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  • It is a strange truism about films concerning American History. While some of those films dealing with the Civil War are great ("The General", "Gone With The Wind") or highly respectable ("The Raid", "Gettysburg", "Glory"), this is less true about films about the American Revolution. It's a sad or mediocre commentary. D.W.Griffith's first great feature length film was the controversial - pro K.K.K film: "The Birth OF A Nation". No matter how you hate the film's racism, it's innovation make it a film landmark. But his attempt at a Revolution film, America, was a flop. Just see the titles: "America", "The Howards Of Virginia", "The Devil's Desciple" (slightly better due to its star cast, especially Olivier as "Gentleman Johnny" Burgoyne), "John Paul Jones", "Lafayette", "Revolution". There are two exceptions. The musical "1776" was a good film, and (despite some historical errors) told the story of the creation of the Declaration of Independence pretty well. This film is the other. It is the only film by John Ford set in the American Revolution (he was more at home in the Indian Wars of the 1870s). It is in glorious color for a 1939 film. It has a dandy cast from Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert as the young married couple, to Edna Mae Oliver, Ward Bond, Arthur Shields, and John Carridine (except that his motivation as a Tory is never developed - possibly his scenes were cut in the editing).

    Perhaps it was the source. Walter D. Edmonds is a forgotten writer today, but when I was growing up in the 1960s his novels, "Drums Along The Mohawk" and "Chad Hanna", were still published and read. Interestingly Henry Fonda was also in the film version of that latter novel. Edwards was a regional historical writer (which may explain his contemporary oblivion). All his novels are set in upstate New York, "Chad Hanna" being set in the 1830s. "Drums Along The Mohawk deals with the warfare between settlers in Western New York and the Six Nations of the Iroquois Indians, the latter allied with Tories. It is a grueling warfare - culminating in the battle of Oriskany, where American troops literally slugged it out in forest fighting with the Indians. Commanded by General Nicholas Herkimer (Ralph Imhof in the film)the Americans barely won the battle. Herkimer died of his wounds a few days later (movingly captured in the movie). He is honored today by a county upstate named for him. These events occurred in 1777, and the film seems to end in 1779. It ends with the settlers of the Mohawk River Valley triumphing over the Tories and Indians. What is not shown is what really crushed the Indians - Washington sent General John Sullivan into the area, and in a foreshadowing of the scorched earth policies of General William Tecumseh Sherman, Sullivan burned the Iroquois villages to the ground. It is not a pretty story now, but in that period Sullivan was considered a national hero. Ford does not even touch on that aspect. Probably just as well. But what he does show is first rate Ford, and we are all grateful for that.
  • Bucs19603 December 2001
    Warning: Spoilers
    There is a small *SPOILER* in the text below. This is one of my favorite John Ford films, although it usually is not ranked as one of his classics. There is enough action, pathos and downright patriotism to satisfy Ford devotees. The standout in this film is Edna May Oliver as the feisty widow who won't give up her home to the invading Indians even though they are burning it down around her. What a gal!!!!....her relationship with Ward Bond in this film is sweet and her final scenes will tear your heart. The Indians are reminiscent of the characters in "Northwest Passage", in that they are savage beyond belief and some of the scenes are tough to take....such as the man tied to the burning wagon and Arthur Shields reaction to it. Claudette Colbert is good as the wife and Henry Fonda was born to play this part, but it is the support cast that really fleshes out this film. Poor John Carradine never gets to play a good guy and he is at his saturnine best here. Look for John Ford's brother, Francis, in a small supporting role. It is a slice of American history and well worth seeing.
  • 1939 was a banner year for great films--and certainly one of them was "Drums Along the Mohawk" in gorgeous early technicolor about a period in history not often used as the subject of a major film. Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert are fine as a young couple in the years before the Revolutionary War settling in the backwoods of New York state. The hardships of pioneer life are made even tougher by the presence of Indians on the warpath, the only refuge being a nearby fort where men, women and children find some protection.

    Brilliantly photographed with lots of action scenes that bring the film vividly to life under John Ford's direction. John Carradine makes an excellent villain and Edna May Oliver gives another one of her priceless performances as an elderly widow who forms a strong attachment to the young couple. An unforgettable scene has Indians raiding her home while she refuses to budge from her bed even though they set fire to it. Scenes of Indian cruelty and torture are also present--but altogether a moving film well worth viewing to see what frontier life must have been like way back then.

    Sentimental at times--but also harsh and realistic. Most memorable scene: Fonda pursued by Indians for a long chase over woodlands, finally wearing out his pursuers who collapse from sheer exhaustion. Thrilling chase!
  • Drums Along the Mohawk is the story of newlyweds Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert and the trials they faced trying to make a life in the Mohawk River Valley during the Revolutionary War.

    The Upstate New York theater save for the key battle of Saratoga was one of the backwater areas of the American Revolution. Still it has a colorful history and it's the one area of the Revolution where the British made use of their allies among the Indians.

    Specifically the Iroquois who had supported the British against the French in the Seven Years War 20 year earlier. As a consequence of that support, the Indians were guaranteed no white settlement west of the Appalachian mountains. Saying that and enforcing that were two different propositions. Farmer pioneers as depicted by Fonda and Colbert were not about to be turned back by words in the Treaty of Paris. Of course the Indian side to it was never told on screen at that time in Hollywood.

