Greatest Film Scenes
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Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)


Written by Tim Dirks

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Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)

In John Ford's historical action-adventure film and epic-historical drama was based upon Walter D. Edmonds' 1936 novel. It was his first film in Technicolor and his sole film set in colonial America. It was about pioneer settlers in NY's Mohawk Valley during the pre-Revolutionary War era between 1776-1781 - with exciting battle scenes:

  • the film beautifully highlighted the harshness of survival amongst recurring attacks by savage Indians, the British, and the Loyalist Torys in the Mohawk Valley wilderness of upstate colonial New York
  • in the opening scene set in July of 1776, Lana "Magdelana" Borst (Claudette Colbert), a young, frightened, cultured and well-bred bride from the Eastern city of Albany, NY, was wed to her loving husband Gilbert "Gil" Martin (Henry Fonda) in her home; on their honeymoon, they immediately traveled to a cabin built by Gil in central/upstate NY's Mohawk Valley, in the town of Deerfield, to join other settlers on the frontier; unfortunately the area was being plagued by Indian attacks; on the way, they spoke to a menacing, eye-patched local Tory named Caldwell (John Carradine), who was allied with a force of Mohawk Indians
  • during her first night in her new home, Lana was startled and shocked by the appearance of friendly Indian brave Blue Back (Chief John Big Tree), a Christian convert; when she became crazed and hysterical and cried out: "He'll murder us!", Gil had to slap her to restore her to her senses: ("You've gotta get a hold of yourself"); Lana expressed upset with the primitive conditions and threatened to return home: "I can't stand it! Mother was right. I'm no frontier woman. I had no idea it was like this"; Gil affirmed: "You're gonna stay right here and do as I say from now on. You're gonna get over this foolishness and stop being scared" - and then he apologized; Blue Back recommended that Gil keep a switch above the fireplace - handy if he needed to further keep her in line: ("Lick her good! Make fine woman"); at first, the harsh life proved to be a difficult adjustment for Lana

Gil to Lana (after slapping her): "You've gotta get a hold of yourself"

Blue Back (Chief John Big Tree)

Lana - Recovered From Her Crazed Hysteria
  • at the fort in the nearby settlement of German Flats, the Martins met other local residents; the locals had formed a militia to be trained to protect themselves; Gilbert was enlisted in the community militia under General Herkimer (Roger Imhof) at a time when the struggle for independence from England was turning into "a real war"
  • later as the Martins cleared their farm land with other settlers, warnings came from Blue Back that a native war-party of marauding Seneca Indians, led by Caldwell, were on the "warpath" and threatening to attack; to seek refuge as the Indians burned their cabin and haystacks, they fled to the nearby fort; the pregnant Lana was taken frantically to the fort in a large wagon, where she fainted and miscarried her first child
  • with their home and crops destroyed, Gil and Lana commiserated with each other when they returned and surveyed the ruins: (Gil: "It doesn't seem possible people can work as hard as we did, Lana - for nothin'" Lana: "We can build it back again, Gil"); Gil spoke about how he shouldn't have let her come in the first place: "This is no place for you. It's no place for any woman"
  • with the cold winter approaching, the Martins were fortunate to be hired by feisty elderly widow and stubborn frontier matriarch Sarah McKlennar (Edna May Oliver); her hired man had just drunkenly run off; they replaced him as paid live-in servants and farm workers at her home, to make a new start in life; she bluntly told them: "I've got a long face and I poke it where I please"
  • it was soon announced during a Sunday service by the community's stern Reverend Rosenkrantz (Arthur Shields) that another attack of Torys (British soldiers) and "savage" Indians was imminent, so Gilbert was pressured to report the following morning for duty to General Herkimer; standing on a hilltop during an impressively-filmed sequence, Lana watched as a column of troops (with her husband among them), marched off into the distance to be readied for battle, to the tune of "Yankee Doodle" played on fife and drum; she collapsed onto the ground as the sequence ended
Gil Marching Off with the Militia - Lana Watched Their Departure
  • Gilbert and the local group of militia defended against the attack, but were ambushed and many men perished; General Herkimer suffered a serious leg injury and later died of blood loss during a botched amputation operation; Gilbert was wounded - he returned home delirious, but was able to deliver a step-by-step, detailed account of the Battle of Oriskany (in August of 1777) to Lana; he ended his account with joy over their victory: "Out of 600 of us, about 240 were still alive, but we'd won. We licked 'em....We showed 'em they couldn't take this valley"
  • now pregnant a second time, Lana was overjoyed when she gave birth to a son during a long period of peace
  • however, the Indians regrouped and made another major attack; elderly widow Sarah refused to leave her bed in her home during the assault and seek shelter in the fort; she reprimanded two Indian warriors: "What do you mean coming in my house?"; she persuaded them to carry her, in her bed, out of her bedroom before setting it ablaze ("I won't move a step without my bed...Stop that! Shame on you. Get this bed out of here quick...I'm not leaving this house. I've lived in it all my life"); as her house burned down around her, Gil had to forcibly pick her up and evacuate her
Sarah McKlennar Reprimanding Indians To Save Her Bed During Attack
  • the settlers were again forced to seek refuge in nearby Fort Herkimer at German Flats where the women valiantly fought side-by-side with the men; one of the casualties of the skirmish was Mrs. McKlennar; as she died (from a fatal arrow wound in the chest), she bequeathed her farm and some gold pieces to the Martins: ("I want you and Gil to have my place - everything. You've been like my own flesh and blood")

