DVD Review: Drums Along the Mohawk

Starring: Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert, Ward Bond
Director: John Ford
Rating: 7/10

John Ford exchanges ten gallon hats and six-shooters for tricornes and muskets in this tale of newlyweds Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert caught up in the American War of Independence. The two want only to tend their farm and get on with their lives, but as the whole area is dragged into the conflict, Fonda’s Gil is obliged to report for duty to the local militia (packed full of colourful eccentrics played by Ford’s usual crowd of supporting actors). Then the Indians go on the war path, mobilized by those dastardly Brits, in the form of sneaky John Carradine, and the pastoral idyll turns into a chaotic debacle.

Colbert’s timid town mouse act, Fonda’s aw gosh innocence and Alfred Newman’s keeningly sentimental score all now seem a bit mawkish, but these are offset by the film’s many bracing virtues. Portraying ordinary people caught up in the vicissitudes of war, Ford mixes rousing action and bluff, knockabout humour in exhilarating fashion, and by keeping the Indians faceless and shadowy, it makes them all the more effective as the settlers’ nemesis. Several of the set-pieces are among the most impressive Ford ever attempted – including an early one of the farmers hastily fleeing to the fort with whatever belongings they can gather, and a later one of them holed up there, watching helplessly from the ramparts as their homes catch fire one by one on the horizon.

Sentiment creeps in here and there, but the message of the film is cool and hard-drums-along-the-mohawkheaded. Ford treats fighting as a part of normal life that has to be tackled with the same civic virtues of teamwork and industry that make for a prosperous peace. Whether you agree or not, it makes a change from the usual hand-wringing over the horrors of war. Most of the movie takes place outdoors, and the pastel-hued Technicolor location cinematography looks stunning on this DVD transfer, which is more crisp and vibrant than some Blu-rays you might see. Those evil Brits though, what are they like?

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