    Still those were brave people who pioneered and the film is a tribute to them. The real person of Nicholas Herkimer and his brave death in the Battle of Oriskany is woven into this story. Herkimer is played by Roger Imhoff and he was the son of German settlers from Hanover. Remember George III was Duke of Hanover and lots of German settlers came to the colonies. Imhoff plays Herkimer with correct German accent and as the gallant hero he was.

    John Carradine plays Caldwell the one eyed Tory who leads the Iroquois, Why John Ford just didn't use the real name of Walter Butler for Carradine's character I couldn't say. Yet Caldwell is based on Butler who was right up there with Benedict Arnold as one of the Revolution's deepest, darkest villains. Carradine does well with the part, no shades of gray in his portrayal. You might recall that Butler was one of the 'jury' at the trial in The Devil and Daniel Webster and Lionel Barrymore played him in D.W. Griffith's silent classic, America.

    Edna May Oliver is the pioneer widow woman who takes in Fonda and Colbert after their own place is burned to the ground during a raid and won an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She was a hardy soul and she steals the film.

    This is John Ford's first Technicolor feature and he really did well in the cinematography department. The forest greens of upstate New York really are depicted well, especially in the part where Henry Fonda is being chased by the Indians as he goes for help in the climax.

    Upstate New York was a key area of the American Revolution. With the British occupying New York City for most of the war, upstate was the bridge in which those rabble rousers in New England kept connected with the south. It's why the Battle of Saratoga was so important, why Benedict Arnold's aborted treachery in turning West Point over to them was so important. If it wasn't for those yeoman farmers in the Mohawk Valley there might not be an America today.

    And the Mohawk Valley was more important afterwards because another man with vision who was New York's governor named DeWitt Clinton had an idea to extend the headwaters of the Mohawk River straight to Lake Erie with a canal. That act opened up the northwest to trade and made New York the largest city in the USA. No doubt the descendants of Colbert and Fonda worked on the Erie Canal as well.

    Drums Along the Mohawk is a nice tribute film to some brave people whose battles on that sideshow theater of the war made possible the very existence of America.
  • When Lana Martin (Claudette Colbert) arrives by wagon with her new husband, Gil (Henry Fonda), to Mohawk Valley and his homestead, she isn't prepared for what she sees. The time is just before the Revolutionary War. The valley is beautiful and unspoiled, but the homestead is a one-room log cabin Gil has built, and the farm will need to be worked by the two of them. Lana has never seen an Indian, but in the course of the movie she's going to see a lot, and most won't be friendly.

    Drums Along the Mohawk is John Ford's curious but effective look at one aspect of the Revolutionary War. The story isn't about George Washington or the great battles. It's the story of what happens in this one, isolated valley in upstate New York. While there are Indian attacks and we can see the results of a battle or two, the story really is about Lana Martin and how she changed. We watch her and Gil build their farm, and we see it burnt to the ground when war comes to the valley. From a young woman in a big, frilly dress facing a life she had never imagined, by the end of the movie Lana is wearing a soldier's coat and is prepared to shoot down an attacker, which she does with hardly a blink. She sees Gil return from his first battle almost shell-shocked. We see her and Gil having to become hired hands when their farm is destroyed. We see her suffer a miscarriage. At the start of the movie, Gil was an honest, hard-working young man, almost naive at times. Now he and Lana are watching the birth of their new nation. They've both become...capable. "Well," Gil says to her at the close, "I reckon we'd better be getting' back to work. There's going' to be a heap to do from now on." And we know he's talking about building a nation, not just a new farm.

    The movie is effective despite John Ford's long-time propensity for ham-handed humor, sentimental myth building and his indulgence in stereotypical portrayals of Indians as either child-like objects of amusement or animal-like objects of fear. What saves this story, as it saved many of Ford's films, is his great talent for cinematic story-telling. As corn-ball as some of the scenes in this movie are -- the short, chubby drunk or Gil's amazement that his wife is giving birth or the wise but child-like behavior of the Christian Indian chief -- we still are caught up in Gil's and Lana's story. Although the movie is particularly a paean to the women who had to struggle on, sometimes fighting, sometimes waiting, Ford gives the film an unusual unwarlike tone. The widow Mrs. McKennar, who took Gil and Lana in when their farm was destroyed, looks at Gil marching off to his first battle and thinks about her husband. "Sometimes he'd wave. Ten to one he wasn't even seeing me. He was thinking about all those men, you see. All those men he went out to fight...to kill and be killed...blast his eyes, loving it." One powerful scene has Gil and the other men back from the battle. They won but it didn't go well. Gil has collapsed, and as Lana tends to him he barely notices her. He just stares into the distance while he tells what happened when they were ambushed. "I got down back of a log and aimed at a fellow. He leaped straight up in the air. Fell forward on his face. After that we just kept shooting as fast as we could load for I don't know how long. Adam Hartman came over beside me. His musket was broke. He had a spear. He kept grinning. I remember thinking, 'He's having a good time. He likes this.' Pretty soon he pointed off. I saw an Indian coming toward us, naked. I tried to load but it was too late. Adam stood up and braced his spear and the Indian came down. I never saw a fellow look so funny, so surprised. He just hung there, with his mouth open...lookin' at us, not sayin' a word. I had to shoot him, there wasn't anything else to do."

