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Drum Beat (1954)

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.



(screenplay), (story)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
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 <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


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


Adventure | Western


Not Rated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

8 April 1955 (West Germany)  »

Also Known As:

Delmer Daves' Drum Beat  »


Box Office


$1,100,000 (estimated)

Gross USA:

$3,000,000, 31 December 1954
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

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



Aspect Ratio:

2.55 : 1
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Did You Know?


Actor Charles Buchinsky (his birth name) changed his name to Charles Bronson, using his new moniker for the first time in this film, and remained so for the rest of his acting career. See more »


When the woman on the stagecoach is shot by a Modoc arrow, if you look closely you can see the filament wire used to "guide" the prop arrow to its target. See more »


Gen. Canby: Sometimes it is as necessary to take risks to win peace as it is in war to win victories.
See more »


Featured in Cinema: Alguns Cortes - Censura II (2014) See more »


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

Well made but pretty ordinary.
27 June 2010 | by See all my reviews

The only reason I saw this film is because is starred Alan Ladd. Other than that, it really has nothing special to add to the 134427923459329 other westerns made during this era (don't believe me? I counted!). Sure, it has nice scenery and decent acting, but the plot is quite ordinary.

The film begins with Alan Ladd being summoned to the White House to talk with President Grant. It seems that Ladd was called because he is a famed 'Indian fighter' and knows a lot about the recent uprisings among the Modoc Indians in the Washington/Oregon area (though the film sure didn't look that that part of the country to me). Ladd is given a commission as a Peace Commissioner--to pacify the problems, not just go in and kill everyone!

As Peace Commissioner, Ladd is in a bind. Some settlers and a cavalry officer and his wife have been murdered. The settlers are calling for action, but Ladd can't just start killing Indians without knowing exactly who was at fault. Ladd's job sure looks like a tough one.

When you see Captain Jack (not the pirate but the leader of these Indians), you will not be surprised that he's not played by a real American-Indian--this was very typical for the time period. Heck, the 1950s saw the likes of Rock Hudson(!), Jeff Chandler and other non-natives playing Indians. In this film, Charles Bronson (!!) plays the renegade Indian warrior--the same man of Lithuanian ancestry who was born Charles Buchinsky! Well, at least he WAS able to carry off the role, as despite his very white ancestry his chiseled looks were a reasonable approximation for a Modoc Indian--though his nose is clearly not correct (you can't win 'em all). Anthony Caruso, an Italian-American, also plays a Modoc tribesman but frankly, he WAS able to carry off playing an Indian very well and you'd swear he was one himself. And, Mexican-born Rodolfo Acosta also plays one of the tribesmen. IMDb did not indicate he had Indian blood, either, but he, too, at least looked like a very good approximation of a Modoc Indian.

This is a well-polished and decent western with good production values. However, aside from discussing the Modocs (hardly a tribe mentioned in a typical western), there really is nothing new here. The Indians are, generally, shown as unreasonable savages and the day is saved by a combination of macho-Ladd and the US Cavalry. I am quite sure that the Modocs would have a different interpretations of these hostilities! Watchable and well made but also quite ordinary.

By the way, although the dates are wrong and several important omissions occur, the general facts of the film were essentially correct (there WAS a Captain Jack, for instance as well as a hold-out in the mountains by the warriors). There was a lot of friction between the Modoc tribe and settlers--with quite a few 'massacres'. However, by 1876 (when the film is set), the Modocs had been forcibly moved to Oklahoma and their leader hanged following the killing of a US Major. It makes for interesting reading and is actually a lot more interesting than this movie.

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