Distant Drums (1951)
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However, I think my little knowledge about the Seminole wars in Florida give me the possibility of judging the film just at what it is: an adventure film. That established, "Distant Drums" appears to me as a highly entertaining and well done movie as well as a very original film mainly because of where the action is located. Is has great color, beautiful photography and incredible open wide sceneries in the Everglades. The plot -although kind of standard (a bunch of soldiers chased by savage Indians through the swamps- is however very well handled by director Roul Walsh and he keeps action going all along without major bumps. The sequence at the Seminole village is most impressive and tense as it is the final underwater knife duel between Captain Wyatt and chief Okala.
Gary Cooper (Wyatt) is very good as the leader of the escaping troop and shows the presence and self confidence a leader should. The rest of the cast brings a good support too, mainly Arthur Hunnicutt (Coooper's sidekick) and Ray Teal (one of the troopers), and Mari Aldon does a credible work as Cooper's romantic interest. Seminole chief Okala looks mean enough and a proper match for Cooper. Perhaps the less impressive performance is that of Richard Webb kind of dull as a navy officer involved in the mission.
In all this a decent action/adventure film, most entertaining and worth seeing for those who enjoy the genre.
The film was shot on actual location in the Everglades, I think Gary Cooper must have gotten some taste of what Bogey and Hepburn were enduring doing The African Queen. Too bad the story didn't rate the same as The African Queen.
Cooper is an American Army captain on duty with the army of General Zachary Taylor, played by Robert Barrat, who lives on his own island and doesn't dress in any army uniform. Zach Taylor had a reputation for informality, but that was carrying it a bit too far. The only other guy who had his own private island during war was Lt. Commander Quentin McHale and his PT Boat crew.
Anyway Barrat gives Cooper a mission and a Navy lieutenant played by Richard Webb to carry it out. To attack an old Spanish fort and go by boat across Lake Okechoobee. An early type of amphibious warfare. The attack goes off as planned and some civilian prisoners are rescued from the renegades using the fort. But the Seminoles are in hot pursuit of Cooper and the whole bunch through most of the film.
I can't believe by the way that a director like Raoul Walsh had the army and the Seminoles fighting with repeating rifles and six shooter revolving pistols. Stuff wasn't invented yet.
For the early years of the republic, Florida under Spanish rule and loose rule at that, was a thorn in our side. Pirates like the ones you see here used it as a haven for raiding purposes. But it was also a refuge for runaway slaves. Our southern states wanted Florida acquired to put an end to that. The indigenous tribes to Florida, the Seminoles did offer refuge for runaway slaves. So a war there was inevitable, especially when southern presidents like Andrew Jackson were in the White House.
Maybe one day someone will do a proper film on the early history of Florida, but this ain't it.
The Florida setting certainly gave this film a different feel to just about every other western I've seen; usually the worst natural danger in a western is a rattlesnake but the alligators here were more frightening and there saw a surprising amount of blood shown when one of the men was killed by one. There was a decent amount of action including a knife fight that takes place underwater! The acting is okay but lead Gary Cooper is nowhere near as good as he was in 'High Noon'; I guess this is down to the material he had to work with. Love interest Mari Alden looks pretty but her character isn't particularly interesting; we learn that she isn't quite the Southern lady she makes out to be but that revelation hardly affects her character. I'm not sure whether this will appeal to fans of conventional westerns; I think it is more likely to appeal to fans of adventure stories.
This exciting Western packs thrills , noisy action , spectacular struggles and lots of gutsy adventure . Brawling , sprawling , almost primitive action, teeming across the screen . Impressive images when Wyatt and Seminole Chief Oscala square off in a breathtaking climax . Raoul Walsh demonstrates a special talent for making the densest action sequences seem uncomplicated and uncluttered and his characters , like the scenes distinguished , often have an unfettered , raw power . Gorgeous Mari Aldon as a ballerina from Savannah who bears a dark past , she does an enjoyable and prominent debut though didn't have a notorious career . Good secondary cast with familiar hearted features as Richard Webb, Robert Barrat , Arthur Hunnicutt , Ray Teal and uncredited Darren McGavin as Navy Lt. The picture was photographed by Sidney Hickox in the heart of the Florida everglades , at Silver Sprags and at Castillo of San Marcos in the Southeastern nation , monuments through the courtesy of the United States Department of Interior National Park Service. Thrilling as well as emotive musical score by the classic Alfred Newman .
