A Thunder of Drums


1h 37m 1961
A Thunder of Drums

Brief Synopsis

A green Cavalry lieutenant learns the ropes fast when he's shipped out West.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adventure
Western
Release Date
Jan 1961
Premiere Information
New York opening: 26 Sep 1961
Production Company
Robert J. Enders, Inc.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 37m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Metrocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In the 1870's, Lieut. Curtis McQuade, a headstrong, inexperienced officer, arrives at the remote cavalry post of Fort Canby in Arizona. Almost at once he is in trouble with the garrison commander, Capt. Stephen Maddocks, a hard-bitten veteran Indian-fighter who resents the younger officer's brashness. Curtis creates further trouble by rekindling his former romance with Tracey Hamilton, who is staying at the fort with her fiancé, Lieutenant Gresham. One day Gresham, who has learned of the affair between Curtis and Tracey, fails to return from a scouting party. Curtis accompanies Maddocks on the search and is horrified to discover Gresham and his men massacred by Indians. Shocked into the realization that his reckless behavior with Tracey may have caused Gresham to lose control of his wits, Curtis redeems himself by acting as the decoy with which Maddocks hopes to draw the attention of the marauding Apaches. Alone with their backs to a cliff, Curtis and a handful of his men await the onslaught. When the Indians attack at dawn, Maddocks and his troopers charge into the clearing and wipe them out. In the fighting, however, Maddocks' only close friend, Sergeant Rodermill, is killed by an Apache arrow. When Curtis returns to Fort Canby, he finds Tracey boarding the eastbound stage. As he says goodby to her, he realizes that Maddocks' credo--"Bachelors make the best soldiers, all they have to lose is their loneliness"--is the only correct philosophy for a true military man.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Adventure
Western
Release Date
Jan 1961
Premiere Information
New York opening: 26 Sep 1961
Production Company
Robert J. Enders, Inc.
Distribution Company
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.
Country
United States

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 37m
Sound
Mono (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Color (Metrocolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

A Thunder of Drums


The story of a newly commissioned cavalry officer who clashes with his commanding officer at an isolated outpost, A Thunder of Drums (1961) was made during a time when the Western was no longer attracting younger audiences. That's one reason MGM decided to cast George Hamilton in the lead along with Richard Chamberlain (in his screen debut), Luana Patten and guitarist Duane Eddy in supporting roles. However, the real cast member to watch is Charles Bronson, playing a rowdy soldier with an overt fondness for booze and women. For years, Bronson had been typecast as villains or roughnecks but all that began to change after his performance as one of The Magnificent Seven, which was released the previous year. With his athletic build and tight-lipped intensity, Bronson carved out his own niche as an action hero in the coming years and A Thunder of Drums was an excellent early showcase for his burgeoning talents.

Aside from Bronson, A Thunder of Drums is also notable for the involvement of James Warner Bellah, a controversial author who made a name for himself by writing a series of pulp magazine stories about the U.S. Cavalry. Famed director John Ford took early notice of Bellah, adapting many of his cavalry stories printed in The Saturday Evening Post for his informal "Cavalry Trilogy," Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950) and later Sergeant Rutledge (1960). Bellah, an unrepentant misanthrope once described by his own son as "a fascist, a racist, and a world-class bigot," saw Native Americans as the "red beast in the night." In most of his films adapted from Bellah stories, Ford countered this contemptuous viewpoint by granting Indians a sense of dignity and humanity. In Fort Apache, for example, the Indians are not the villainous, mysterious "Other," but the victims of government-sanctioned scoundrels. Despite their racial disagreements, Ford and Bellah agreed on one thing: the valor and pride of the military. The cavalry was basically honorable and uncomplicated by psychological neuroses or social bugaboos.

In A Thunder of Drums, Bellah's cavalry unit is still beset by a savage, invisible "Other," but this time the enemy is a war-making Apache tribe. Unlike Ford's pictures, with the exception of Sergeant Rutledge, where racial inequalities were indeed an obvious problem for the military, the cavalry in A Thunder of Drums is not as harmonious as the units in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or Rio Grande; there is discord among the upper echelons of command as well as the lower ranks. Even more obvious is the low morale among the troops. While Ford's troops often depart or return to their outposts amidst a stirring anthem, the cavalry in A Thunder of Drums are more likely to return from their missions in a defeated manner. The film's unsentimental tone is underscored by the cavalry's hard-nosed leader (Richard Boone) when he claims the best soldiers are bachelors, since they have to mourn only their own deaths. Questions of the military's authority are also raised when George Hamilton's junior officer is seemingly unable to provide true leadership in crisis situations, prompting the central conflict between Hamilton and Boone. And in the very first scene, that of a house being invaded, both literally and sexually, by marauding Indians, we're given the sense that John Ford's cavalry is no longer able to protect everyone from harm on the vast frontier. The sanctity and security of the next generation is left in question as a little girl who witnesses the savage attack is left a traumatized mute.

In some ways, the questioning of military might contextualizes A Thunder of Drums as a pre-Vietnam Western, simmering with the social unrest of the 1960s. But that may be assigning too much importance to it. The real enjoyment here is seeing rising stars like Bronson interact with Western veterans like Richard Boone (star of TV's Have Gun, Will Travel) and Slim Pickens. And let's not forget the novelty of seeing rock 'n' roller Duane Eddy, who invented the 'twangy' guitar sound in instrumentals like "Rebel Rouser," as a horse soldier, crooning songs like "Water from a Bad Well" and "The Ballad of Camden Yates."