    Ford pushes the buttons of duty, faith and patriotism. We've learned that war isn't the glorious struggle some make it out to be. Still, Ford shows us that fighting to protect our land, to protect our chance to build our farm and keep our children safe is proper. In 1939, that was a strong message. So was his theme of patriotism with which he closes the movie. At the fort in Mohawk Valley a company of regular soldiers arrives to tell the people that the war has been won, that Cornwallis has surrendered to Washington. They're carrying a flag. A churchman looks at it and says to the others, "So that's our new flag, the thing we've been fighting for. Thirteen stripes for the colonies and thirteen stars in a circle for the Union." And with that a couple of men take the flag and climb to the top of the church steeple, where they tie it down so that it waves in the wind. Ford knew how to punch home a point, alright.

    Fonda and Colbert were both fine actors. Fonda, in particular, brings, as usual, a strong sense of decency to his role. While I think he and Colbert make a slightly improbable pair (Colbert in all her roles, for me, seems to have a sly worldliness that makes her so good at sophisticated comedy), they work well together. The movie is really war from a woman's point of view, and Colbert brings it off.
  • I've used this movie in many history classes. It illustrates life during these turbulent times when people were moving to the frontier and just trying to live their lives in peace. However, other people had lived on those lands and now wanted it back and war erupted. The American Revolution is vastly different for people on the frontier. There was no help -they had to rely on each other to protect their farms, their families and livestock. It was a hard life but they managed to find humor and enjoyment even during the hardest of times. This movies illustrates the new culture that had to evolve in order to survive. Fighting Indians, British and French became a way of life during this period. These people developed a strong bond of friendship and family. They helped one another in many ways. The only way to get communication from Albany was at church on Sunday when the Reverend would give everyone the latest news about the war as well as cloth that had arrived at the general store in Dayton. It's a good story and one that will remain a favorite.
  • In 1776, the apolitical farmer Gilbert 'Gil' Martin (Henry Fonda) gets married to Magdelana "Lana" Borst (Claudette Colbert) at the Borst Home in Albany, New York. They travel to his lands in the Mohawk Valley, Deerfield, where they work hard to improve their lives, but their house and crop are burned out by Indians fomented by the British. The couple loses everything including their baby and they have to restart their lives working for the widow Mrs. McKlennar (Edna May Oliver). But it is times of the American War of Independence, and the settlers have to fight against the Indians and the British soldiers to survive.

    "Drums along the Mohawk" is a romance in times of the American War of Independence. John Ford uses the historic moment as background of the tough life of the American colonists in the Mohawk Valley, through the dramatic lives of Gil and Lana. This is not my favorite film of John Ford, but the story is engaging and it is a good movie. The thirty-six year old Claudette Colbert is miscast and too old for the role of Lana. My vote is seven.

    Title (Brazil): "Ao Rufar dos Tambores" ("At the Drum Roll")
  • Other comments on this film quite well echo my sentiments: John Ford once again exhibits his mastery of the medium, with a minimum of the sentimentality to which he sometimes succumbed; a very young and handsome Henry Fonda wonderfully embodies an ordinary man virtually forced to perform feats of extraordinary heroism; Claudette Colbert, although she seems out of her usually sophisticated element, really cannot be faulted, especially when one considers the Hollywoodized glamor of her makeup and costuming; and Edna May Oliver, heading Ford's customarily astutely chosen supporting cast, almost steals the picture.

    But, to my eyes, it is the unusually beautiful Technicolor cinematography by Bert Glennon and Ray Rennahan (the latter being the credited cinematographer on the first feature-length film in three-strip Technicolor, 1935's "Becky Sharp") who deserve the most accolades. Their work simply glows and has that special crispness characteristic of certain early Technicolor films (many of which bore the Twentieth Century Fox label, as it happens.) No doubt, working on outdoor locations with the cumbersome equipment and lighting requirements involved in the use of the Technicolor process at that time, not to mention the lengendarily dictatorial control of the Technicolor Corporation's czarina, Madame (Natalie) Kalmus, and her frequent associate, Henri Jaffa, Messrs. Glennon and Rennahan managed to accomplish one of 1939's finest achievements in color cinematography. With Alfred Newman's fine musical score and all of the other first-class production values lavished on this stirring tale, "Drums Along the Mohawk" deserves a place among the best recreations of those remarkable personal stories that were part of this newly emerging nation.

