A young ballerina commits suicide and her scientist father vows revenge on the Royal Family of the man responsible. After the Russian Revolution, the aristocrats flee to American soil, but, after escaping from Siberia, their nemesis has become a leading Bolshevik and commands many agents in the West…
Warner Oland’s at it again! Only a couple of years after his outing as ‘The Mysterious Dr. Fu Manchu’ (1929), here he is as another criminal mastermind persecuting a family he believes are to blame for the death of his child. Here he’s Dr Boris Karlov (seriously!) whose mission statement includes messing about in his dungeon laboratory (with his name on the door!) and sending pieces of a jewelled necklace, the ‘drums’ of the title, to members of the Petrov clan, prior to knocking them off one by one.
In terms of plot, it’s almost identical to Oland’s hit turn in that first ‘Fu Manchu’ film, especially after some early action gives way to the familiar ‘Old Dark House’ scenario, where danger stalks the darkened halls and a midnight storm howls around outside. There’s little of Oland as the ‘mad scientist’ either, despite publicity materials which were presumably designed to cash in on Universal’s ‘Frankenstein’ (1931) in the same way as the name of Oland’s character.
Almost everything is entirely predictable, from the fates of individual characters to the underwhelming climax, although this does feature some opportune umbrella work from comedy relief Clara Blandick, who gained screen immortality in her sixties as Auntie Em in ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (1939). Unfortunately, with the exception of Oland, the rest of the cast are colourless and the entire project comes across as flat and a little stilted.
Director George B Seitz enjoyed a successful time in Hollywood, making his name with silent serial ‘The Perils of Pauline’ (1914), which was a massive hit, and going on to deliver most of the popular ‘Andy Hardy’ series featuring a young Mickey Rooney. Leading man Lloyd Hughes did not fair so well in the ‘talkie’ era, but is still remembered as reporter Ed Malone in Willis O’Brien’s groundbreaking stop-motion monster fest ‘The Lost World’ (1925). Of course, the Swedish-born Oland became the screen’s definitive ‘Charlie Chan’, playing the role in more than a dozen films before his untimely death in 1938.
A minor programmer with little to recommend it beyond some curiosity value.