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War Drums (1957)

The friendship between a white man and an Apache chief is tested when they fall in love with the same woman during a time of frontier conflict.


Reginald Le Borg (as Reginald LeBorg)


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Cast overview:
Lex Barker ... Mangas Coloradas
Joan Taylor ... Riva
Ben Johnson ... Luke Fargo
Larry Chance ... Ponce
Richard H. Cutting ... Judge Benton (as Richard Cutting)
John Pickard ... Sheriff Bullard
James Parnell James Parnell ... Arizona
John Colicos ... Chino
Tom Monroe Tom Monroe ... Dutch Herman
Jil Jarmyn ... Nona
Jeanne Carmen ... Yellow Moon
Mauritz Hugo ... Clay Staub
Ward Ellis Ward Ellis ... Delgadito
Jack Hupp Jack Hupp ... Lt. Roberts


Mexican girl Riva comes between two friends, Apache chief Mangas and trader Fargo, both of whom love the girl. She weds Mangas to the disappointment of Fargo and the dismay of Mangas's tribe. Fargo brokers peace between the Apache and the white settlers, but unscrupulous gold-hunters trigger war. It is up to Fargo to prevent a bloodbath. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

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Release Date:

21 March 1957 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Chief Red Sleeves See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

Mono (Westrex Recording System)


Color (Color by Deluxe)| Color

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


According to July 1956 Hollywood Reporter news items, the set was beset by several accidents, including a fire that destroyed a wardrobe trailer and a lightning storm that destroyed a generator, which delayed production for a few days. See more »


In the beginning of the movie, Luke (Ben Johnson's character) makes a reference to "President Lincoln". Later in the movie a newspaper is shown dated Oct. 21, 1860 which was before Lincoln was first elected president on November 6th of that year. See more »


Dutch Herman: Get two horses and spreadeagle him.
Dutch Herman: I'll show this Indian not to come around here lying to white men.
See more »


Referenced in Una questione d'onore (1966) See more »


Oh, Sussana
Composed by Stephen Foster (1848)
Instrumental version played around campfire
See more »

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User Reviews

Surprisingly good Apache-themed western
10 May 2003 | by Brian CampSee all my reviews

The low-budget color western, WAR DRUMS (1957), is quite a discovery. A quirky variation on BROKEN ARROW (1950), it focuses on Apache-white tensions in Arizona in the early 1860s, but offers Apache chief Mangas Coloradas as the hero. A love triangle is created involving Riva, a Mexican woman captive who becomes Mangas's wife, and Fargo, the white trader and friend of Mangas who also loves Riva. The film doesn't downplay Apache-white hostilities or end on a false note of hope. It's an honest, deeply felt western drama with good performances by a pair of stars, Lex Barker and Joan Taylor, who didn't often get the chance to create such rounded characters, and a second male lead, Ben Johnson, who did.

Interestingly, the film begins by focusing on the bitter ongoing conflict between Mexicans and Apaches, a historical reality rarely dealt with on film. The opening sequence features a lot of untranslated spoken Spanish. Mangas and his braves raid a ranch of Mexican horse thieves and kill the men, take back their horses, and abduct Riva. On his way back with her to his own encampment, Mangas stops to eat and trade with Fargo and his party. It is here that Fargo falls for Riva and offers to trade his new repeating rifle for her. Mangas refuses and declares he'll make her his wife.

Back at his village, Mangas turns Riva over to his sister and cousin (Jil Jarmyn, Jeanne Carmen) to give her an Apache makeover. Riva insists on riding and hunting with her husband and not doing women's work. Mangas agrees and takes her out on hunting parties with him. Soon Riva is decked out in a series of attractive, if unlikely, buckskin outfits befitting her new role. The medicine man (John Colicos) and two other warriors protest their chief's marriage to a "Mexicana." Mangas fights and kills the two warriors and the Medicine Man wisely relents and agrees to perform the marriage. Fargo shows up on the day of the wedding and makes another offer for Riva, but it's too late. He watches with a broken heart as she comes out in a stunning blue-and-white buckskin dress-and-boots ensemble that rival any of the Indian women's fashions paraded by Debra Paget in her Indian westerns, BROKEN ARROW and WHITE FEATHER.

Eventually, the harmony is broken by white miners panning for gold whose intrusion on Apache land and brutalization of Apaches lead to the war drums of the title. Fargo finds himself caught in the middle and his attempts to act as go-between are doomed to failure, leading to the breakout of full-scale war. Mangas takes the name of Mangas Coloradas, after the long red-sleeved shirt he must wear to cover up the scars inflicted by the white miners. Eventually, Mangas is wounded and seeks the help of a white doctor, leading to the takeover of a white town by Apaches until such help can be found. As the doctor tends Mangas' chest wound, a white woman undergoes labor pains in the same room, making for quite a powerful scene. Eventually, Fargo, now a major in the U.S. Army, arrives to intervene.

Although none of the lead actors are actually Indian or Mexican, they all seem to be powerfully motivated by the spirits of their characters. (Taylor's character at least speaks a lot of Spanish, which adds a touch of authenticity to her portrayal.) Lex Barker, a former Tarzan, makes a stubborn, determined and charismatic Apache chief. Not long after this film, he moved to Germany and made a series of highly successful westerns there, making him that country's most popular movie star for much of the 1960s. Joan Taylor was a sharp-featured, dark-haired actress who made a strong impression in such 1950s genre outings as APACHE WOMAN, GIRLS IN PRISON, EARTH VS. THE FLYING SAUCERS and TWENTY MILLION MILES TO EARTH. She cuts quite a striking figure here as she rides alongside Mangas, dressed in buckskin, painted for war and wielding a mean bow and arrow. Ben Johnson, better known for his work in John Ford and Sam Peckinpah films (plus his Oscar-winning turn in THE LAST PICTURE SHOW), plays a decent, tender, fair-minded white man who represents quite a contrast to the gold-hungry whites who instigate the open warfare with Apaches. Canadian actor John Colicos, later to be seen in TV's "Battlestar Galactica," appears in an early Hollywood role as the Apaches' flamboyant, overly expressive medicine man.

The film is shot almost entirely outdoors on picturesque locations. The murky color print seen for this review, as broadcast on superstation TBS, doesn't do justice to the expert cinematography by William Margulies. This is one of many unsung westerns from the 1950s that would benefit greatly from a remastered DVD edition enabling it to be re-discovered by western fans.

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