a man of his time (which is the 1920’s and 1930’s) and he “is a bundle of chauvinism, hating Jews, Germans, and most other foreigners”. Academics have labeled the language used in the books “rather distasteful” and it may be very disturbing to some modern readers. On the other hand, the movies I have watched so far, including Bulldog Drummond Escapes, have avoided that problem. I have not yet listened to any of the radio shows.

Of course, the best thing about Bulldog Drummond Escapes is that it is in the Public Domain and available at Internet Archive to watch online or download FREE!
Just click the links and enjoy:
Bulldog Drummond Escapes Version #1 (best version but I was unable to download it).
Version #2.
Version #3.
Search IA for Bulldog Drummond films, radio episodes, and books.
Search LibreVox for books by H.C. McNeile aka Sapper.
Search Project Gutenberg for books by H.C. McNeile.

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