Herman Cyril “Sapper” McNeile’s fabulous adventurer Bulldog Drummond was nearly as popular as Sherlock Holmes in the 1920’s, a hit with the Public from the publication of the first novel, BULLDOG DRUMMOND in 1920. Captain Hugh Drummond D. S. O., M.C., late of His Majesty’s Royal Loamshires, along with his loyal friend, Algy Longworth, his wife/fiance’ in the movies Phyllis Benton/Clavering in the movies, and his trusty Butler Denny/Tenny in the movies (they loved to change everything, didn’t they?) fought the Hun, Yellow Perils, Commie Ruskies, Americans, and any other potential racially-slurred group McNeile’s mainly upper-class and essentially xenophobic readership was prone to look down upon.
Almost immediately, Bulldog Drummond found further success in other media, Gerald du Maurier played him on the London Stage in 1921, as did A. E. Matthews on Broadway later that year, Carlyle Blackwell essayed the role in the first film version for W. W. Hodksinson in 1922. The success of Drummond was so much that McNeile, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Engineers who had begun writing war stories during the Great One and had retired from the Military in 1919, switched to adventure/detective stories and turned the one successful Drummond novel into a series, something he had not planned to do when he wrote that first one.
Bulldog Drummond’s popularity continued unabated on both sides of the pond throughout the 1920’s, Jack Buchanan played him in the British Silent film version of Sapper’s third novel, THE THIRD ROUND, in 1925. Captain Drummond’s Hollywood success was sealed in 1929 when Samuel Goldwyn made his and Ronald Colman’s first talkie a still-wonderful film of the stage version of BULLDOG DRUMMOND, the mighty success of which established Colman as an even bigger star in talkies than he had been in silents. Fox tried their hand at a Drummond picture the following year when they snatched up the rights to Sapper’s latest novel, TEMPLE TOWER and filmed it, but Kenneth MacKenna as the Bulldog was no match for Ronald Colman, and though it was a fast-paced and atmospheric little thriller, with lovely Marceline Day as the heroine and Henry B. Walthall as a lively villain, the film was one of Fox’s biggest flops of 1930.
Though McNeile’s novels continued, there were no new Drummond movies until 1934, when Daryl F. Zanuck signed Colman to star in BULLDOG DRUMMOND STRIKES BACK for his new Twentieth Century Productions, a huge hit even better than the Goldwyn original. In England that same year, not-yet Sir Ralph Richardson, just getting his feet wet as a film actor (his first film had been THE GHOUL (1933) with Boris Karloff) starred in THE RETURN OF BULLDOG DRUMMOND for Wardour, which was a sizeable hit in the U.K.. After nearly fifteen years, Bulldog Drummond was still going strong, on film and in print, and would continue to, even after H. C. McNeile’s death in 1937, with a new Bulldog Drummond series made by Paramount starting in 1936, and later a long-running radio series to boot.
Which brings us to BULLDOG JACK, made by Gaumont-British in 1935, it’s obvious modern-day Bulldog Drummond fans voicing their “opinions” on the imdb today are pretty clueless when they wonder why this film was made at all when the “real” Bulldog Drummond only appears at the beginning of the picture. It’s obvious that those fans, including their British counterparts, do not know or remember the star of BULLDOG JACK. Jack Hulbert was a popular English Variety and Revue star of the 20’s and 30’s, married to another Brit Stage Legend Cicely Courtneidge, Hulbert also found himself a major Brit Film Star in the 1930’s after he headlined the first sound version of the perennial stage mystery, THE GHOST TRAIN in 1931, directed by top Brit Film Director and former Silent Screen Comic Walter Forde. A rather odd looking chap, Hulbert was a tall, sturdily built man with a hatchet face and a long, pointed chin that beat out Jay Leno for jaw line parameters, but he was a talented dancer and comedian, and passed himself as leading man in a number of popular 30’s musical comedy features, working both with and without his equally famous wife, a popular stage and screen comedienne herself.
Hulbert and Director Forde collaborated for the third time on BULLDOG JACK, following their second film, JACKS AHOY in 1934. This last of their trio was based on a story idea by Hulbert turned into a screenplay by Gerald Fairlie and a pre-Frank Launder Sidney Gilliat, it’s a rather droll spoof on the whole Bulldog Drummond milieu, with the “real” Drummond (Atholl Fleming) being incapacitated when his sabotaged motorcar crashes and Jack Pennington (Hulbert) is convinced to masquerade as the Captain. With the help of Drummond’s genuine sidekicks Algy (Claude Hulbert) and Denny (Gibb McLaughlin), Bulldog Jack goes to the aid of damsel in distress du jour Fay Wray, whose Grandfather has been kidnapped by master criminal Morelle (still-not-yet Sir Ralph Richardson once again in one of his first truly memorable eccentric film roles).
Claude Hulbert is one of the best Algy Longworths ever put on film (Reginald Denny played Algy in all of the late 30’s Paramount Drummonds, and though his performances are fine, his character has been dumbed and slapsticked down to a Nigel Bruce/Dr. Watson level, sadly he never got to play Drummond himself because he would have been perfect for it). Here Hulbert’s Algy is alternately sly and confused by this mid-stream Drummond replacement, and his reactions are frequently priceless. Claude Hulbert was indeed Jack Hulbert’s younger brother, who found his own success as a popular comic supporting player with a dryer, more subdued style that reminds this writer a bit of Alec Guiness.
