Drum, The (1938)

Drum, The (1938)

“In our mountains, you are wise or dead. I beg you to be wise.”

In a Northwest frontier of colonial India, a British governor (Frances L. Sullivan) negotiates peace with a local king who is assassinated by his power-hungry brother (Raymond Massey). The king’s son (Sabu) — who has befriended a British colonel (Roger Livesey), Livesey’s new wife (Valerie Hobson), and a drummer boy (Desmond Tester) — goes into hiding, but helps the British fight back against Massey’s revolutionaries.


  • India
  • Raymond Massey Films
  • Rebellion
  • Roger Livesey Films
  • Royalty and Nobility
  • Sabu Films
  • Zoltan Korda Films

This second of the Korda brothers’ “Empire trilogy” — made after Elephant Boy (1937) and before The Four Feathers (1939) — was a further opportunity for charismatic young Indian star Sabu to make his presence known to American and worldwide audiences.

Unfortunately, his role in this flick isn’t large enough by far, and the story itself comes across as simply jingoistic imperialism. Massey is convincingly wild-eyed and obsessed:

… mouthing rhetoric that would sound familiar in modern-day tales of Jihadi fighters, while perpetuating other-izing fears: “I see a wave — a wave of men. Lean, hard, hungry free men from the hills, swooping down on the fat, soft comfortable slaves of the plains, their white throats ripe for the knife — a story as old as time… I see the mosques and domes rise again.” As Jay Carr asserts in his article for TCM, it can “hardly be regarded as anything more than dated, imperial chest-thumping, patronizing and paternal, in which Brits alone know what’s good for the rest of the world, in this case India”; meanwhile, Stuart Galbraith of DVD Talk notes that Sabu’s character is “firmly ensconced as a symbol of the contentedly colonized”.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Fine Technicolor cinematography

Must See?
No; feel free to skip this one unless you’re a Sabu completist or particularly enjoy the Kordas brothers’ adventure flicks.


One thought on “Drum, The (1938)

  1. First viewing. Not must-see.

    Simply put, it’s nearly impossible to add much about a film that is widely recognized as propaganda.

    Looked at as purely fiction (which may not be easy), it’s not bad for a film of its type. The action sequences near the end are well-handled.

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