    I am not aware if the available VHS tape transfer does justice to the prints struck from the original negative, but American Movie Classics occasionally shows this title (mercilessly chopped up with endless commercials, etc., as is now their wont) in a version that makes one realize why the invention of color television broadcasting just had to happen!
  • This is one great film to look at on a lazy afternoon. It is definitely the finest film John Ford ever directed without the use of John Wayne. The timing of the release of it was interesting due to the fact that the world was edging ever closer to the brink of war and the country needed something to help boost morale. Also, the performances in this film were great as well. Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert were wonderful, but the character that really stood out for me was the old spinster, Mrs. McKlennar portrayed by Edna May Oliver. Too bad it had to be released in 1939. Due to all the great releases that year, this film definitely got lost in the shuffle.
  • This film has everything, drama, humor, and action. My favorite character is Mrs. McKlennar, played by the great Dame Edna May Oliver (also see her in A Tale of Two Cities). She's got the right combination of real independence, sauciness, and feeling. Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert are also fine as Gil and Lana. The usual John Ford stock company (Ward Bond, Arthur Shields, etc.) are in evidence in the well cast supporting roles. I'm kind of surprised that no one has targeted this story for a remake, though it might be a case of watching out what you wish for - it could be ruined by political correctness. Anyway, sit back and enjoy.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Triple Play in the Triple Campaign Plot: In a unique western, settlers face hardships of Indian attacks during the Revolution.

    The British Invade In 1777 the British began a three pronged invasion of New York State designed to subdivide the Revolution. Drums Along the Mohawk is the story of the people who repulsed the British attack along the western flank.

    John Ford, the acclaimed director, escaped the curse against American Revolution films by underplaying British involvement and winning the classification 'Western.' Yet this classic American frontier-western is not set against sage brush and cactus of Monument Valley where most John Ford films were shot. This story began in the rich forests of New York and Pennsylvania where British forces struggled throughout 1777-1778 to split the revolutionaries in two. Along a bloodied frontier the American Revolution was won by a touch of the feather.

    In Drums Along the Mohawk, Newlyweds Gil and Lana Martin (Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert) set out to farm in the lush Mohawk Valley. Gil is a patriot and the country is in the throes and turmoil of birth in war. Tories and their Indian allies, led by the insidious Caldwell (John Carridine) are afoot to burn every rebel farm they can find.

    Although the Tories are led by the stereotypical bad guy John Carradine, there are nice loyalists as well: Mrs McKlennar (Edna May Oliver), the feisty widow who proclaims her loyalty to George III and forces invading Indians to carry her in her bed outside as they pillage her farmstead.

    What a gal? No she was simply British by choice! This is a John Ford film. Ford unlike many other filmmakers of his time was sympathetic to the tenacity, nobility and bravery of the American Indian. The Indian at war is a fierce combatant but is equally capable of being a pious Christian.

    However ahead of his times in portraying the Indians, Ford did play with history just abit claiming an American victory at Oriskany and a repulse by force of arms at Fort Schuyler; indeed movie's claim that the opposing British commander was killed in the final assault at Fort Schuyler is pure crowd appeal. Stunning footage of battle scenes are good, but purely fictional.

    The film, as well as the book upon which the movie is based, accurately portray the active role taken by Colonial women in defense of Fort Schuyler. Cutting their hair with crude razor blades, women "manned" the ramparts. Too many of the men had been killed at Oriskany.

    Ultimately the Army led by Benedict Arnold did relieve the post; but the day was won by deception rather than force of arms. The British led Indian force besieging Fort Schuyler faded away.

    We can perhaps forgive John Ford for his historical lapses. Ford's primary purpose was patriotic to show the America which is a community of the whole enduring hardship in loyal to each other rather than the usual concept of the Revolution as parades vacuous speeches and senseless abstractions.

    John Ford's greatest historical lapse however would invite a chuckle from the most ardent patriot: the flag. According to the movie the settlers first see the flag in the final scene years later after the battle and only after war is won and independence is secured. However in the historical battle for Fort Schuyler the new flag was unfurled in combat for the first time: fashioned out of a soldier's blouse, a woman's petty coat, and an old red shirt.

    Sentimental at times--but also harsh and realistic, the film depicts the hardships of pioneer life, the ever-present danger as war intrudes upon the lush valley.

    John Ford: America On Film John Ford: American John Ford (Sean Aloysius O'Fearna) followed his brother Francis to Hollywood. When Francis O'Fearna, an actor, writer and director changed his name to Ford, Sean O'Fearna followed his brother's lead and took the more American sounding name John Ford. Working his way up from stunt work, camera work and film editing, John Ford directed his first picture in 1917, The Soul Herder (Universal).

    Ford developed a reputation for Westerns, then not taken serious by Hollywood and defined the genre with a group of actors he nurtured, John Wayne, Harry Carey, John Carradine, Henry Fonda, Ward Bond, Francis Ford, Victor McLaglen, Mae Marsh, Mildred Natwick, and others. Their principal virtue said Ford: they take orders.

    Ford is best known for his great Western/Cavalry trilogy: Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), and Rio Grande (1950) all starring John Wayne together with stock Western characters the big tick mick sergeants Victor McLaglen and Ward Bond. The product of a tough director with a poetic vision, Ford's movies are not simply Westerns, they are a overtures to American culture preserved. Overriding the many historical lapses was Ford's fine attention to the dress, manners and music of America in the 19th Century.

    In a John Ford Western if you hear the hymn "Shall We Gather at the River" or see the character holding aces and eights (the dead man's hand) at poker, you know a funeral will follow.

