Bulldog Drummond Escapes (1937)
Starring: Ray Milland, Heather Angel, E.E. Clive, Guy Standing, Reginald Denny, Porter Hall, Fay Holden, and Walter Kingsford
Director: James Hogan
Rating: Six of Ten Stars
As "Bulldog Drummond Escapes" opens, daredevil adventurer Captain Hugh Drummond (Milland) is returning from an extended trip abroad. Over the objections of airport officials, he lands his private plane in thick fog before jumping into his sports car and speeding off to his country estate. Along the way, he comes across Phyllis Clavering (Angel), and before the night is out, he has to decide if she's a damsel in distress, or a mentally unstable woman, as her sinister wards (Hall and Holden) would have him believe. Before this most unexpected adventure is over, Drummond finds himself not only captured by a ring of spies, but finds himself heads-over-heels in love with Calvering. But will either of them live long enough to make good on the promise of romance?
"Bulldog Drummond Escapes" spends its first few minutes introducing the viewers to the main character and the supporting cast, and then proceeds to present a story that is not only engaging, but which features subplots that will continue to develop over the next five sequels, such as Algy's relationship with his wife and his struggle to balance a life of adventure with his friends Drummond and Tenny with that of a responsible husband and father; Colonel Nielsen's ongoing attempts to force Drummond to just behave like a normal citizen and stop sticking his nose in government business; and Drummond and Clavering's marriage plans that are forever interrupted by various bad guys and disasters.
Despite the fact that the first "Bulldog Drummond" films appeared in the 1920s, you would be well served to ignore those and just start your viewing with "Bulldog Drummond Escapes" and the other Paramount-produced films that follow it, particularly if "Bulldog Drummond at Bay" is any indication of the quality of the films that came before the Paramount series.
What makes this film, and its sequels, so much fun is the interplay between the characters and the snappy dialogue. The relationship between Tenny and Drummond is particularly fun.
Cast-wise, everyone does a fantastic job. Milland is adequate as Drummond, but he is greatly bolstered by excellent performances from E.E. Clive (as the ever-unflappable manservant Tenny) and Reginald Denny (as the ever-stressed and freaked-out Algy, who is trying to help Drummond out of his latest jam while supporting his wife as she gives birth to their first child). Heather Angel's character of Phyllis Clavering is something of a non-entity in this film, but she does as good a job as can be expected with the part... and she's as cute as ever.
With its fast-paced, well-constructed script and solid characterizations of a likeable group of people who are joined together by a sense of adventure, fun, and mutual respect, "Bulldog Drummond Escapes" is a good start to an excellent series of films.