Distant Drums (1951)
Cooper's Seminole Western
Shakin' hands with an Indian's like pumpin' a well! - Monk
For me "Distant Drums" is what I would call a very routine western, a stereotypical tale of Cowboys and Indians which has only two things going for it, one being Gary Cooper, the other being that the storyline takes place in the Florida Everglades. Ignore those two elements and what we have is a simple storyline where a group of cavalry men and some people they rescued have to keep on moving because a larger group of Indians are tracking them down and as such it culminates in a heroic battle as well as sneaking in a touch of romance. Simply "Distant Drums" is a very routine western which in itself wouldn't be bad if it was action packed and exciting but unfortunately it is neither of those and for the most it plays out at one level till it reaches that final heroic and quite cheesy battle.
Having rescued a bunch of hostages and destroyed a Seminole fort, Lt. Richard Tufts (Richard Webb) and Capt. Quincy Wyatt (Gary Cooper - Dallas) find they have no choice but to lead their small band of men and escapees through the dangerous Florida Everglades. With the angry Seminole Indians hot on their trail and just as much danger from the gators and snakes they are forced to keep moving. But when it seems like their options have run out and the Seminole's will catch up it takes an act of heroicism from Wyatt to try and bring this nightmare to an end.
To be honest the actual storyline to "Distant Drums" is so boring and unremarkable that you end up not bothering to follow it. It just goes through the motions so after a series of scenes heavily laden with journal style narration we meet both Lt. Richard Tufts and Capt. Quincy Wyatt as well as setting up the rather different location of the Florida Everglades. And then we get the first moment of daring as they lead a small infantry of Cavalry men to attack a Fort which is under the control of the Seminole Indians and rescue what turns out to be not a huge amount of prisoners. None of which to be frank is that exciting as the daring attack on the Fort lacks any real drama.
But then what follows on from there pretty much boils down to a chase movie as Wyatt and his men are forced to navigate through the dangerous Everglades whilst trying to stay ahead of the ensuing Indians. So we get danger from nature where gators attack and then more danger as the Indians get close all of which again isn't that exciting especially when we do get action and people die it is so over dramatic that it becomes cheesy.
It doesn't help that all the scenes of natural danger look like stock wildlife footage which add to it feeling even cornier as does the rather slim romance as one of the rescued party played by Mari Aldon falls for the heroic Wyatt. Basically all of it is quite dull and obvious as is a less than spectacular twist revolving around Wyatt's son. And whilst at least the final battle does inject some energy into the movie it is also rather corny.
As such from a storyline and action perspective "Distant Drums" is all rather unremarkable but at least the location of the Florida Everglades makes for something a bit different. Yes what appears to be stock wildlife footage adds to the corniness of it but the fact we don't have the chase going across the open range or through the mountains does at least make it different. And whilst most of the performances such as those from Richard Webb as Lt. Richard Tufts and Mari Aldon as love interest Judy Beckett often border on the overly dramatic Gary Cooper at least makes for an interesting leading man. The character of Capt. Quincy Wyatt maybe no different to any hero from another western but Cooper makes him heroic, makes him strong yet also makes him believably witty.
What this all boils down to is that for me "Distant Drums" is a rather ordinary western and in many ways has that feeling of a movie churned out just to give some actors something to do. And as such when you strip away the location we have a routine story which revolves around a chase through the country before culminating in one final heroic battle. To be honest it is often corny and lacks both exciting drama and action but its saving grace comes in the form of the Florida Everglades and Gary Cooper who help lift it to being an average movie rather than one which is below par.
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