An English gentleman's club should be a place of quiet sanctuary from the outside world, so if a servant noisily drops a teaspoon it's a matter of great upset. For Captain Hugh Drummond (Ronald Colman), known as Bulldog, it's about time, as he craves a more interesting life since he has been demobbed from the British military that he is simply not getting by accompanying his good friend Algy (Claud Allister) to his club. Therefore he makes up his mind: if adventure will not come to him, then he will go to adventure, and he places an advertisement in the next day's copy of The Times, inviting anyone who needs him to ask for his help. He receives plenty of replies, but one really catches his eye...
Bulldog Drummond was one of the most popular characters in British pulp fiction of the nineteen-twenties, and his creator Sapper (the nom de plume of Herman C. McNeile) churned out a number of stories featuring him to supply the huge demand. As a hero, Drummond could look from a different angle like a villain, a shamelessly violent thug who detested anything remotely left wing and embraced the tenets of the fascist movement that was troubling the world in this decade. But his legions of fans preferred not to look into that side of him too closely, simply enjoying the sort of protagonist who truly relished killing anyone who might stand in his way.
If you're thinking, hmm, sounds vaguely James Bond, it was apparent that Ian Fleming had read and appreciated Drummond's tales in his younger days, but while the Bulldog was an upper-class bully boy, Bond was more nuanced than that. However, when he came to the screen in the twenties, a couple of silents were all Sapper's creation got to his name until the introduction of sound, when Ronald Colman, a matinee idol, sought a character to play that would show off his better qualities and almost as importantly, give him a forceful personality rather than the two-dimensional romantic leads he had made his fame with, and Drummond looked perfect. And so he was.
If Colman is recalled now, it is for his beautiful, mellifluous speaking voice and perfect diction, every inch the English gentleman and many Americans' idea of the well-presented thespian from across the Pond, so taking on Drummond was in retrospect a very wise move. This film was based on Sapper’s 1921 play, rather than one of his books, so with that in mind it was always going to be a stagebound affair, but Colman did not play it like that, he was dynamic in a way that that suggested the strengths of a really good movie serial. Assisting him was director F. Richard Jones, an influential talent with a wide range who would tragically be dead from tuberculosis a year after this was made; you could tell he and Colman were working well together and energised by the possibilities of sound rather than letting it hold them back (the teaspoon gag at the start was a fine instance of this).
Producer Samuel Goldwyn, apparently unfazed by the anti-Semitism in Sapper's source, assembled a solid cast to support Colman, chief among them Allister as his best friend, one of many English actors who perfected the so-called "silly ass" on stage and screen. Some find him too broad, but he was ideal for making Drummond more approachable in his otherwise intimidating persona. For film noir fans, Joan Bennett as the damsel in distress held interest, in the early, blonde section of her career, though she showed little of her later steel here. The villains, making her father think he's mad so they can exploit him, were amusing too, Montagu Love in his accustomed role as a clipped nasty, Lawrence Grant as his perverted, torturing "doctor" sidekick, and Lilyan Tashman, at the time renowned as one of the best dressed stars in Hollywood (though she would also die young), slinking around trying to seduce Drummond, who is having none of it. With really only two main locations, some benefits were to be seen in William Cameron Menzies' art design, but this was too static when Colman was not commanding the screen. Still, full of interest, and the hero endured into the sixties.