Monday, November 03, 2014

The Continuing Partnership of Fonda and Ford

This black–and–white trailer accompanied the 1947 re–release of
"Drums Along the Mohawk," director John Ford's first color feature.

"Oh, Almighty God, hear us, we beseech thee, and bring succor and guidance to those we are about to bring to your divine notice. First we are thinking of Mary Walaber. She is only 16 years old, but she is keeping company with a soldier from Fort Dayton. He's a Massachusetts man, and thou knowest no good can come of that."

Reverend Rosenkrantz (Arthur Shields)

John Ford and Henry Fonda teamed up for the first time earlier in 1939 when they made "Young Mr. Lincoln."

They wasted no time making their second film together, "Drums Along the Mohawk," which premiered 75 years ago today.

It had some things in common with "Young Mr. Lincoln," such as the fact that both were set in specific periods in American history. "Young Mr. Lincoln" was about Abraham Lincoln's early life, and "Drums Along the Mohawk" was about life in colonial America.

Fonda and Claudette Colbert played 18th–century newlyweds trying to set up their home in the Mohawk Valley of central New York. It was a region that had a great deal of importance in Revolutionary War times, a passageway between the Atlantic Ocean and the interior of the New World.

Their story was not one for the faint of heart. Colbert's character suffered a miscarriage. Beset from all sides by Indians and the British, they lost their home. Along with other settlers, they were forced to relocate at a fort, from which they could see their homes and lands being destroyed.

You really had to believe in what you were trying to do to survive. For a movie that was made within the limitations of filmmaking in 1939, "Drums Along the Mohawk" did a pretty good job of presenting a realistic portrayal of the travails of colonial life.

Edna May Oliver, who was nominated for Best Supporting Actress (but lost to Hattie McDaniel, who played Mammy in "Gone With the Wind"), played a widow who owned a big farm and hired Fonda to work it. She took in Fonda and Colbert after their farm was burned by Indians.

In a way, it was sort of like the old Green Acres TV show without the jokes. Colbert's character was raised in affluent and comfortable surroundings; she wasn't prepared for the rugged life of a settler. In time, though, she adapted to it and even came to love it.

And, in true John Ford fashion, the movie ended on an upbeat, patriotic note. The Indians had been turned back, and the American flag was raised above the fort.