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Monday, November 13, 2017

Calling --- Who?

Bulldog Drummond Back In Postwar Business

Metro bought "all unproduced and new Bulldog Drummond yarns" (Variety) in February 1950 with intent of a series, one per year in event the first of them clicked. That was Calling Bulldog Drummond, to be produced at the company's Boreham Wood Studios during late summer 1950. MGM was thawing frozen funds by shooting seven features over the year in foreign climes. This was cash they had collected in boxoffice revenue from these countries, but couldn't take out thanks to native law requiring outlay on home ground to stimulate economy. That worked OK thanks to money going further over there than here, unions and attendant expense having caused domestic costs to soar. Biggest of oversea spenders had been King Solomon's Mines, done in England and South Africa, then more lavished on Quo Vadis, a big stimuli to Italy. Calling Bulldog Drummond was budgeted for a million, but ended up costing half again more. That was chancy for a character barely on screens since the 30's when Ronald Colman and then John Howard played him. Detective series had been dropped elsewhere, including at Metro where the Thin Man was absent since 1947. So who at Culver was champion for such dated property as Drummond?

Ads had to emphasize the "New" of Calling Bulldog Drummond, a public otherwise figuring it for a reissue, especially as the pic played down-bill in most situations.  Many keys used Drummond as support to An American In Paris. Walter Pidgeon was titular lead over otherwise Brit support, his an only meaningful name in credits. Eased to mature character work stateside, here was rugged departure that saw Pidgeon at gunplay and fist brawling, Drummond gone undercover to bust up a burgling ring. The idea was sound enough had Calling Bulldog Drummond been made cheaper, but this was new day where sole star Pidgeon, let alone as a mostly-forgot sleuth, couldn't haul weight even as a second feature. Enjoyable as it turned out, Calling Bulldog Drummond took a million $ loss, result of ruinous $372K in domestic rentals and barely better $546K foreign. Needless to say, a series was scotched. Pity so many concepts once a cinch were moribund now. Seemed everyone's crystal ball was cracked, especially at Metro. Calling Bulldog Drummond is available from Warner Archive to let us know what so many customers missed in 1951. Quality is fine, the show a trim 79 minutes, and not overstuffed as we might fear from Leo. Bonus with the DVD is the Goldwyn Bulldog Drummond from 1929 with Ronald Colman. They're a spot-on pair and much recommended.


Blogger Michael said...

Can anyone explain the appeal of Walter Pidgeon? He always seemed like an announcer who somehow became an actor to me. Yet in one of Max Schulman's Dobie Gillis stories, a girl on a date with Dobie talks about how she likes him, which would be like a teenager now finding, say, Tom Wilkinson hot.

8:43 AM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

I'd recommend COMMAND DECISION for evidence of how great Walter Pidgeon could be, and there are others, of course. But then, I always liked him. As to his appeal for women, I couldn't guess, but he and Greer Garson were certainly a profitable team. Then there's ADVISE AND CONSENT, which I watched again recently, where Pidgeon was terrific, and what of he and Cagney's scenes together in THESE WILDER YEARS. Those should be run to acting students everywhere.

10:25 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

Okay, I guess sometimes you just never happen to have seen somebody's best roles. Obviously I've seen Mrs Miniver, but there he seemed to fall into the role of the male supporter of the female star that was so common at MGM, and just seemed to require that you looked good in evening wear.

11:27 AM  
Blogger James Abbott said...

I remember catching Calling Bulldog Drummond on WOR in New York multiple times while growing up (no doubt thanks to the influence of Chris Steinbrunner!). I think it's a tight, taut and smart little meller, with really good support from David Tomlinson. Too bad it never made a series ... this is certainly better than any of Pigeon's Nick Carter movies, all of which had higher budgets and aspirations.

12:42 PM  
Blogger lmshah said...

Walter Pidgeon is one of those veteran actors of whom was easy to take for granted because he was around forever and he made whatever he did look easy, but when you go through that filmography you realize just how many great films he was in and diverse roles he played. He could sing (a good operatic baritone too, look at SWEET KITTY BELLAIRS (1930) some time), play action-detective types (three Nick Carters at MGM, and the aforementioned CALLING BULLDOG DRUMMOND), do comedy (he was in BOTH the silent and early sound versions of THE GORILLA, and check out an interesting paring with the Italian comedian Toto called TWO COLONELS (1961) some time),he's great in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY and FORBIDDEN PLANET, and could even play a professional pickpocket HARRY IN YOUR POCKET (1974). A career that started in the Silent Era and lasted into the late 1970's is nothing to sneeze at.


1:52 PM  
Blogger Randy said...

There had been a quartet of BULLDOG DRUMMOND "B's" in the late 'forties, two from Columbia with Ron Randell and two from Fox with Tom Conway, and a BULLDOG DRUMMOND radio series had been on Mutual throughout the decade, so the character would still have been familiar at least to fans of second-string detective shows.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Matthew Clark said...

As a young actor, Walter Pidgeon was surprisingly handsome, looking like a young Robert Taylor. Catch him in the James Whale 1933 film "The Kiss Before The Mirror". He plays Gloria Stuart's lover in this stylish art deco, early talkie. Try this link.

4:02 PM  
Blogger Donald Benson said...

Perhaps the strongest cultural remnant of "Bulldog Drummond" (besides all those Alpha DVDs of the John Howard programmers) is "Bullshot".

Originally a cult stage comedy with clever "special effects" and a cast of five (one of whom played a mob of characters), it was heavily reworked by its authors/stars into a decently funny "real" movie. An added element: Throughout the movie Bullshot Crummond keeps meeting soldiers from his old regiment -- all crippled because of his incompetence, but still eager to take orders from their beloved CO.

2:47 AM  
Blogger Reg Hartt said...

There are people who think Alpha dvds are good and that that is how these films are supposed to look. Film students used to the cheap, crappy 16mm prints they saw in classrooms who came to my programs and saw these films at their best always told me they thought the poor prints were because standards "in the old days were not as good as today." I was always amazed when I heard them say that. Then I found it was what their teachers told them.

6:02 AM  

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