    In assuming an American persona Ford did not forget his Irish roots. Ford beat the other motion picture curse against Irish war films in the much acclaimed The Informer (1935), a complex drama of betrayal during the Irish troubles and The Quiet Man (1952), about an American of Irish ancestry who returns to the Eire to reclaim an Irish inheritance.
  • An early novel called " Drums Along the Mohawk " written by Walter D. Edmonds is the foundation for this motion picture of the same name. It relates the story of Mr. and Mrs. Gilbert Martin (Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert) a young, married America couple moving from New York city to the early frontier to begin a new life. The time coincides with events from 1776 thru the end of the Revolutionary War. As most Americans have learned from our history, life was incredibly harsh. Indeed, when not working on the toils of the farm, early colonists were often at war with the Native American tribes who had sided with the British army. After their farm is burned and losing their first child, their lives are constantly threatened, they move in with Mrs. McKlennar (Edna May Oliver) a wealthy widow woman to supplement their meager existence. Most of the film is dedicated to the hardship of early frontier life and includes the destruction of their farms and their valiant defense inside the nearby fort. John Carradine, plays the heavy named Caldwell with Arthur Shields playing Rev. Rosenkrantz. For many reasons John Ford creates a formula for the movie establishing himself as a superb director. This early Color picture is fabulous in many ways, not the least is the excellent cast and exciting drama. It's little wonder it has become an excellent Classic. Recommended for all audiences. ****
  • Well, I chose to do an oral report for a WEsterns class a few years back. Since the film is now out on DVD, I thought I'd write some thoughts about it. It is perhaps one of the best 'overlooked" Ford films. I am one who likes "Mogambo" though! Nevertheless, Henry Fona is great here as a patriot leader who must fight off the local tribe to secure his family. It is a very visual film, and the DVD should enhance its' qualities. It is also very well-edited and has a great score. Alas, as one other person pointed out here, it came out in 1939 and it has been overshadowed by Ford's own "Stagecoach." The film also proves Ford worked well with other actors besides John Wayne, most notably Fonda and Jimmy Stewart among many others.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    John Ford directs "Drums Along the Mohawk". It's a gorgeous looking film, though Ford's considerable compositional talents only serve to distract us from what is really a pretty hokey attempt at American myth making.

    The plot? A group of likable colonists travel to the ominously named Mohawk Valley. Led by the always watchable Henry Fonda (what is it about this guy that makes him so endearing?), they build homes, raise families and tend to their well manicured farms.

    Conflicts, of course, then arise when the settlers are forced to battle the British Army and a variety of Native American Indian tribes. Armed with muskets and pitchforks our Colonist heroes bravely fend off savage Red Coats and barbaric Red Skins, pausing occasionally to mourn the loss of their loved ones and to lament the burning of their homes.

    The film ends with the settlers eventually emerging victorious. The British are kicked out of America and the Indians are sourly beaten, leaving our merry band of Colonists to huddle together, babies in their arms and smiles on their faces, as the newly created American flag is hoisted up into the sky. "There's still a lot of work to be done," one character says, as the flag flutters in the wind.

    You either accept this stuff - essentially a cartoonish apologia for genocide, xenophobia, colonialism and a type of American exceptionalism that continues unabated even to this day - or you don't. Me, I'll take Robert Altman's "McCabe and Mrs Miller", an exercise in demythologisation, and a much more interesting account of settlers struggling to "build America". Still, if Ford is a man of simple intellect, he's nevertheless one of cinema's great visualists.

    Forget "The Searchers" and forget Monument Valley. Mohawk Valley is where it's at. Made in the late 30s, "Drums Along The Mohawk" is Ford's first and best looking colour film. With some darkly lush film-stock and a colour palette that oozes deep greens, rustic browns and the husky glow of cackling firelight, the film is gorgeous to look at. Ford's compositions are clean and uncluttered, simple objects like chairs, muskets, clouds and trees placed with the precision of a classical painter.

    But for those looking for action, the film also delivers quite a few tense set pieces. Several battles, foot chases and an attack on a fort, all add a visceral kick to the melodrama. Whilst the likes of Peckinpah, Siegel and Leone have rendered many of Ford's "action sequences" old fashioned (those once lauded cavalry charges in many of Ford's films now seem comical rather than gripping), the "action" in "Mohawk" has a painterly quality seldom found in the rest of his career. Think late career Kurosawa and mid-career Lean.

    So while most of the usual Fordian problems are here - caricatural Indians, jokey old timers, pesky drunks, shameless melodrama, grating music, hokey myth-making, ill-placed comedy, propagandistic history - I'd argue that the sheer "look" of the film is really something special. But is technique enough?

    7.9/10 – Thematically and stylistically, Ford was very much a traditionalist. Like most directors of the era (and since), he was trapped in the mentality of the theatre director. This is the belief that cinema only adds a larger canvas to the possibilities already afforded by the theatre stage. IE – we start with some grand landscape shot and then pull in to the key players, acting out the story within a room or small set. This formula is then repeated in various permutations. Compare this to the plasticity of Welles, Resnais or the curious camera of mid-Hitchcock, to see how limited Ford's vocabulary really was, even for its time. And yet, cinema has progressed so little in the past century, that this film, made in the 30s, still feels rather fresh. Compare, for example, "Drums Along The Mohawk" to Baz Luhrmann's "Australia". Both films are attempts to sanitise history, but Luhrmann's demonstrates just how impossible it is for many modern directors to escape the shadow of Ford.