Producer: Robert Enders
Director: Joseph Newman
Screenplay: James Warner Bellah
Art Direction: George W. Davis, Gabriel Scognamillo
Cinematography: William W. Spencer
Editing: Ferris Webster
Music: Harry Sukman
Cast: Richard Boone (Capt. Stephen Maddocks), George Hamilton (Lt. Curtis McQuade), Luana Patten (Tracey Hamilton), Arthur O'Connell (Sgt. Rodermill), Charles Bronson (Trooper Hanna), Richard Chamberlain (Lt. Porter), James Douglas (Lt. Gresham), Duane Eddy (Trooper Eddy), Slim Pickens (Trooper Erschick).
C-97m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Scott McGee
A Thunder Of Drums

A Thunder of Drums

The story of a newly commissioned cavalry officer who clashes with his commanding officer at an isolated outpost, A Thunder of Drums (1961) was made during a time when the Western was no longer attracting younger audiences. That's one reason MGM decided to cast George Hamilton in the lead along with Richard Chamberlain (in his screen debut), Luana Patten and guitarist Duane Eddy in supporting roles. However, the real cast member to watch is Charles Bronson, playing a rowdy soldier with an overt fondness for booze and women. For years, Bronson had been typecast as villains or roughnecks but all that began to change after his performance as one of The Magnificent Seven, which was released the previous year. With his athletic build and tight-lipped intensity, Bronson carved out his own niche as an action hero in the coming years and A Thunder of Drums was an excellent early showcase for his burgeoning talents. Aside from Bronson, A Thunder of Drums is also notable for the involvement of James Warner Bellah, a controversial author who made a name for himself by writing a series of pulp magazine stories about the U.S. Cavalry. Famed director John Ford took early notice of Bellah, adapting many of his cavalry stories printed in The Saturday Evening Post for his informal "Cavalry Trilogy," Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), Rio Grande (1950) and later Sergeant Rutledge (1960). Bellah, an unrepentant misanthrope once described by his own son as "a fascist, a racist, and a world-class bigot," saw Native Americans as the "red beast in the night." In most of his films adapted from Bellah stories, Ford countered this contemptuous viewpoint by granting Indians a sense of dignity and humanity. In Fort Apache, for example, the Indians are not the villainous, mysterious "Other," but the victims of government-sanctioned scoundrels. Despite their racial disagreements, Ford and Bellah agreed on one thing: the valor and pride of the military. The cavalry was basically honorable and uncomplicated by psychological neuroses or social bugaboos. In A Thunder of Drums, Bellah's cavalry unit is still beset by a savage, invisible "Other," but this time the enemy is a war-making Apache tribe. Unlike Ford's pictures, with the exception of Sergeant Rutledge, where racial inequalities were indeed an obvious problem for the military, the cavalry in A Thunder of Drums is not as harmonious as the units in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon or Rio Grande; there is discord among the upper echelons of command as well as the lower ranks. Even more obvious is the low morale among the troops. While Ford's troops often depart or return to their outposts amidst a stirring anthem, the cavalry in A Thunder of Drums are more likely to return from their missions in a defeated manner. The film's unsentimental tone is underscored by the cavalry's hard-nosed leader (Richard Boone) when he claims the best soldiers are bachelors, since they have to mourn only their own deaths. Questions of the military's authority are also raised when George Hamilton's junior officer is seemingly unable to provide true leadership in crisis situations, prompting the central conflict between Hamilton and Boone. And in the very first scene, that of a house being invaded, both literally and sexually, by marauding Indians, we're given the sense that John Ford's cavalry is no longer able to protect everyone from harm on the vast frontier. The sanctity and security of the next generation is left in question as a little girl who witnesses the savage attack is left a traumatized mute. In some ways, the questioning of military might contextualizes A Thunder of Drums as a pre-Vietnam Western, simmering with the social unrest of the 1960s. But that may be assigning too much importance to it. The real enjoyment here is seeing rising stars like Bronson interact with Western veterans like Richard Boone (star of TV's Have Gun, Will Travel) and Slim Pickens. And let's not forget the novelty of seeing rock 'n' roller Duane Eddy, who invented the 'twangy' guitar sound in instrumentals like "Rebel Rouser," as a horse soldier, crooning songs like "Water from a Bad Well" and "The Ballad of Camden Yates." Producer: Robert Enders Director: Joseph Newman Screenplay: James Warner Bellah Art Direction: George W. Davis, Gabriel Scognamillo Cinematography: William W. Spencer Editing: Ferris Webster Music: Harry Sukman Cast: Richard Boone (Capt. Stephen Maddocks), George Hamilton (Lt. Curtis McQuade), Luana Patten (Tracey Hamilton), Arthur O'Connell (Sgt. Rodermill), Charles Bronson (Trooper Hanna), Richard Chamberlain (Lt. Porter), James Douglas (Lt. Gresham), Duane Eddy (Trooper Eddy), Slim Pickens (Trooper Erschick). C-97m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning. by Scott McGee

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed in Arizona.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States Fall September 1961

CinemaScope

Released in United States Fall September 1961