Arrest Bulldog Drummond (1938) poster

Arrest Bulldog Drummond (1938)


USA. 1938.


Director – James Hogan, Screenplay – Stuart Palmer, Based on the Novel The Final Count by H.C. [Sapper] McNeile, Photography (b&w) – Ted Tetzlaff, Art Direction – Franz Bachelin & Hans Dreier. Production Company – Paramount.


John Howard (Captain Hugh Chesterton ‘Bulldog’ Drummond), Heather Angel (Phyllis Clavering), H.B. Warner (Colonel Nielson), Reginald Denny (Algy Longworth), E.E. Clive (Tenny), George Zucco (Rolf Alferson), Leonard Mudie (Richard Gannett), Jean Fenwick (Lady Beryl Ladyard), Zeffie Tilbury (Aunt Meg)


Captain Hugh ‘Bulldog’ Drummond is preparing for his wedding to Phyllis Clavering the next day. He and his best man Algy Longworth receive a strange note from their friend Richard Gannett warning of great disaster. They go to see Gannett only to find he has just been murdered. In investigating, Drummond is arrested by Scotland Yard as the killer. Released, he determines that criminals have stolen a ray device that Gannett created. As Bulldog follows the trail of the criminals as they plan to sell the weapon, they threaten Phyllis.

Bulldog Drummond was a popular fictional hero. A creation of H.C. (Herman Cyril) McNeile, who served as an officer in World War I, and published under the penname Sapper, Drummond first appeared in the eponymous novel Bulldog Drummond (1920). McNeile wrote nine other Bulldog Drummond books before his death in 1937 – Arrest Bulldog Drummond is adapted from the fourth of these books The Final Count (1926). Subsequently, McNeile’s friend Gerald Fairlie continued the series for a further seven books. In the books, Drummond was a wealthy gentleman and War veteran of physically imposing build who is bored of civilian life and advertises looking for adventure, which propels him into a series of mysteries and adventurers.

Bulldog Drummond has been adapted as a radio series, stage plays and a comic-book. There have been a number of films beginning with the now lost silent British-made Bulldog Drummond (1922) starring Carlyle Blackwell. The most popular of these were a series of nine US-made films produced by Paramount in the 1930s and 40s starring John Howard beginning with Bulldog Drummond Comes Back (1937), and continuing through Bulldog Drummond’s Revenge (1937), Bulldog Drummond’s Peril (1938), Bulldog Drummond in Africa (1938), Arrest Bulldog Drummond, Bulldog Drummond’s Secret Police (1939), and Bulldog Drummond’s Bride (1939). There were two subsequent Drummond films in the 1960s with Deadlier Than the Male (1967) and Some Girls Do (1969), starring Richard Johnson as Drummond, which reinvented the character as a spy.

Though the Bulldog Drummond stories were British, the film series was American-made. However, the films still retain the British setting meaning that what we get is a series of adventures taking place in an approximation of London and England that has been recreated on a soundstage. Drummond is played by the very American John Howard, while the rest of the cast never seems to care whether they play with British or American accents. (Oddly enough, most of the cast with the exception of John Howard, are actually British so you wonder why they switched to speak American).

Bulldog Drummond was a standard adventurer hero of this era – never quite a private eye, nor allied with any law enforcement agency, who fell into a series of adventures more simply because he was there or was offering to help someone than through any innate skill. In other words, a roving do-gooder. Unlike the later 1960s films that reinvented him as a playboy, we see Drummond here on the eve of his wedding to Phyllis Clavering (Phyllis Benton in the books).

John Howard as Captain Hugh ‘Bulldog’ Drummond in Arrest Bulldog Drummond (1938)
John Howard as Captain Hugh ‘Bulldog’ Drummond

Arrest Bulldog Drummond has been cheaply made, although is by no means an unlikeable film. It moves with a certain snappy sense of humour between the main characters, especially during the early scenes. And the plot has a crisp tightness, all contained within a 57 minute timeframe.

John Howard is an okay Drummond, although seems an average man rather than the six-foot plus ex-officer and gentleman from a background of wealth that the books describe. Present is also George Zucco who would play a good many mad scientist roles throughout the next decade – here he is cast as a bespectacled bad guy, although this is not a film that shows him off to his villainous best.

The sole reason for the film’s inclusion here and in other fantastic cinema guides is the use of a ray device. This looks like a bulky film projector that emits two beams of light that come together to cause a small explosion. Up against the great raygun devices that stocked this era, this seems severely underpowered in terms of the dangerous potential it is described as having. The scientist calls it a threat to peace, there is great struggle to procure it and sell it, and yet for all that it only creates a tiny explosion that barely affects anybody even a few feet away. The only other of the Paramount Bull dog Drummond films to feature genre material was Bulldog Drummond’s Peril concerning the creation of synthetic diamonds.

James Hogan had a career as a director from the 1920s up until his death in 1943. He directed five of the Bulldog Drummond films and then various of Columbia’s Ellery Queen films. His only other genre works were Life Returns (1935) about resurrection experiments and the mad scientist film The Mad Ghoul (1943).

Full film available here

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