Army Lietenent Tufts accompanies Scout Quincey Wyatt into the everglades to route the Seminole Indians that are threatening the early settlers in Florida. When the command is forced to run, Wyatt and Seminole Chief Oscala square off in an exciting climax.
Gary Cooper ... Capt. Quincy Wyatt
Mari Aldon ... Judy Beckett
Richard Webb ... Lt. Richard Tufts
Ray Teal ... Pvt. Mohair
Arthur Hunnicutt ... Monk
Robert Barrat ... Gen. Zachary Taylor
I saw \"Distant Drums\" for the first time when I was 10 or 11 years old and I recall it was a great film for me. Then I saw it as an adult and though it was not the great film I remembered it was still very good as an action and adventure sort of western. Since I\'m not from the USA I didn\'t notice some historical mistakes -mainly the use of guns and rifles not yet invented by the time of the action- I learned about after reading some reviews here; I think those are major flaws in a movie.
However, I think my little knowledge about the Seminole wars in Florida give me the possibility of judging the film just at what it is: an adventure film. That established, \"Distant Drums\" appears to me as a highly entertaining and well done movie as well as a very original film mainly because of where the action is located. Is has great color, beautiful photography and incredible open wide sceneries in the Everglades. The plot -although kind of standard (a bunch of soldiers chased by savage Indians through the swamps- is however very well handled by director Roul Walsh and he keeps action going all along without major bumps. The sequence at the Seminole village is most impressive and tense as it is the final underwater knife duel between Captain Wyatt and chief Okala.
Gary Cooper (Wyatt) is very good as the leader of the escaping troop and shows the presence and self confidence a leader should. The rest of the cast brings a good support too, mainly Arthur Hunnicutt (Coooper\'s sidekick) and Ray Teal (one of the troopers), and Mari Aldon does a credible work as Cooper\'s romantic interest. Seminole chief Okala looks mean enough and a proper match for Cooper. Perhaps the less impressive performance is that of Richard Webb kind of dull as a navy officer involved in the mission.
In all this a decent action/adventure film, most entertaining and worth seeing for those who enjoy the genre.
Great looking locations and color photography with daredevil action reigns over this boy\'s own adventure, the style Warner Brothers has always been very good at. The characters are mostly left undeveloped, except Cooper\'s group leader Zachary. His past is well documented by his friend, played by Arthur Hunnicut in his usual relaxed manner, and it\'s mostly his destiny we are to care about. It\'s notable how larger than life Cooper appears to be even on television screen. His characterization, which is a combination of a western hero and Tarzan, doesn\'t offer very much range in acting but makes it interesting enough for this kind of adventure flick. Mari Aldon gets dragged through all the dangerous and beautiful scenery without having her make-up smeared and sometimes completely steals my attention from what is going on around her. Her role doesn\'t have much else to offer either. But I guess, by what I just said, her role work serves its purpose the way it was intended.
Almost everything you expect from a jungle adventure set in Florida is here including alligators, snakes and wild cardboard Indians. A great plus are the beautifully shot underwater scenes, short but crystal clear, crowned by a final duel under surface. This isn\'t one of the best movies from the director Raoul Walsh, but as a classic adventure and action for a more empty-headed moment it works truly well.
I thought I spied a sort of subtext in the ever recurring rivalry between the rugged and the smooth. There were (and are) subtle wars among us still being waged between those who want to live in the wild, so to speak, being responsible for much if not all of their physical survival and those who seek a more refined experience in life, at the expense of the natural rawness to be felt. See, there it is again, being shown in the commercial advertising the upcoming broadcast of City Slickers.
