Friday, July 2, 2010

Drummond takes on spies in Africa

Bulldog Drummond in Africa (1938)
Starring: John Howard, E.E Clive, J. Carroll Naish, Heather Angel, Reginald Denny, and H.B. Warner
Director: Louis King
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Despite some extreme measures that adventurer Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond (Howard) and his friends take to stop him from being drawn into yet another adventure that will ruin the plans for his wedding, Fate once again intervenes. When his fiance, Phyllis Clavering (Angel), witnesses the kidnapping of Scotland Yard's Colonel Nielsen (Warner) by notorious freelance spy Richard Lane (Naish), Drummond and the gang persue the bad guys all the way to Morocco to rescue him.


"Bulldog Drummond in Africa" is one of the very best in the series released by Paramount Pictures. It's got some of the best gags (Drummond and Tenny, trapped in Rockingham Lodge without pants and money to keep Drummond from being lured into trouble, doing Scottish dances in improvised kilts to entertain themselves gives even more entertaiment for the viewers), it's got the most suspenseful storyline so far (with everyone being placed in extreme mortal danger during the unfolding story, and Drummond and the entire gang having one of their most narrow escapes ever). From its opening scene to the final fade-out, the film moves along at lightning pace, never letting off on the banter, action, or antics.

On the acting front, Howard, Clive, and Denny return as the characters they've played in previous films, and they do their usual excellent jobs. Denny's character of Algy Longworth (the undisputed champion in the Upperclass Twit Olympics) has a little more to do in this film, and viewers who might have started to wonder why Drummond tolerates him, can start to understand why.

Also, Heather Angel and J. Carroll Naish return to the series with this episode, Angel resumes the role of Phyllis Clavering (which she played in "Bulldog Drummond's Escape"), while Naish appears as a different bad guy than he played previously. Both are excellent in their parts, with Angel delivering a more energetic Clavering than Louise Campbell did in the intervening three films. (Campbell did a good job, but I prefer Angel's Phyllis.) Naish, meanwhile, is playing a far more interesting, competent, and evil villian than the one he portrayed in "Bulldog Drummond Comes Back". He has some nice lines, and the always jovial demeanor of Richard Lane, who is a murderous sociopath, makes for a bad guy who is fun to watch, particularly in interplay with new series regular H.B. Warner, who takes over the role of Colonel Nielsen from John Barrymore.

With Warner joining the cast, Nielsen returns to the sort of character he was in the first couple of films. It's hard to say whether Nielsen was badly written in "Bulldog Drummond's Peril", but here the character is back in form, and the calm, upper-lip-so-stiff-it-must-be-made-of-bone fashion he deals with Lang and his spy collegues makes it clear why Nielsen and Drummond are good friends. Nielsen is far more than just a former Army officer and high-level government official--he's every bit the hardcase adventurer as Drummond, and we get to see that in this film, even if he is basically the "damsel in distress."

I recommend this film to fans of 1930s and 1940s pulp fiction tales, adventure films, and even those who enjoy the "Indiana Jones" movies. While this isn't a good point at which to start the series, those who have seen one or more of the earlier films should note that as of the fifth entry, this series is still on an upward quality climb. There are few other movie series that can be said about.





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