Drums Along The Mohawk (1939/Blu-Ray/Twilight Time) Review

The world of Ford is endless. Men, women, families, each film expands. Wayne, Fonda, Monument Valley, the scope is everything. Sizing up every gasp, every flavor, the reach of his modesty stretches beyond most epics. The titles infer the poetic. The Informer, The Iron Horse, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, they roll off the tongue. The man was a relic and yet his films live today.

It is a task to define what is a Ford film. Myth, the past, a reflection of the man himself, all of the above. He literally fashioned much of what we take for granted. The western, modern drama, the institution of the men listed above, he breathed life into all of it and remains the peak of what many filmmakers lust for. Art, or to be more blunt, immortality. When I watch a Ford, I’m caught like David Hedison. Or as Paxton once said, “Game over man!” “Game over!”
Drums tells the tale of two newlyweds, Gil (Fonda) and Lana (Claudette Colbert). We meet them on their wedding day as they head out for their new lives. He is a frontiersman eager to make his way, while she is a child of privilege frightened of the unknown. How they grow and deal with adversity is the joy of the film. The toil, the devotion, these plain kind folk are “The Hands That Built America."
The year is 1776. War is brewing. Indians, infighting, many innocents are caught in the middle. The Martins arrive in “The Mohawk” as tensions mount. The militia forms. The Brits bribe the natives. On one Autumn day, the unthinkable happens. Chopping wood, removing stumps, the community is chased away. The Martins’ home is met with raiders. See if this sounds familiar. A farm burns to the ground, a man with a hatchet runs through the woods, an evil man needs punished. Paging Mel Gibson.
Shot in snapshots, the film is an album. The canvas blooms with memory. Pumpkins, windows, the hair of a child, the story lingers. Then it jumps. We skip months sometimes years. Each scene depicts something. Dancing, drinking, complaining, everyone leaves their mark. The parson, Ward Bond, ‘Emperor’ Carradine, characters lace the fabric. What passes for humor is a look inside. We peer into the psyche. A woman prattles, a man can’t spit, Henry bolts for his life, the spine begins to show.
Victor McLaglen, Barry Fitzgerald, John Qualen, these were Ford’s clutch players for many years. Men of mischief who could also act, swallowing and chewing gum at the same time, they layered his work with unprecedented candor. They swelled the senses. Laughter laced with heartache, this was their forte. Mrs. McKlennar (Edna May Oliver) might trump them all. A widower, a hard living dame who speaks plainly and never takes a slight lying down, Sarah adores her Barney. Dead for many years, Barney is all she has. Willing to burn to protect their bed, she is John Ford.
This glistens with the days of old. The eloquence, the nostalgia, the moments that fill a lifetime, the scene with the flag is Mohawk to a T. An army arrives. The war is over. Ford uses images to convey his feeling. The flag, familiar faces, we watch The Birth of Nation. “My Country, Tis’ of Thee,” the Stars and Stripes, this is Americana.
The TT disc exudes quality. The video presentation soars. Schawn Belston and the folks at Fox pulled off a miracle. The 1080 pours with detail. Faces, clothing, interiors, color, only the lack of shadows dims the party. The audio presented is a DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 sound mix that balances score and the effects beautifully. The supplements include an audio commentary by historians Nick Redman and Julie Kirgo, the Redman directed documentary Becoming John Ford presented in the old 1.33 to 1 aspect ratio, the theatrical trailer, and TT’s customary 6 page booklet with photos and an essay from Ms. Kirgo. No isolated soundtrack is offered due to the lack of elements. This is without question one of the best releases of the year.

-- B.L. Matthews

Director: John Ford
Lead Actor/Actress: Henry Fonda
Genre: Period Western
Blu-ray Release
Year: 2013
Theatrical Release Year: 1939
Time Length: 104 minutes
Rating: NR
Region Code: Region Free
Release Company: Twilight Time/SAE
Website: http://www.screenarchives.com/index.cfm