Back in 1840 (the year in which this film is set) it seems as if there were different levels of these two halves of the eternal dichotomy, the yin-yang, as it were, of evolution and/or progress itself. The struggle between homeostasis and exploitation, for in order to survive without self-maintaining one\'s own harmonious internal balance from within, one must begin, by definition, to consume some external resource and thereby jeopardize another entity\'s existence. The American Indian\'s milieu then was even more rugged than that of the invading white man\'s, and there was a struggle between the two ways of world-making. But there was also the struggle between the backwoods families that had tamed what had once been the frontier and who had wished to or been forced to stay away from the burgeoning cities where some new sort of frontier had begun to be conquered, where the \"quality\" existed, and the people more inclined to seek out that very same city life. Have a listen at some of the dialogue between Gary Cooper and Mari Aldon, his leading lady. They talk secretly about this rivalry.
But then there is the rivalry between men and women themselves. And who, generally, would you think is on the side of crossing new frontiers involving less ruggedness and more affluence and quality? Many of them, I believe, though, have some kind of a nostalgic attraction to the mythic, timeless idea of the rugged, even in the midst of their rapid, epic escape from it, since time immemorial. Women commonly find themselves attracted to the idea of a rugged edge to the men in their romantic and family lives. And yet they still seem to shun it in their own lives, at least many of them do. Pedigrees, manicures, facials, hair treatments, mud baths, massages, soft, slinky (i.e. comfortable but sexy) clothing (ok, given high heeled shoes and other anomalies, this theory will have to be amended later), nice cars, nice houses, etc... and shopping (which sort of follows the stereotypical housewife in the upper class suburbs). She seems to like the idea of evolving past the rough and tumble possibilities of the open range type of living. Many men are on board too, but it would seem that less are as convinced, for whatever reason, that such a course would or should be beneficial or desired.
Ah, but then Judy Beckett, Mary Aldon\'s character, decides not to go back to fancy city life in the end. She can\'t \"hold a grudge forever.\" And apart from the obviously inferred meaning of that phrase, local to the surface plot of the film, that she can\'t expect to be able to right the wrongs in her youthful past by going back and wreaking revenge, there may be another, universal interpretation of the phrase. But I have no idea what that may be. Perhaps, using some new-fangled philosophical filter on the world, you could interpret it as some sort of sage advice on how to evolve by not fearing change, despite the many affronts one has suffered at its hands during the early stages of an evolution.
Really, though, I have no clue. And it doesn\'t really matter because Flaming Star, \"starring\" Elvis Presley, has managed to come on and get about 20 minutes in and I have no more desire to make up further discoveries about Distant Drums. Over and Out.
# This film contains the first known instance of \"The Wilhelm Scream\" (a sound effect of a man screaming, since used in over 70 other movies). During a scene in which the soldiers are wading through a swamp in the everglades, one of them is bitten and dragged underwater by an alligator. The scream for that character was recorded later. Six short pained screams were recorded in a single take, which was slated \"man getting bit by an alligator, and he screams.\" The fifth scream was used for the soldier - but the 4th, 5th, and 6th screams recorded in the session were also used earlier in the film when three Indians are shot, one after another, during a raid on a fort. Although the \"signature\" or \"classic\" screams, takes 4 through 6 on the original recording, are the most recognizable, all of the screams are referred to as \"Wilhelm\" by those in the sound community. Ben Burtt, sound effects designer on Star Wars (1977), named it \"Wilhelm\" after the character that let out the scream in The Charge at Feather River (1953). He discovered a file at Warner Bros. for this movie, which contained paperwork that was left over from the picture editor when the film was completed. One of the papers was a short list of names of actors who were scheduled to come in to perform various lines of dialogue for miscellaneous roles in the movie. After reviewing the names and even listening to their voices, one person seemed to be the most likely suspect: Sheb Wooley. Sheb played the uncredited role of Private Jessup in \"Distant Drums\", and was one of the few actors assembled for the recording of additional vocal elements for the film. It is very likely he was asked on the spot to perform other things for the film, including the screams for a man being bitten by an alligator.
# Except for Larry Carper as Chief Oscala, the actors \"playing\" Seminole Indian warriors were in fact actual Seminoles.