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In Revolutionary America, Gil Martin takes his new wife Lana back to his farm in upstate New York. The area is remote and a distance from the fort but they are happy living in their one room cabin. With the declaration independence, the settlers soon find themselves at war with the British and their Indian allies. Their farm is burned out and the Martins take work with Sarah McKlennar. The war continues however as the Martins try to make a new life. Written by
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.
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