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DRUM BEAT (director/writer: Delmer Daves; cinematographer: J. Peverell Marley; editor: Clarence Kolster; music: Victor Young; cast: Alan Ladd (Johnny MacKay), Audrey Dalton (Nancy Meek), Marisa Pavan (Toby), Robert Keith (Bill Satterwhite), Rodolfo Acosta (Scarface Charlie), Charles Bronson (Kintpuash, aka Captain Jack), Elisha Cook Jr. (Crackel), Anthony Caruso (Chief Manok), Richard Gaines (Dr. Thomas), Hayden Rorke (President Grant); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Delmer Daves/Alan Ladd; Warner Bros.; 1954)
“Ladd cuts a fine Western figure.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Delmer Daves (“Jubal”/”The Badlanders”/”Broken Arrow”) bases his film on a true story that he researched. It features J. Peverell Marley’s breathtaking locale photography and the appealing ballad-like musical score by Victor Young. The film is set in 1869 around the California-Oregon border country, where the Modoc Indian uprising is taking place. Johnny MacKay (Alan Ladd) is the former Indian fighter frontiersman who knows these Indians and is commissioned by President Grant to negotiate a peace treaty with these rebels who left the reservation without the use of force. They are led by the renegade Captain Jack (Charles Bronson, his first major role), who honors no treaties and is someone Johnny doesn’t trust.

In the Indian village Johnny once again faces his childhood sweetheart Toby (Marisa Pavan), the sister of peaceful Indian Chief Manok (Anthony Caruso). She throws a jealous fit that Johnny is sweet on the pretty white chick Nancy Meek (Audrey Dalton), whose uncle was slain by a raiding party of Modocs. The ill-fated Toby gives up on both Johnny and the peace process and opts to take up with the villainous Captain Jack.

Predictably Johnny grits his teeth and gets the unappetizing job done, as he pacifies both the Indians and the settlers. It’s routine, has too many dead spots and is overlong, but it’s pretty to look at and Ladd cuts a fine Western figure. Though the main villain is one Indian, it’s still sympathetic to the Indian plight.

Elisha Cook Jr. stands out in the supporting cast (at least in my book) as his usual creepy self, this time cast as the scheming storekeeper. Robert Keith is the angry Indian fighter seeking revenge. Richard Gaines is your run-of-the-mill professional peacemaker from Washington.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”