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Saturday, October 18, 2014

DISTANT DRUMS (1951)

Before rejuvenating his Hollywood A-list position in HIGH NOON/’52 (finding a fresh heroic core by playing into rather than against his rapidly aging self), Gary Cooper had to get thru this reasonably effective Raoul Walsh programmer, last in a spate of critical & commercial duds that started in ‘49. Set in the 1840s, Coop leads a select military unit sent against long odds to recapture a fort and open central Florida for Zachary Taylor’s army. The nighttime raid works, but not without leaving Coop, his soldiers & a band of rescued civilians out-manned & out-flanked by incoming warriors of the Seminole Nation. And the only way out is thru the Everglades: swamps, ‘gators & water-moccasins. Walsh ought to be in his element with this action-oriented adventure, but his staging never adds up to much excitement across the muddy terrain, while the interpersonal stuff is a non-starter due to colorless support from Richard Webb’s regular army type & forgettable Mari Aldon playing an impure Southern Belle. It’s not a bad film, Cooper even works up a bit of Indian dialogue for scenes with his half-Native American son. But it comes off as secondhand goods.

WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: Walsh led a far more energetic military group thru impossible terrain with death at every corner in his fine WWII drama OBJECTIVE, BURMA!/’45, which strongly recalls King Vidor’s even more interesting, if flawed, NORTHWEST PASSAGE/’40.

SCREWY THOUGHT OF THE DAY: Even in Olive Film’s much improved DVD release, Sid Hickox’s day-for-night shooting looks like a sludgy, blue-filtered mistake.

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