The motion picture produced by Milton Sperling is well directed by Raoul Walsh . From his starts in the silent cinema he achieved successful films until the 50s and forward , early 60s , when he was less dominant , but is still stayed lots of lusty adventure , stories of comradeship and friendship , and Raoul makes the most of plentiful action scenes . Walsh was an expert director of all kind genres but with penchant in Western as ¨Colorado territory¨ , ¨They died with their boots on¨, ¨Along the great divide¨, ¨Saskatchewan¨, ¨King and four queens¨ , ¨The sheriff of fractured jaw¨, ¨A distant trumpet¨ ; Adventure as ¨Thief of Bagdad¨, ¨Captain Horatio Hornblower¨, ¨World in his hands¨, ¨Blackbeard the pirate¨ , ¨Sea devils¨ ; Warlike as ¨Objetive Burma¨ , ¨Northern pursuit¨, ¨Marines let's go¨ ; and Noir film as ¨White heat¨, ¨High Sierra¨, ¨They drive by night¨, ¨The roaring twenties¨. Rating : Fairly straightforward movie and above average . This interesting Western and action film makes it of the finest of Raoul Walsh genre entries.
Not one for fans of Cooper, Walsh or Busch to get excited about. The story is as conventional as it gets, complete with a romantic angle, and the dialogue is boorish and lacking imagination. Were it not for the excellently constructed action sequences (check out the under water scenes) and the lush location photography, then this one would be consigned to the "please steer away from" pile. Busch is the main culprit since his writing is confused as to what it wants to achieve. The Seminole Indians are painted as savages, thus giving a one sided feel to a War not often seen in movies, yet other Native Americans are handled more sympathetically via the portrayal from Cooper. All in all we learn nothing about the War and the people involved as the film winds up as a jungle like adventure built around a number of set pieces.
Cooper is rugged and watchable as an Alligator Dundee type and Hunnicutt as always leaves a favourable impression as the scout. Mari Aldon is pretty but pretty one dimensional, while Richard Webb just seems out of place in the perilous locale and therefore unconvincing. But as previously mentioned, nobody here is helped by the tepid script. It's believed that this movie features the earliest known use of the Wilhelm Scream sound effect, a technique used to vocalise a character being torn to shreds by an alligator. A standard film it is then, one that really should have been a fine entry into a sadly untapped in to topic. It's like getting a beautifully wrapped birthday present that when opened reveals nothing but strips of mouldy old newspaper. 5/10
Almost everything you expect from a jungle adventure set in Florida is here including alligators, snakes and wild cardboard Indians. A great plus are the beautifully shot underwater scenes, short but crystal clear, crowned by a final duel under surface. This isn't one of the best movies from the director Raoul Walsh, but as a classic adventure and action for a more empty-headed moment it works truly well.
When I watch movies, I look for details many others do not. Much of this is because I love history and taught it. So, when I see folks who are supposed to be fighting the Seminole Indians during the Second Seminole War (the one Zachary Taylor participated in), I hated seeing folks using revolvers and Springfield rifles that used cartridges, as these weapons came along during the Civil War era...about 25 years later. And, the uniforms on the men were a motley collection of types---and the most prevalent was a Rough Riders type from about 1898! This was all very sloppy...and the folks making the film simply didn't care. When I add to that the story is only kinda interesting, then I am left with a movie that clearly falls into the 'time-passer' category...one that is modestly watchable and entertaining but absolutely nothing more...even WITH Gary Cooper in the lead! Watch it if you must...and at least the nice Florida locations are nice to see.
In spite of all this it is a great story and well-acted by everyone. The drill the soldiers do is very well done unlike most Hollywood epics.
