Frequently and probably erroneously categorized as an early horror film, THE DRUMS OF JEOPARDY sticks pretty tightly to the foreign-menace thriller template that people of the pre-50s loved so very much. All the elements are here: foreigners, menace, old-lady comic relief. There are no monsters, no ghosts or slashers. So what about this film leads humanity into such a great labeling mistake?
Oh yeah, this was released in 1931 (like FRANKENSTEIN) and its villain is named BORIS KARLOV!
As we're introduced, Dr. Karlov admittedly looks pretty terrifying. Thankfully, he quickly removes the mask so he can read the mail and gloat about how well his daughter is doing in the ballet business. Less thankfully, she dies! And one of the rich dicks from the Petrov family is responsible.
These are the suit-wearing, champagne-drinking princes for whom we are supposed to feel sympathy. Acting ability, like all other ability, is not guaranteed to arise in every member of the aristocracy. These early scenes and their accompanying stilted conversations are probably the film's roughest, especially a dinner scene which is only slightly less cringeworthy than the one in TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE. When people talk about old films and bad acting, this is what they're talking about.
This is how someone reacts to being shot. This is one of the good actors.
Fortunately for us, things pick up as the film proceeds. Dr. Karlov has merited from the Bolshevik Revolution and uses his newfound power to seek revenge against the Petrovs. Don't get excited about DRUMS playing up the Red/class enemy thing, as it doesn't figure much into the happenings here. This is generally just a standard revenge story and revenge is wreaked against the innocent, as usual. The instrument of revenge also can't just be a gun or knife, it has to be some complicated scenario with escape opportunities, because vigilantes get raises based on style points.
Warner Oland is pretty fun as Boris Karlov (seriously, I would like to know the story behind the name!). He's pretty charming and jovial for a dead daughter's dad, although he doesn't take it to a Freddy Krueger one-liner extreme. Like all the "Russians" in this film, he has zero accent, but eh, no big.
Clara Blandick is also a standout as the spinster aunt comedy person, whose antics really do help the film avoid the creakiness into which it sometimes falls. So two bright spots balance out the wretchedly bad early acting and the rest is basically standard fare. Let's score it as a middling effort, wrap up 1931, and get ready to talk about sharks all September long.
BEST OF 1931:
2. Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
3. Dracula (English version)/Dracula (Spanish version)
4. Murder by the Clock
5. The Drums of Jeopardy