    Worth one viewing.
  • ... Seriously! This entire film was a disaster! And I'm a big Ford fan. Claudette Colbert is a screaming mess in desperate need of a tranquilizer, and Henry Fonda's scene after returning home wounded in which he just blabbers on endlessly as Colbert tends to his wounds is just tortuous. How did Ford manage to make two of the greatest actors of the 30s and beyond look so hammy?

    What is good about this Revolutionary War pic? The color cinematography is to die for. Also, Edna Mae Oliver is great as a rich widow who gives the young couple who have been burned out of their farm (Fonda and Colbert) a home and a job. She is full of wise cracks as usual.

    I don't know why this was so amateurish. Ford for sure got the old West - and upstate New York was the old west in the 1770s. He for sure got romance - look at Maureen O'Hara and John Wayne in anything he directed. Maybe it was because it was a war picture rather than a focus on one man's individual struggle with another individual such as in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance". At any rate, I just don't see what so many others say they see in this film.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This film may be about settlers coming into conflict with the local Indian tribe but it isn't a western; it is set in the Mohawk Valley in what was then the Colony of New York during the time of the war of independence. The story follows a young couple Gilbert and Lana Martin who move into a cabin with the intention of farming and raising a family. Everything goes well at first but one day their property is attacked and burnt by the Mohawks who are fighting on the British side in the war. They may have lost everything but they don't give up hope; instead of returning to Albany they start working on the farm of a local widow. It isn't long before the war comes to their part the country and all the men are conscripted into the militia; we don't see what happens while they are gone but when Gilbert returns he is clearly haunted by what he did and saw. Once again the settle into a normal way of life and once again the Indians return, this time in force burning all the houses as the settlers seek shelter in the fort; the battle that ensues is fairly vicious and if nobody can get out and get help everything will be lost.

    Given the age of this film I was surprised that not only was it in colour but the colours are so vibrant. Of course what really matter is the quality of the story and how good the acting is; thankfully the story is interesting and well told; we are introduced to the characters and get to know them before the action starts and when it does it is quite thrilling. The acting is good too with Claudette Coleman and Henry Fonda making fine leads. There are a few strangely comic moments in the film such as when the elderly widow remonstrates with the two 'savage' Indians who are setting fire to her house and rather than harm her they carry her downstairs in her bed! The final confrontation was pretty thrilling and a bit more violent than I expected, one man was hit by a flaming arrow! While this isn't a western I'm sure fans of that genre will enjoy it as will people interested in films set in this period of which there are surprisingly few.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Ahhhh, classic cinema! The Technicolor, the optimism, the stock characters, the racism! Coming to you from main man John Ford is a Western/War drama about Gil and Lana, two newlyweds who move to the countryside to start out their lives, promptly to get involved in the militia that fights in the Revolutionary War. Their eagerness and enthusiasm ingratiates them promptly with the surrounding community, and their misfortunes tell the American tale of burgeoning success against oppression through work and freedom.

    John Ford is, of course, a great director, and with leads Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert, he paints a very pretty picture that ranges from funny and light-hearted domestic scenes to moments of darkness when the community is surrounded by violent Indians led by the eye-patched John Carradine. His period detail is lovingly built around characters that one can't help but love: the friendly general, the bumbling role-caller, the converted Christian Indian, the gruff but ultimately good-hearted widow, and of course the main characters, Gee-Whiz style Gil and his pretty upper-class beau Lana who both promise to work the land and reap its fruits.

    The scenes are mostly entertaining, paying more attention to the workings of the community than to the war surrounding them. The preacher adds his own political commentary explicitly in his sermons. People marry, children are born. The town drunk, doubling as the militia roll-call man, brings in some comedic relief. The town's converted Indian Blueback gives domestic advice in stunted "Me noble savage" English. Some of them are downright nonsensical, such as the scene where the pair of drunken Mohawks attempt to save the old widow and her bed from the fire that they started after appearing out of literally nowhere. But it's all held with the colorful optimism which tends to define the era, as it rounds up symbols of Americana (the villagers, the freed black man, the native) as they all regard the new American flag, reminding the United States about the land that they are fighting for.

    --PolarisDiB
  • Awesome and marvelous Western by the great John Ford and deemed by many to be his early best . 1776 , in American revolutionary , Albany , Gilbert 'Gil' Martin (Henry Fonda who was real descendant of the Fondas that settled in the Mohawk Valley in the mid 17th Century) marries the beautiful Magdelana 'Lana', shortly before the revolutionary war , and takes her West to begin a homestead in the Mohawk Valley , in Upstate New York . There took place bloody battles as Battle of German Flats in the Mohawk Valley as part of the loyalist Butler's Rangers , and the Battle of Oriskany . As they settle their homestead when the war begins and both of whom become involved into a terrible conflict . As both sides battle relentlessly supported by Indians , as the Iroquois Confederation was split in its loyalties during the Revolution , the Oneidas sided with the Americans while the Mohawks and Senecas joined with the Hurons and Nipissing First Nation , Ojibwas and Algonquins on the side of the instigating British . For the next six years Gilbert battles in the war and while they attempt to establish their homestead . But it to be on fire and the young farmers , then , move and meet a grumpy old widow , Mrs. Mc Klennar (Edna May Oliver) , who is happy to put them up in her farm in exchange for help from both of them . Later on , Gil joins the minutemen , and after that , Indians commanded by the nasty Brit Caldwell (John Carradine) burn the farms and attack the rebellious colonists on a fort that is really besieged . But the violence and destruction of war catch up , and even the fort isn't guaranteed safe . And Gilbert carries out a long marathon foot leg through an Indian gauntlet .