The expedition is led by Captain Wyatt(Gary Cooper), a rather reclusive army officer, who lives on a small island in a small lake. Most troopers have to be picked up at the regional headquarters, commanded by Zachary Taylor. Wyatt's favorite companion is a backwoodsman called Monk(Arthur Hunnicut), who's always seen with a coonskin cap no matter how hot and humid it is. About midway in the film, they reach the fort and manage to surprise the inhabitants, killing all. They also discover several hostages in a cell. Of course, one is a beautiful sexy, unattached, young woman, who naturally soon takes a shine to Cooper. Now, to get back home, they have to take a different route, because Seminoles are swarming on the route the took to get there. They face very difficult slogging, and eventual starvation, not to mention occasional Seminoles.
The basic plot much reminds me of that of "Northwest Passage", of a decade before. A group of rangers tramp though a long stretch of difficult wilderness for one objective, which is accomplished, then have a more difficult time on the return trip, including starvation. It's estimated that 80% of the trooper casualties were due to diseases and other non-Indian hazards. For example, malaria and yellow fever were real hazards not usually present in New England. Starvation was another hazard, which this expedition encountered on the return trip.
Mari Aldon plays Judy, the gorgeous rescued captive. It's too bad this seems to have been her only significant film role. She had been a ballerina.
Another film dealing with the 2nd Seminole War, called "Seminole" was released just 2 years later. It was also shot in color and largely in the Everglades. Although it too has an excess of historical fabrication, at least it has some historical basis, whereas the present film does not. However, the Indians look more authentic in the present film.
Here Cooper and company give it a try, but it's just 'Objective Burma' transferred to FLA. You do get to see Arthur Hunnicutt and Ray Teal doing their things too for what it's worth. Decent scenery, and of course famous underwater knife fight too.
** outta ****.
The first scream is in a battle early on so that's good.
I got about 30 minutes into this movie because its really boring. I wouldn't recommend it.
While everything's color now, this was made when color films were rare and it really does look amazing. The story is that a cowboy is fighting in the Mexican-American War and has to fight hostile Indians as well. It was even a nice history lesson as I forgot that President Zachary Taylor was a general. It was kind of personal as I live in Florida. I've never been to the Everglades, though. While not great, it's worth watching. ***
SYNOPSIS: In 1840, deep in the Florida Everglades, General Zachary Taylor accepts an idea put forward by Captain Quincey Wyatt to strike a blow at gun-runners supplying the Seminole Indians.
NOTES: Although its story is somewhat similar to Northwest Passage, this film is a more direct re-make of Walsh's own Objective Burma (1945) with Errol Flynn in the role now played by Gary Cooper.
Photographed on locations in the heart of the Florida Everglades at Silver Springs, and at the Castillo de San Marcos in the South-Eastern National Monuments, through the courtesy of the United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service.
COMMENT: Pale adventure, lacks the gusto and excitement of say a Savage Islands and now seems feeble and dated. The laughable introduction of glamor girl Mari Aldon into the plot, the stiff acting by some of the support players (Webb who also narrates, Barratt) negate the realism of actual location filming.
At best, an adequate adventure for Cooper fans. Others beware! And it has one of Steiner's least memorable, if atmospherically appropriate music scores.
OTHER VIEWS: Although largely (and beautifully) shot on Florida locations (including the famous Everglades swamp), this film is burdened with a laughably inept, cliché-ridden script. Fortunately, most of the dialogue can be ignored in favor of the splendid action scenes which Walsh handles with his customary vitality. - JHR writing as George Addison.
Walsh at half-steam. Even the Everglades action is rather listlessly handled until the pursuit really gets underway. But then the chase is hampered by Mari Aldon with her needlessly boring romantic punctuations which do nothing for realism and undermine suspense. Sub-hero Webb is little help either. Distant Drums has all the makings of a first-class action adventure. What it needed was a film editor with a much sharper pair of scissors. - JHR writing as Charles .Freeman.
This picture was directed by the great Raoul Walsh, and you've either come here for him or Gary Cooper. Neither one of who really impresses here. It looks OK, with some decent technicolor photography.
I guess I might be giving up on westerns unless they're supposed to be the absolute creme of the crop. Its just not my genre.