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Western films, from silent to today

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) poster Lana (Claudette Colbert) and Gil Martin (Henry Fonda) are a newly married couple who leave the comfort of Albany for the wilds of Deerfield around the time of the American Revolution.

Lana has a tough first night in her new home. She’s frightened by a friendly Indian named Blue Back and shocked at the primitive conditions she’ll be living in one the homestead/farm that Martin loves so much.

But she quickly adjusts to the life of a frontier woman; friendships made with other settlers living near the fort at German Flats helps. And before long, she and Gil are expecting their first child.

Then comes an Indian raid. The Martin farm is torched as settlers flee for the safety of the fort. Lana suffers a miscarriage. And the couple are forced to start over again as hired help on the farm of the widow McKlennar (Edna May Oliver).

Peace returns to Deerfield and Mrs. McKlennar’s farm thrives under Martin’s direction. But that peace is unlikely to last with war raging between the settlers and the British.

Rating 4 out of 6Review:

This marked John Ford’s first film in color and it certainly presses home the perils of living on the frontier in the 1700s and the courage it took to do so.

In addition to fine performances from Colbert and Fonda as the young couple, the film benefits from a spirited (and Oscar nominated) performance from Edna May Oliver as Mrs. McKlennar, the strong-willed widow who gives them a home after theirs has been burned to the ground in an Indian raid.

Some of the attempts at humor come off as silly. Like when Christian Reall forgets his own named during roll call for the Mohawk Valley militia. And when Mrs. McKlennar convinces two Indian warriors to carry her, in her bed, out of her bedroom before setting it ablaze.

Folks might also cringe at poor Lana’s first night in her new home. When she gets hysterical, Gil slaps her to bring her back to her senses. Then Blue Back shows up with a switch, suggesting Gil keep it around to keep his wife in line. He places it above their fireplace.

The film’s also at least partly based on fact. When the militia returns from an engagement badly battered, Gil shares the story of the Battle or Oriskany. There was really a Gen. Nicholas Herkimer who led colonial troops in that engagement, suffered a leg wound and died after having it amputated.

Henry Fonda as Gil Martin and Claudette Colbert as his wife Lana in Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)Directed by:
John Ford

Claudette Colbert … Lana
Henry Fonda … Gilbert Martin
Edna May Oliver … Mrs. McKlennar
Eddie Collins … Christian Reall
Dorris Bowdon … Mary Reall
John Carradine … Caldwell
Jessie Ralph … Mrs. Weaver
Robert Lowery … John Weaver
Arthur Aylesworth … George Weaver
Arthur Shields … The Rev. Rosenkrantz
Roger Imhof … Gen. Nicholas Herkimer
Francis Ford … Joe Boleo
Ward Bond … Adam Hartman
Kay Linaker … Mrs. Demooth
Russell Simpson … Dr. Petry
Spencer Charters … Innkeeper
Si Jenks … Jacob Small
Jack Pennick … Amost Hartman
Chief John Big Tree … Blue Back
Charles Tannen … Dr. Robert Johnson
Paul McVey .,.. Capt. Mark Demooth
Tiny Jones … Mrs. Reall
Beulah Hall Jones … Daisy

Runtime: 103 min.

Memorable lines:

Innkeeper about Caldwell: “That patch over his eye — I bet he lost it trying to see something that was none of his business.”

Mrs. McKlennar, upon hiring Gil and Lana: “Any questions you want to ask?”
Gil begins to stutter.
Mrs. McKlennar: “Well, what?”
Gil Martin: “Do you belong to the right party?”
Mrs. McKlennar, scoffing: “Right party — Martin, a woman hasn’t got any political opinions. I run this farm to suit myself. I’ll shoot the daylights out of anyone — British, Indian or American — that thinks he can come around here monkeying in my business.”

Gen. Nicholas Herkimer: “Tell me something first, doctor. Did you ever cut off a leg before?”
Doctor, bashfully: “Why … no, sir.”
Herkimer: “Well, don’t be ashamed. A man has got to start somewhere.”

The Rev. Rosenkrantz: “Brother Reall! Put down that devil’s brew.”
Christian Reall: “I was only trying to get rid of it so those heathens wouldn’t get it.”
The reverend: “Beware the heathen within thy own breast.”

Mrs. McKlennar, handing a man a loaded musket during the assault on the fort: “Now shoot the britches off them. If there were any britches.”

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