Monday, September 25, 2017

Bulldog Drummond in Africa (1938)

Bulldog Drummond in Africa is one of Paramount’s series of successful B-movie adaptations of H.C. McNeile’s Bulldog Drummond spy thrillers. It’s an excellent entry in the series.

Captain Hugh Drummond (John Howard) is hoping that finally he is going to be able to get married to his beloved Phyllis. Her main concern is that he will get mixed up in yet another of his secret agent adventures and the wedding will be postponed once again. So she has taken certain precautions. Hugh, along with his faithful butler Tenny (E.E. Clive), has been confined to his house until the wedding and forbidden any contact with the outside world (such as reading newspapers). She knows that this won’t be enough so she has also confiscated all his guns and his trousers, and to be on the safe side Tenny’s trousers as well. He can hardly get himself into any espionage or crime-fighting sprees without trousers.

All her precautions are in vain since it is Phyllis herself who gets Drummond into this particular adventure when she accidentally witnesses the kidnapping of Colonel Nielson (H.B. Warner) of Scotland Yard.

Now the chase is on to rescue the colonel and the trail leads to Morocco. The kidnappers have an aircraft so they think they’re safe from pursuit but Hugh Drummond has an aeroplane as well. Scotland Yard has absolutely forbidden Captain Drummond from becoming involved in this case. That holds him up for about five minutes.

Phyllis is sure she has seen the ringleader of the kidnapping gang before and it’s not long before Drummond realises he is up against notorious freelance international spy Richard Lane (J. Carrol Naish).

Lane is after one of Britain’s most closely guarded military secrets, the radio wave disintegrator. Rescuing the colonel is a priority but it’s even more vital to prevent Lane from obtaining the secret and selling it to the highest bidder. Lane has an important advantage - he has an agent, Fordyne (Anthony Quinn), working  in the British Consulate in Morocco. And Lane is utterly without scruples.  He also has his pet lions and they always come in handy when you’re a super villain.

This film doesn’t take long to gather momentum and thereafter it’s pretty consistent action and excitement. There’s the air chase, there are bombs, there are ravenous man-eating lions and there’s plenty of gunplay. Drummond and his pals (with Phyllis enthusiastically pitching in) have a difficult task since they have to foil Lane’s plans whilst avoiding arrest by the local authorities.

John Howard played Drummond in numerous films in this series and he does a fine job as he generally did. The only problem I’ve ever had with his casting in the role is that he is a fairly handsome fellow while in the books Hugh Drummond is a man renowned for his ugliness! Reginald Denny as Drummond’s loyal if not very bright pal Algy is less irritating than usual. Tenny is the character providing much of the comic relief but it’s not overdone this time and even manages to be mildly amusing.

Heather Angel is splendid as Phyllis. Phyllis is a bit on the feisty side but not to an excessive degree. She is brave but she is (mercifully) not one of your modern kickass action heroines. She even faints at one point. Mind you, seeing a man being eaten by a lion can be an upsetting experience for anyone. J. Carrol Naish is a delightfully smooth and sinister villain.

The plot might be a fairly stock-standard spy take of the period but the execution is energetic, there are some genuine thrills and there’s a vast amount of enjoyment to be had here. The film strikes pretty much the ideal balance. It takes itself just seriously enough but not too seriously. The emphasis is on excitement and fun.

There are plenty of public domain copies of this movie around. The image quality on the one I saw was pretty mediocre but still watchable.

Bulldog Drummond in Africa works because director Louis King is competent and keeps the pacing brisk enough that you don’t have time to worry about plot holes or anything tedious like that. The performances are good and the 1930s aircraft are very cool.

This is unashamed escapist entertainment (something of which I thoroughly approve) and it’s highly recommended.


  1. Heather Angel is splendid as Phyllis.

    Agreed, she's my favorite Phyllis. I wonder why, after appearing in Bulldog Drummond Escapes, they replaced her with Louise Campbell for several outings? Louise's Phyllis lacked Heather's pluck and vivacity, I’m glad they brought Angel back.

    Phyllis is a bit on the feisty side but not to an excessive degree. She is brave but she is (mercifully) not one of your modern kickass action heroines.

    So true! I cringe when I hear the phrase "strong woman" these days. A 120 lb woman beating up several 200 lb men it not inspiring to me... embarrassing, stupid, offensive, those words come to mind. It’s all part of the progressive agenda to emasculate men and ‘empower’ women... but women in real life are set up for a nasty surprise when they find out a few Taekwondo classes can’t alter biological reality.

    She even faints at one point. Mind you, seeing a man being eaten by a lion can be an upsetting experience for anyone.

    Quite. Even if the man deserves it as richly as this one did! (lol)

    1. I cringe when I hear the phrase "strong woman" these days

      The whole kickass action heroine thing is fundamentally anti-woman. It implies that a woman is only strong and worthwhile if she behaves exactly like a man.