Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)

Drums Along the Mohawk
Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda

'Drums Along the Mohawk' is an historical adventure film made in 1939, directed by John Ford and starring Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert. The movie was based on the 1936 novel of the same name by Walter D. Edmonds. The movie was a box office smash and received two Academy Award nominations, including Edna May Oliver for Best Supporting Actress.


Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert play a young pioneer couple who settle in smallholding in the untamed Mohawk valley in New York state during the American Revolutionary War. As well as facing the normal hardships of the settler's life, they have to endure attacks from British Loyalists and Indians finally with a neighbour taking refuge in a fort. After many adventures, peace is eventually restored.


The novel "Drums Along the Mohawk" by American writer, Walter D. Edmonds, was on the bestseller list for two years from 1936-7. It was second on the lists only to Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind". Darryl F. Zanuck, Head of Production for the newly formed Twentieth Century Fox studio purchased the rights to the film for $25,000, originally intending for Henry King to be the director. When he appointed John Ford it continued Fox's successful team from 'Young Mr Lincoln' earlier in the year with Zanuck and Ford with screenwriter Lamar Trotti and leading man Henry Fonda.

'Drums Along the Mohawk' is one of three films Henry Fonda made which were based on the writing of Walter D. Edmonds. The other two were 'The Farmer Takes a Wife' in 1935 and 'Chad Hanna' in 1940.

Although William Faulkner was signed to write the screenplay for the film, he made only a short early treatment before the main script was developed by Sonya Levien and Lamar Trotti

This was the first Technicolor movie for both John Ford and Claudette Colbert.


'Drums Along the Mohawk' had the misfortune to be released in 1939, the same epic year as numerous huge classics such as 'Gone with the Wind', 'Mr. Smith Goes to Washington', 'Stagecoach' and 'The Wizard Of Oz' and others, and it received just two Oscar nominations, both unsuccessful, Best Supporting Actress for Edna May Oliver and Best Cinematography for Ray Rennahan and Bert Glennon. Nevertheless it was a huge box office success and grossed over $1 million in its first year of release.

Main Cast

Henry Fonda ... Gilbert "Gil" Martin
Claudette Colbert ... Magdelana "Lana" Martin
Edna May Oliver ... Mrs. McKlennar
John Carradine ... Caldwell
Ward Bond ... Adam Helmer
Roger Imhof ... Gen. Nicholas Herkimer
Arthur Shields ... Rev. Rosenkrantz
Chief John Big Tree ... Blue Back
Francis Ford ... Joe Boleo
Jessie Ralph ... Mrs. Weaver
Robert Lowery ... John Weaver
Kay Linaker ... Mrs. Demooth
Russell Simpson ... Dr. Petry
Spencer Charters ... Innkeeper


Director ... John Ford
Executive Producer ... Darryl F. Zanuck
Distribution Company ... 20th Century Fox
Screenplay ... Sonya Levien, Lamar Trotti
Cinematography ... Bert Glennon, Ray Rennahan
Music ... Alfred Newman
Format ... Color (Technicolor)
Release Date ... November 3, 1939
Running Time ... 103 minutes

Academy Awards

Two Unsuccessful Nominations:
Best Supporting Actress ... Edna May Oliver
Best Cinematography ... Ray Rennahan, Bert Glennon