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CALLING BULLDOG DRUMMOND (director: Victor Saville; screenwriters: story by Gerard Fairlie/Gerard Fairlie/Howard Emmett Rogers/Arthur Wimperis; cinematographer: F.A. Young; editors: Frank Clarke/Robert Watts; music: Rudolph G. Kopp; cast: Walter Pidgeon (Hugh “Bulldog” Drummond), Margaret Leighton (Sgt. Helen Smith), Robert Beatty (Arthur Gunns), David Tomlinson (Algy Longworth), Peggy Evans (Molly), Bernard Lee (Colonel Webson), James Hayter (Bill), Patric Doonan(Alec), Charles Victor (Inspector McIver); Runtime: 80; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Hayes Goetz; MGM; 1951-USA/UK)
“Lacks fun.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

There were 21 screen appearances for master sleuth Bulldog Drummond, a retired British army officer turned gentleman amateur detective. Herman Cyril McNeile, under the pseudonym, “Sapper,” in 1920 published the first of the popular mystery thrillers. The sleuth was played from 1922 until 1970 by the likes of Sir Ralph Richardson, Ronald Colman, John Howard, Ron Randell and John Newland, and was popular as an early talkie series. Director Victor Saville (“Evensong”/”Dark Journey”/”Kim”) efficiently shoots it, but it lacks fun and Walter Pidgeon is just not as good as past Drummonds–he’s just too stiff to play the sleuth.This was MGM’s sole film of Bulldog, after reviving the series from the dead (last filmed in 1948 as Thirteen Lead Soldiers), and the only time Pidgeon played him, even though the film did a good box office. It’s based on a story byGerard Fairlie, and a screenplay by Fairlie, Howard Emmett Rogers and Arthur Wimperis.

There are three daring daylight robberies in London, that are pulled off in a precise military style by a large well-armed gang using military technology like radar. Scotland Yard’s Inspector McIver (Charles Victor) suspects a military man is behind these robberies and talks his old sleuth chum Bulldog Drummond (Walter Pidgeon) into coming out of retirement and leaving his country pig breeding farm, just outside London, to just help solve these puzzling heists by using his great military background.

Bulldog is teamed with undercover Sgt. Helen Smith (Margaret Leighton) and they pose as a married couple returning to London from Italy as ruthless robbers. They take the aliases of Lily and Joe Ross, and follow the Yard’s lead to track down underground waterfront nightclub owner Arthur Gunns (Robert Beatty) as one of the gang. Lily infiltrates the gang by toying with Gunns after a planned fender bumper incident and soon Joe joins her, but Gunns’ girlfriend Molly (Peggy Evans) becomes jealous of his interest in Lily and the unseen big boss, a respected retired colonel (Bernard Lee) and art dealer, who knows Bulldog from the service, also becomes suspicious that Joe is really Bulldog despite the planted story that the sleuth is in Africa. Bulldog, when he’s taken to the British Museum, the gang discovers his ruse as the unseen colonel identifies him and the gang takes the duo prisoners in their warehouse hideout and plan to kill them after pulling off another heist. Also taken prisoner is Bulldog’s best friend from their military days, Algy Longworth (David Tomlinson), who was tricked into helping the gang and then further tricked into giving false info about the next robbery to McIver. It’s now up to Bulldog to pull off a few tricks and show the viewer why he’s the legendary sleuth.

Tomlinson plays his role for comic relief, as the upper-class doofus bumbler who is not as dumb as he looks. A miscast Pidgeon seemed more like an effete sophisticate than a brawny and brainy dick, prattling on for most of the film and looking weak in the required action scenes. Leighton is a fine actress, but she was unconvincing as either a hardened criminal or a gritty copper. Nevertheless the crime drama is watchable, as it’s helped by its fast pace and that it fails to take itself that serious. As for me, I’ll take Charlie Chan anytime for my B-film mystery thrillers, there’s always a few laughs, a carefully disguised criminal to suss out and an ancient Oriental witticism to absorb.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”