In 1872, Indian fighter Johnny MacKay is appointed peace commissioner for the California and Oregon territory but he faces tough opposition from the renegade Modocs led by their brutal chief Captain Jack.



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Johnny MacKay
Nancy Meek
Bill Satterwhite
Scarface Charlie
Kintpuash, aka Captain Jack
Gen. Canby
Blaine Crackel
Richard Gaines ...
Dr. Thomas
Modoc Jim
Bogus Charlie
Lily White
Peggy Converse ...
Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant


President Grant orders Indian fighter MacKay to negotiate with the Modocs of northern California and southern Oregon. On the way he must escort Nancy Meek to the home of her aunt and uncle. After Modoc renegade Captain Jack engages in ambush and other atrocities, MacKay must fight him one-on-one with guns, knives and fists. Written by Ed Stephan <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Only the fierce Modocs knew the terrible meaning of each beat of the Drum ! See more »


Western | Adventure


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Release Date:

8 April 1955 (West Germany)  »

Also Known As:

Delmer Daves' Drum Beat  »

Box Office


$1,100,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound Recording) (magnetic prints)| (optical prints)



Aspect Ratio:

2.55 : 1
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Did You Know?


General Edward Canby, whose death is depicted in this movie, was in reality the only U.S. army general killed during the American Indian Wars. "General" G. A. Custer, killed at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876, was not in fact a general at the time of his death. After the Civil War, he held the permanent rank of Lieutenant Colonel. See more »


This movie was based on the 1869 Modoc Indian uprising in northern California, yet they show 44-40 lever action Winchester rifles, which were not introduced until 1873. See more »


Nancy Meek: Johnny, I just learned something.
Johnny MacKay: Yes?
Nancy Meek: Why women in the West seem happier than those back East.
Johnny MacKay: Red women or white?
Nancy Meek: Both. It's knowing they're needed. If a woman's needed - if she knows she's wanted... I'm going to stay. I think I can be needed here. I hope I will be.
See more »


Featured in The Good Life (2007) See more »


Drum Beat
Music by Victor Young
Lyrics by Ned Washington
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User Reviews

A fine outdoors action western
25 May 2003 | by (Virginia) – See all my reviews

This western is one of Alan Ladd's best films and he is the peace commissioner turned Indian fighter who finally brings peace in the far west. The film is based on factual events as Modoc boss Captain Jack ignores repeated overtures for peace and leaves the cavalry no choice but to resort to arms to stop the killing and outrages. Ladd and Charles Bronson, the Indian leader, make fine adversaries and the movie has lots of action and beautiful scenery. A great cast of western favorites are in the film and Ladd even has a moment or two to clinch with with pretty Audrey Dalton. Marisa Pavan is an Indian maiden who also has a yen for Ladd. Delmer Daves directed this film, which is another in a succession of excellent Daves westerns. Victor Young's fine music accompanies the film.

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