Sarah Lethally Shot in Chest by Arrow

Sarah Bequeathing Her Place and Money to the Martins
  • in the stirring finale during the siege of the fort, ammunition supplies ran out, and Gil offered to go for regular army reinforcements; he took the place of Joe Boleo (Francis Ford), who had been captured during his attempt to reach nearby Fort Dayton; everyone watched from the fort as he was about to be burned alive; the Reverend regretfully shot him as a mercy kill
  • Gil described how he could outrun the Indians: ("If I can make the woods, I can outrun 'em....If I can get in the clear, there isn't an Indian living that can catch me"); he was given permission to take a chance by his trusting wife Lana: "I'm not afraid, I want you to go"; Gil outran three Mohawk Indians in hot pursuit for miles while racing for help (with just a hand axe) from nearby Fort Dayton; he saved the besieged fort at the last possible moment as the attackers were "over the wall", when he arrived with troops to defeat the Indians, and restore peace to the valley
  • the drama ended with Gil's reunion with his exhausted but relieved wife (and young son); they could now peacefully live on the farm given to them by the deceased Mrs. McKlennar; it had just been announced that British General Cornwallis had surrendered at Yorktown in 1781 to French and American troops (led by George Washington) in the last week
  • a new American flag (with 13 stripes and 13 stars) was raised at the fort, to the tune of "America, My Country Tis of Thee"; Gil told Lana before they departed: "Well, I reckon we better be gettin' back to work. There's gonna be a heap to do from now on"

Marriage of Lana Borst to Gil Martin in Albany, NY

Traveling to Gil's Rustic Cabin in Mohawk Valley

Eye-Patched Tory, Caldwell (John Carradine)

Gil and Lana Working on Their Own Farm - Gathering Hay

Their Cabin and Hay Burned Down by Caldwell and Mohawk Indians

Widowed Sarah McKlennar (Edna May Oliver) - Hiring the Martins

Reverend Rosenkrantz (Arthur Shields)

Gil's Delirious Account of the Battle of Oriskany

Lana's Birth of a Son

Mercy-Kill of Joe Boleo (Francis Ford) Before He Was Burned Alive

Gil Martin's Foot-Race to Seek Reinforcements

Reunion: Gil with Lana

The New American Flag


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