Silver-tongued actor Douglas Dumbrille played just about every type in his long screen career, but it was as a dignified villain that he is best remembered. Born in Canada, Dumbrille did most of his stage work in the United States, breaking into films with His Woman in 1931. He bounced between supporting parts and unbilled bits in the early 1930s, usually at Warner Bros., where his sleek brand of skullduggery fit right in with the gangsters, shysters and political phonies popping up in most of the studio's 1930s product. Superb in modern dress roles, Dumbrille also excelled at costume villainy: it is claimed that, in Lives of the Bengal Lancers (1935), he was the first bad guy to growl, "We have ways of making you talk." The actor's pompous demeanor made him an ideal foil for such comedians as the Marx Brothers, with whom he appeared twice, and Abbott and Costello, who matched wits with Dumbrille in four different films. Sometimes, Dumbrille's reputation as a no-good was used to lead the audience astray; he was frequently cast as red-herring suspects in such murder mysteries as Castle in the Desert (1942), while in the Johnny Mack Brown western Flame of the West (1945), Dumbrille piqued the viewer's interest by playing a thoroughly honest, decent sheriff (surely he'd turn bad by the end, thought the audience -- but he didn't). In real life a gentle man whose diabolical features were softened by a pair of spectacles, Dumbrille mellowed his image as he grew older, often playing bemused officials and judges who couldn't make head nor tails of Gracie Allen's thought patterns on TV's The Burns and Allen Show. Late in life, a widowed Douglas Dumbrille married Patricia Mobray, daughter of his close friend -- and fellow screen villain -- Alan Mowbray.
photo credit: Warner Brothers
by Hal Erickson biography