    One of John Ford's early Western hits , it has come remarkable Colour cinematography by Bert Glennon and Ray Rennahan , dealing with pioneers hardships , and the expected , violent as well as impressive scenes about the Redskin siege . This nice and superb Western contains thoughtful characters , full of wide open space and dramatic moments . Outdoors are pretty good and well photographed , story first-rate and powerful told too . Here John Ford and Henry Fonda reached the peak of their successful and fundamental screen collaboration . Thought-provoking , insightful screenplay portraying in depth characters and brooding events with interesting issues running beneath script surface . Over-the-top Western with trigger-taut drama , perfectly written by Lamar Trotti and uncredited collaboration by Nobel winner William Faulkner , being based on on the Walter Edmonds novel . The film relies heavily on the extremely sentimental relationship between the young marriage : Lana/Claudette Colbert and Gilbert Martin/Henry Fonda . Fine acting from Henry Fonda as a civilized man from the East coast colonies who finds himself a loving bride , and attractive Claudette Colbert who keeps her upper lip pretty stiff but she looses their expected baby . ¨Drums along the Mohawk¨ gets to ensemble a magnificent supporting cast , plenty of familiar faces , and Ford's regulars , such as : Edna May Oliver , John Carradine , Ward Bond , Francis Ford , Eddie Collins , Arthur Shields , Robert Lowery , Jessie Ralph , Jack Pennick , Russell Simpson and Chief John Big Tree . This classic and moving picture ranks as one of the main of John Ford's works , including settings , interpretations , cinematography all extraordinary . It contains Ford's usual themes as familiar feeling , a little bit enjoyable humor , friendship and sense of comradeship but also some cynicism and full of wide open spaces with breathtaking landscapes exceptionally filmed from Cook County , Pennsylvania , Aspen Mirror Lake , Duck Creek Village , Strawberry Point , Dixie National Forest, Wasatch Range , Cedar Utah USA . Furthermore , a sensitive , romantic and thrilling at times , musical score by the classic composer Alfred Newman .

    Marvelously shot Ford film with a lively look at the complex world of the colonialists , pioneers versus Indians , and adventure romance . This solid as well as patriotic motion picture was well directed , this is a grand , cunningly crafted entertainment , action-filled and jingoist saga about revolutionary America . Ford's prior and subsequent films to get great successes as ¨The stagecoach¨ , ¨The young Mr. Lincoln¨ and the cavalry trilogy as ¨Fort Apache¨, ¨They wore yellow ribbon¨ and ¨Rio Grande¨. And , his posterior ¨Two rode together¨ has a similar plot to ¨The searchers¨ though the Ford's vision about West is pretty cynical and less idealist .
  • When self help books are selling so well, there are some films which have the same effect. As "It's a Wonderful Life" is ideal for someone who is depressed, "Drums Along the Mohawk" should be seen by newlyweds, specially when they are going through hard times. The great heroes here are specially the women, having the gumption to start all over again, when everything is destroyed by the Mohawks, oriented by the British. At the beginning, before the first attack, they are talking about material objects like Wedgewood pottery, but it all changes, themselves included. Edna May Oliver gives an impressive performance, she flirts with a much younger Ward Bond and she even scares the Mohawks. Claudette Colbert is better than in any other film I have seen her, and Henry Fonda good as always.
  • A regular John Ford classic. Claudette Colbert played her role well, but her character was initially quite unlikeable. I suppose this was to show her personal growth over the course of the film. Fonda was, of course, Fonda, a bottomless pit of earnestness. Edna May Oliver was wonderful as the widow. She got an Ocar nomination, but too bad for her that this was the same year as Gone With the Wind and Hattie McDaniel.

    A few commentators have lamented that Ford caricatured the Indians and portrayed them as unfairly savage. If anything they were portrayed as not nearly as savage as reality. The North American Indians in general, and the Iriquois in particular, were among the most savage and bloodthirsty races on earth. At least two instances from the film struck me letting them off much too easy. When the widow McKlennar is surprised in her bed by two warriors burning her house, she browbeats them into carrying her out of the room on her bed. These Indians would have immediately tomahawked her to death on the spot. And when the captive is rolled out to be burnt below the walls of the fort, well, the Indians would almost certainly have tortured him to death for their own amusement. There was no military advantage to letting the fort know that he was captured, and the Indians torture of captives was well known. It was a large part of their culture. which was utterly martial. The fort would never surrender, because only torture and death awaited those who did. (On rare occasions captives would be kept alive as slaves, and rarer still, a few were adopted into the tribe) The British would sometimes encourage these massacres, and sometimes try to stop them, almost never with any success. No amount of politically correct revisionism changes what these Indian societies were in those days.
  • John Ford is an enigma. He has great virtues and vices as a director. Unfortunately, in this film (as in the Searchers) all his worst qualities are on display. Instead of the inherently dramatic events from Walter Edmonds' novel about Revolutionary War farmers in upstate New York, troubled by divisions within the community between Tories and Patriots, we get Ford's unmistakable brand of maudlin sentiment, and the hysterics of characters who are so simplistically rendered they'll remind you of children pretending.

