"Each man has a song and this is my song." (Leonard Cohen)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A Thunder of Drums (MGM, 1961)

No thunder, no drums - otherwise quite an accurate title

An Apache/US Cavalry picture, A Thunder of Drums benefits from nice Arizona and California scenery (Old Tucson, Vasquez Rocks and so on) in good color, well photographed by William Spencer. It also has Richard Boone, always excellent as a tough nut, and there are nice minor-role performances from Arthur O’Connell as the crusty old sergeant and Slim Pickens (not slim even then) as a trooper. Charles Bronson is surprisingly good too as a cocky womanizing soldier who learns respect.

But that’s about it.

The screenplay is by James Warner Bellah but is far from his best, being predictable and commonplace. The casting is poor with George Hamilton as the young officer and Luana Patten as the love interest. Hamilton is a very pale imitation of John Wayne, and Patten had made something of a specialty of Westerns but only the TV kind. The worst aspect is the direction. Joseph Newman had been going since the early days of talkies and had made some low-budget Westerns, Fort Massacre being the only interesting one, really. His pacing was dire in A Thunder of Drums. Most of the film is a soap opera set in the fort. When the Indian attack finally comes, it is perfunctory and the foe are just Hollywood redskins to be mown down.

The music by Harry Sukman is also pretty standard TV soap opera stuff.

Studios liked the word thunder for titles and we had Thundercloud, -hoof, Mountain, Pass and Trail in 1950, ’48, ’47, ’54, and ‘37. There was Thunder over Texas (1934), over Arizona (1956) and over the Plains (1953). There was a Thundering Herd in 1933 and Thunder in the Sun in 1959. Plenty of thunder alright.

But A Thunder of Drums turns out to be very distant drums. In fact we don’t hear them at all. Boone is good, and so is Arizona but for the rest it’s not even a weak rumble.

Sorry, pards.


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