Cast & Crew
F. Richard Jones
Bored with civilian life in London after World War I, Bulldog Drummond, a young British Army officer, advertises for adventure. His advertisement is answered by Phyllis Benton, a young American who wants Drummond to free her uncle, Hiram J. Travers, from an insane asylum where he is being held prisoner by Dr. Lakington, a sadistic physician, and his confederate, Peterson. Lakington's intention is to torture Travers into signing away his fortune. After several thrilling experiences, Drummond and his friend Algy kidnap Travers, unconscious in a drug-induced coma, and thereby he wins Phyllis' love and Travers' gratitude.
F. Richard Jones
William Cameron Menzies
Best Art Direction
The character Bulldog Drummond is a decorated veteran of WWI, who grows bored with his postwar lifestyle. He decides to go into business as an adventurer or detective, because his heroic exploits during the war prepared him to detect crimes and foil spies. In addition, his natural charm helps him to romance women and to exchange witticisms with his pal Algy Longworth. Drummond's arch-enemy, Carl Peterson, and his companion, Irma, are consistent antagonists who bring intrigue to the detective's door. Bulldog Drummond epitomizes an archetype known as the English rogue, who is both debonair and daring.
Film adaptations of Bulldog Drummond stories, plays, and novels spanned five decades and involved several studios. The detective made his movie debut in 1922 in a British production of McNeile's 1920 novel, but it was the 1929 film Bulldog Drummond, starring Ronald Colman, that created the template for the cinematic version of the character.
Based on the stage version of McNeile's 1920 novel, the film is essentially Drummond's origin story. Bored with civilian life, the former captain places an ad in the newspaper offering his expertise in exchange for "any excitement." A young woman named Phyllis Benton responds, claiming that she and her wealthy uncle are in grave danger from a charlatan named Dr. Lakington. When Drummond and Algy arrive at the Green Bay Inn to lend their assistance, they discover that Carl Peterson and Irma work for the nefarious Dr. Lakington. The doctor is scheming to get his hands on the uncle's fortune.
By late 1928, producer Sam Goldwyn was searching for a suitable property for Ronald Colman to transition from silent films to talkies. Goldwyn's associates suggested a romantic drama, perhaps opposite Vilma Banky, because Colman had gained popularity for starring in such films during the silent era. But, Goldwyn, who owned the film rights to Bulldog Drummond, believed a detective story would make a more exciting talkie. Though a screenplay already existed, the producer knew that it needed work. Early talkies were notorious for looking and sounding monotonous: Characters tended to stand around in long shots speaking pages of dialogue while the camera remained stationary. Goldwyn, who was determined to produce a hit vehicle for Colman, wanted to avoid the pitfalls of other talking films. He hired playwright Sidney Howard to rewrite the screenplay to include dialogue that moved the plot, instead of dialogue that merely repeated the onscreen action.
In addition to Howard, Goldwyn signed other notable talents to lend their expertise to Bulldog Drummond. Cinematographer George Barnes and his protégé Gregg Toland were hired to shoot the film. Barnes had gained a reputation for achieving a sumptuous look in his work, while Toland had begun to tinker and experiment with technique and technology. The pair set about to tackle another problem related to talkies, which was the audible whir of the camera. The existing solution was to place the camera and the audio in separate booths during shooting, which limited the camera's movements, contributing to the static quality of early talkies. Barnes and Toland devised a tool to silence the whir, which allowed them to move the camera for tracking shots. Despite their hard work, there are still stretches of bland camera work in the film, perhaps due to the cumbersome sound technology or the material's origins as a stage play.
Production designer William Cameron Menzies was brought on board as set decorator. By this time, he was already respected and renowned for his work on Thief of Bagdad (1924), Beloved Rogue (1927), The Dove (1927), and The Tempest (1928). The latter two films jointly earned him his first Academy Award. Menzies understood that film was a pictorial art. In an article in Theatre Arts Monthly, he declared that each scene should visually reflect "one forceful, impressive idea." He recognized that the production methods for sync sound films were robbing movies of their visual splendor, and he actively sought to counter those production procedures. For Bulldog Drummond, he was able to coordinate his designs with the camera setups. He prepared for the film by drawing on paper every set design before production began, a practice he continued throughout his career. Though not all of his designs and plans were executed, there are several visually imaginative scenes, particularly the asylum rendered in a German Expressionist style. Bulldog Drummond was one of the films that earned Menzies an Academy Award nomination that year.
Goldwyn was right in his choice for Ronald Colman's first talking film. Bulldog Drummond shaped Colman's star image as the suave gentleman with the melodious voice. His dulcet tones would become so famous that references to his voice were a part of the pop culture of the day. With its combination of comedy, romance, and adventure, Bulldog Drummond changed in tone and mood from sequence to sequence, showcasing different rhythms and intonations in dialogue. Colman spoke his lines smoothly, with an ease and comfort that matched his character's cocky confidence, though his costar, Joan Bennett, struggled to sound natural when speaking her lines.
Most importantly, the actor's approach to the character emphasized his debonair side and eliminated the "bulldoggish" quality described in the novels. This interpretation became the standard for playing Bulldog Drummond that other actors adopted over the next several decades. Not only was the film an enormous popular and critical success, but Ronald Colman received an Oscar nomination for his performance.
Producer: Samuel Goldwyn
Director: F. Richard Jones
Screenplay: Sidney Howard based on the stage version of the novel by H.C. "Sapper" McNeile
Cinematography: George S. Barnes and Gregg Toland
Editor: Frank Lawrence and Viola Lawrence
Set Direction: William Cameron Menzies
Music: Hugo Riesenfeld (uncredited)
Cast: Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond (Ronald Colman), Phyllis Benton (Joan Bennett), Irma (Lilyan Tashman), Carl Peterson (Montagu Love), Dr. Lakington (Lawrence Grant), Danny (Wilson Benge), Algy Longworth (Claude Allister), Marcovitch (Adolph Milar), Travers (Charles Sellon), Chong (Tetsu Momai).
Pah! The eternal din in this club is an outrage! I ask you, wot?- Colonel
You're perfectly right, Colonel. We ought to complain. Do you know that's the third spoon I've heard drop this month?- Algy Longworth
Spoons, my hat. I wish that somebody would throw a bomb and wake the place up.- Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond
On second thought, never mind the pyjamas. Just the toothbrush and the gun.- Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond
I've been bored too long. I can't stand it any more. I'm too rich to work, too intelligent to play (much); I tell you, if something doesn't happen within the next few days, I'll explode.- Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond
I don't know what to suggest, dear old boy, unless you advertised... and you, you can't very well do that, can you?- Algy Longworth
I don't know, I might. I rather think that's an inspiration, Algy, by Jove I do! I didn't know you had it in you. Say, barman, give me a piece of paper and a pencil. Now, let's see: "To the Editor, Personal Column, The Times, London. Demobilized officer, finding peace unbearably tedious..."- Hugh 'Bulldog' Drummond
Dear old boy, you're not serious!- Algy Longworth
Ronald Colman received a Best Actor Academy Award for his collective work on this film and Condemned (see below).