    Ford also violates a cardinal rule of good film making by having Henry Fonda's character, Gil Martin, deliriously narrate to his wife the details of his experience in the battle of Oriskany. The scene is static, and Martin's story would have been better shown, not told. But Ford's movies are never entirely without interest. The best part of this movie (an action sequence where Henry Fonda has to outrun some Native American warriors) is a fine set-piece, but the characters have absolutely no dimension. I think Ford worked best when his producers reined him in. We can see this in STAGECOACH, in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE, and in FORT APACHE. But when they gave him his head he could turn out cloying material like DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK, THE SEARCHERS, and RIO GRANDE.

    In 1939 the three strip Technicolor process was Hollywood's new toy. In most early color features the new medium was the message; story and character development took a back seat as they do here. If you love melodrama and films with lots of action but not much depth, this one might appeal to you.
  • Ford made three great films in this one year, the others being the more quoted YOUNG MR. LINCOLN (1939) and STAGECOACH (1939). For this reason, this one has often been overlooked: patchy but frequently splendid, it's still an important achievement - a painstakingly realized production bearing some of the director's most characteristic traits.

    Set in the period of the American Revolution, it's not strictly a Western but the film features a number of skirmishes between the settlers and the Indians - flanked by a band of renegades led by a one-eyed John Carradine in another memorable villainous turn for Ford (after having played the sadistic prison warden in an earlier historical piece, THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND [1936]). His death occurs off-screen, but it's subtly suggested by a wonderful bit of business towards the end - involving an Indian who's been converted to Christianity!

    The cast, as always, is peppered with familiar Fordian faces - most notably Arthur Shields as a fervently patriotic priest! Leads Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda emerge as the perfect embodiments of the Spirit of America - idealistic, devoted and brave. Typically Fordian, i.e. corny, comic relief is provided by Edna May Oliver and Ward Bond - but, then, the former's fine portrayal of the indomitable frontierswoman par excellence was justly nominated for an Academy Award!

    The film's color cinematography (which also duly received an Oscar citation) is simply gorgeous, particularly when Ford's camera - this was his first in the process - is directed at the sweeping landscape.
  • I'm not a big fan of period pieces, so the title didn't sound very interesting to me. then i saw the cast list. young henry fonda and claudette colbert (Gil and Lana) get hitched during the revolutionary war days. ya got Edna Oliver, the grand ol dame, and of course, Jesse Ralph, who hounded W.C. Fields in all his films. Edwin Maxwell is Reverend Gros. they are all living on the very edge of the new frontier, and they face hardships right off. Indians. British. Gil signs up with the local back-woods regiment, and the war is on! the script and the acting are all pretty hokey and over-done. the story of one fort protecting itself and the nearby village. Colbert had already made It happened one night (oscar !) and imitation of life. Fonda was nominated a couple times, but would get his first film oscar for Golden Pond in 1981. director John Ford was a character. he had already won one of his (many) oscars, and would win another for directing Henry Fonda in Grapes of Wrath a couple years later.
  • It's the American revolutionary war. Gilbert Martin (Henry Fonda) takes his newly married wife Lana Borst (Claudette Colbert) from a wealthy Albany family to a small farm in remote upstate New York. They face political intrigue. Lana gets hysterical upon meeting friendly Oneida convert Blue Back (Chief John Big Tree). Gilbert joins the local militia. The British has recruited Mohawk warriors to go to war.

    I can abide by the drunken, stupid savage Indian stereotype. I can abide by the We treat them well comment. I can abide by Colbert's silly hysteria and her melodramatic acting. I can abide by a lot. I will not abide by the well-built frontier homes. They have second floors. They have porches and giant windows. Worst of all, they're made of stone. None of that is realistic. The final battle at the fort is mostly killing cannon fodder Indians. When they are able to kill an old woman, it is the most melodramatic death in cinema history. Nevertheless, it is good for its time. The color cinematography is amazing. John Ford's directing is great. The combination of Fonda and Colbert is good. It is old fashion but it couldn't be anything else.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    John Ford's Drums Along the Mohawk is the absolute best colonial movie ever made that reminds of why we became a country in the first place. The movie stars Henry Fonda as Gil Martin a farmer who has just been married and then had to serve in the American revolution, (which the beginning is similar to High Noon for when it comes to the beginning of the film but has more of a similar story to Roland Emmerich's 2000 colonial epic The Patriot.). Not only does Henry Fonda give a great performance but so does Claudette Colbert as his newlywed wife. Not only do I think personally that it is the best movie made about the revolutionary war, but it is also a great period piece. Back then it really took a lot to make movies about how our country started. And i think that this goes as one of John Ford's best films.
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