Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)

“This is no place for you; it’s no place for any woman!”

In colonial America, a farmer (Henry Fonda) brings his new wife (Claudette Colbert) from Albany, New York to a homestead in the Mohawk Valley, where they hope to build a life together — but their plans are quickly foiled by Indian raids led by a patch-eyed Tory (John Carradine), and they soon find themselves living with and working for a feisty widow (Edna May Oliver).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • American Revolutionary War
  • Claudette Colbert Films
  • Henry Fonda Films
  • John Carradine Films
  • John Ford Films
  • Settlers
  • Westerns

John Ford and Henry Fonda made three films together during 1939 and 1940: Young Mr. Lincoln (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and this historical drama — based on a novel by Walter D. Edmonds — which remains one of surprisingly few Hollywood films set during the era of the American Revolution. Ford’s keen eye for detail, pacing, and framing — along with superb Technicolor cinematography by Burt Glennon and committed performances by the cast — make this yet another fine entry in his oeuvre. We are shown in no uncertain terms how challenging it was to survive during this tenuous era of American history, as factions were fighting each other on all sides. To that end, the portrayal of Native Americans is unfortunately (though not surprisingly) myopic: with the exception of Chief John Big Tree as Blue Back (an imposing figure used to demonstrate Colbert’s paralyzing fear of “the other”, as well as the camaraderie built between settlers and “good” Christian Indians), Native Americans are uniformly shown as ruthlessly aggressive invaders (into what was very recently their own territory).

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Strong performances by Fonda and Colbert
  • Edna May Oliver as Mrs. McKlennar
  • Many memorable moments

  • Fine attention to historical detail

  • Bert Glennon’s Technicolor cinematography

Must See?
Yes, as a fine western by a master director. Listed as a film with Historical Importance and a Personal Recommendation in the back of Peary’s book.


  • Genuine Classic
  • Important Director


One thought on “Drums Along the Mohawk (1939)

  1. First viewing. A once-must, and rather in agreement with the assessment so I’ve nothing to add, really.

    ~ except to concur in particular re: all aspects of the film’s production design as well as the photography; both do an impressive amount in increasing the realism of the piece.

    Other than that, what held my attention firmly was the fact that, even though this is a film without a plot, per se, it’s admirable how the circumstances represented throughout the film’s progression can stand in for one.

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