Combustible Celluloid
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With: Henry Fonda, Claudette Colbert, Edna May Oliver, Eddie Collins, John Carradine, Dorris Bowdon, Jessie Ralph, Arthur Shields, Robert Lowery, Roger Imhof
Written by: Lamar Trotti, Sonya Levien, based on the novel by Walter D. Edmonds
Directed by: John Ford
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 104
Date: 11/03/1939

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Not So Revolutionary

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Ford famously made three films in 1939, and given that the first two were Stagecoach and Young Mr. Lincoln, no one would disagree that Drums Along the Mohawk is the least of the three. It lacks a center, or the emotional drive that Ford's best films (The Quiet Man, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) usually have. And yet it was Ford's first film in color and contains at least some of his most beautifully composed moments.

Henry Fonda plays a farmer during the Revolutionary War who marries a city girl (Claudette Colbert) and tries to settle down in Mohawk Valley. Unfortunately, the war soon stampedes onto their doorstep; according to this movie one guy in an eye-patch (John Carradine) somehow convinced a bunch of Indians to do his fighting for him. The movie consists of our two main characters overcoming the hardships of farming, fending off attacks, then rebuilding, only to be attacked again. When their farm burns, the couple moves in with a crotchety, hard-as-nails widow (Edna May Oliver), who brings a few moments of life to the film. (Oliver was nominated for an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.)

Fonda and Colbert lack chemistry, and the comedienne (best known for her roles in The Smiling Lieutenant, It Happened One Night and The Palm Beach Story) looks terribly miscast. Even the supporting players fail to add any color to this world. Yet when Ford drops the plot for a moment and concentrates on single images, such as working in a field or marching against a sunset, he's on his home turf.

Fox's DVD release comes with a new stereo audio mix, plus the original mono mix and Spanish and French language tracks. Optional subtitles come in English and Spanish. Extras include a trailer and a restoration demonstration, which may be to convince viewers that the picture looks better than it really does. The colors appear to have faded and run a bit, and the quality looks about the same as an old VHS tape.

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