Fay Wray was in England making films during 1935-36, though she had been a busy leading lady in Hollywood from the last years of silents forward and had gotten a career boost thanks to her playing a romantic lead to a very large monkey in KING KONG (1933), she made the move to the UK in search of better parts, and though she appeared in some very good films like this one, THE CLARIVOYANT (1935) with Claude Rains and WHEN KNIGHTS WERE BOLD (1936) with Jack Buchanan, when she returned to Hollywood in late 1936, Fay found herself relegated to B-Actioners at Columbia and other lesser studios. Her marriage to screenwriter John Monk Saunders ended in 1939, and when she married screenwriter Robert Riskin in 1942, Wray moved with him to New York and gave up her film career for the New York Stage and Radio.
Fay began working again in films and television in the early 50’s, both as an actor and talk-show host in the New York area, and still looking quite good for her age, she worked regularly into the mid-60’s. Widowed by Riskin in 1955, she remarried in 1971 to Dr. Sandy Rothenberg, and again retired for the most part from acting (save for a surprise return in 1980 to play opposite Henry Fonda in the TV movie GIDEONS TRUMPET), but happily basked in her growing popularity among film buffs for her horror movie roles in films like DOCTOR X (1932), MYSTERY OF THE WAX MUSEUM (1933), THE VAMPIRE BAT(1933), and, of course, KING KONG. Living to a very ripe old age, Fay Wray passed away in 2004.
Born Thomas Seymour Woolford in Lambeth, South London on April 21, 1898, Walter Forde was the Son of Music Hall Comedian Tom Seymour, who raised his Son to work the Halls and the Stage as well. After years treading the boards, both Father and Son broke into the Movies in 1920, Dad writing and Son writing, directing and starring in a series of two-reel comedies for Zodiac Films, Son now having changed his name to Walter Forde. These shorts did very well with British audiences over the next several years, good enough for both Father and Son to head for America in 1923. Walter unfortunately had little success in the States, he did star in two Universal Century Comedies (RADIO ROMEO and GOOD DEEDS), but found little other work in Hollywood after that and resorted to becoming a house painter in order to make ends meet. Tom Seymour fared better, becoming a gag man at Hal Roach and elsewhere, and remained in the US after Walter returned to Britain in 1925.
Back in his native land, Forde returned to two-reelers in a series for Producer James B. Sloan that revived his comic persona from the Zodiac days in 1926. These shorts were populsr enough to move Forde into feature production for Nettleford, and his first feature, WAIT AND SEE, was released in 1928. Though this film was a bit derivative of other comics (including an all-too-familiar golf routine that might have made W. C. Fields upset), WAIT AND SEE was a decent hit and was soon followed by WHAT NEXT? (1928) which also did well, but is not known currently to survive.
Forde’s third feature was WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT?, of which it is generally agreed to be the one where he hit his stride as a feature comic. Walter plays a crackpot inventor who also works at a Department Store Toy Counter by day. One of his inventions, a radio-controlled tank, comedy under the scrutiny of a group of spies, or should we say Spione, since it’s Fritz Lang’s film that Forde is obviously spoofing in the Villain’s character, costume and office furniture. WOULD YOU BELIEVE IT? is chocked full of wonderful gag sequences, including a finale that rivals Buster Keaton for mechanical madness.
Forde made one more starring feature, the part-talking YOU’D BE SURPRISED in 1930, but did not seem to be interested in continuing as a Comedy Star in Sound Films. He had already directed a successful silent version of the stage mystery, THE SILENT HOUSE in 1929, and decided to continue behind the camera where he became a very successful director of comedy vehicles for other British Star Comics apart from Jack Hulbert, including Tommy Trinder (THREE COCKEYED SAILORS (1940)), Arthur Askey (CHARLEY’S BIG-HEARTED AUNT (1940), THE GHOST TRAIN (1941)), The Crazy Gang (GASBAGS (1941)), Tommy Handley (IT’S THAT MAN AGAIN (1943), TIME FLIES (1944)), and Sid Field (THE CARDBOARD CAVALIER (1949)). Forde’s success in the Mystery-thriller area also continued with films like ROME EXPRESS (1932), KING OF THE DAMNED (1935), THE GAUNT STRANGER (1938) , THE SECRET FOUR (1939), SALOON BAR (1940), and MAIL TRAIN (1941). Walter Forde retired from the British Film Industry in 1949 as a well-respected filmmaker and craftsman, moving back across the Pond to spend the last thirty-five years of his life in Beverly Hills, California where he died on January 7, 1984.
As a Director, Forde handles BULLDOG JACK beautifully, bringing together both his skills at Comedy and Mystery Thrillers. Much of the film was shot in the then-recently decommissioned Central Line Underground station known as “British Museum” and in fact, in the British Museum as well for the exiting climax, giving the film extra historical value today as well. BULLDOG JACK was a popular picture in Britain, but sadly, in America, under the title ALIAS BULLDOG DRUMMOND, audiences didn’t get it at all, had no idea who Jack Hulbert was, and neither Fay Wray nor Ralph Richardson were considerable enough draws to make it a US success. However, today there should be little doubt that informed Cinephiles here at Cinevent will find it the charming picture that it is, don’t disappoint us.
RICHARD M ROBERTS
This forum is nearly identical to the previous forum. The difference? Discussions about comedy from the SOUND era.
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