Thursday, April 26, 2018

Drums

George MacDonald Fraser is one of my favorite historical novelists (the Flashman series). He was, in his books, pretty meticulous about historical accuracy. His The Hollywood History of the World is about films about historical events. It has chapters like "First Age: The Ancient World," "Second Age: Knights and Barbarians," "Fifth Age: Rule Britannia," and "Sixth Age: New World, Old West." So two of my enthusiasms come together here: films and historical fiction. MacDonald on one of my favorite John Ford films:
Drums Along the Mohawk is the story of a patriot community in the Mohawk Valley in 1776, to which Gilbert Martin (Henry Fonda) has brought his lady wife (Claudette Colbert), who reacts with dismay at her primitive surroundings and goes into hysterics at the sight of an Indian. No sooner has she grown accustomed to the hardships of frontier farming than the Revolution reaches the valley, which is subjected to terrible Indian raids led by the sinister John Carradine in an eye-patch. Their farm is burned, and the young couple are forced to hire out to a redoubtable widow (Edna Mae Oliver at her best). More Indian attacks follow, the community are beleaguered in their little fort, and Martin has to run for help — literally, with three Indians racing in pursuit in a splendid sustained chase sequence. Of course he gets through, and the fort is relieved just as the Indians are breaking in.

That is the outline of a beautifully observed study of frontier life. Ford can let his camera range over a room, picking up tiny details of furnishing, or over a church service, with its eccentric minister (Arthur Shields) praying and advertising in one breath, and tell more about a period than an hour-long lecture. It is a gentle, pastoral film for the most part, which makes its violent passages all the more telling, and at the end of it one begins to understand what it must have been like to try to make a home on he edge of the wilderness, and the price that had to be paid for survival. I said that Britain is not identified as the enemy, who are described throughout as 'Tories' — quite correctly, so far as those Americans who fought against the Revolution are concerned. Indeed, when the film came out in 1939, I doubt if British audiences realised they were watching a phase of the Revolution at all, especially since the raising of the Stars and Stripes at the end is accompanied by the ambiguous strains of 'God Save the King/My Country of Thee'.
This is a very good Blu-ray of Drums Along the Mohawk