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Drum Beat (1954)

Not Rated | | Adventure, Western | 6 April 1955 (Japan)
In 1872, Indian fighter Johnny MacKay is appointed peace commissioner for the California and Oregon territory but he faces tough opposition from the renegade Modocs led by their chief Captain Jack.


Delmer Daves


Delmer Daves (screenplay), Delmer Daves (story)

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Cast overview, first billed only:
Alan Ladd ... Johnny MacKay
Audrey Dalton ... Nancy Meek
Marisa Pavan ... Toby
Robert Keith ... Bill Satterwhite
Rodolfo Acosta ... Scarface Charlie
Charles Bronson ... Kintpuash, aka Captain Jack
Warner Anderson ... Gen. Canby
Elisha Cook Jr. ... Blaine Crackel
Anthony Caruso ... Manok
Richard Gaines ... Dr. Thomas
Hayden Rorke ... President Ulysses S. Grant
Frank DeKova ... Modoc Jim
Perry Lopez ... Bogus Charlie
Isabel Jewell ... Lily White
Peggy Converse Peggy Converse ... Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant


President Grant orders Indian fighter MacKay to negotiate peace with the Modocs of northern California and southern Oregon. On the way he must escort Nancy Meek to the home of her aunt and uncle. After Modoc renegade Captain Jack's group engages in ambush and other atrocities, MacKay eventually ends up tracking Captain Jack down and fighting him one-on-one to apprehend him. Written by Ed Stephan <stephan@cc.wwu.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Only the fierce Modocs knew the terrible meaning of each beat of the Drum ! See more »


Adventure | Western


Not Rated | See all certifications »






Release Date:

6 April 1955 (Japan) See more »

Also Known As:

Delmer Daves' Drum Beat See more »


Box Office


$1,100,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Jaguar Productions See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:

4-Track Stereo (RCA Sound Recording) (magnetic prints)| Mono (optical prints)


Color (WarnerColor)

Aspect Ratio:

2.55 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


Final fight scene between Alan Ladd and Bronson was at Slide Rock State Park See more »


President Grant is shown wearing his Army uniform in the White House. This is inaccurate as General Grant resigned his commission in 1869. See more »


Bill Satterwhite: Peace is going to be awfully hard to get.
Johnny MacKay: That's your business... not mine!
Bill Satterwhite: Bill, I need your help. Don't go running off half wild killin' Modocs. Only one got Lily.
Johnny MacKay: You think she was worth only one of them devils? You dish our your peace, Johnny. I'll dish out my end!
See more »


Featured in Cinema: Alguns Cortes - Censura II (2014) See more »


Drum Beat
Music by Victor Young
Lyrics by Ned Washington
See more »

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User Reviews

Modoc Men and Ladd's Lad.
19 September 2012 | by SpikeopathSee all my reviews

Drum Beat is written and directed by Delmer Daves. It stars Alan Ladd, Charles Bronson, Robert Keith, Audrey Dalton, Marisa Pavan, Rodolfo Acosta, Warner Anderson, Elisha Cook Jr and Anthony Caruso. A CinemaScope/Warnercolor production, music is scored by Victor Young and cinematography by J. Peverell Marley.

Alan Ladd is Indian fighter Johnny Mackay, who is ordered by President Ulysses Grant (Hayden Rorke) to negotiate with the Modoc Indians in an attempt to avert war...

Utterly frustrating! One of the most attractive looking Westerns of the fifties, Daves' movie doesn't quite have the courage of its convictions. The core basis of the film is sound, though as we are told from the off, it features fictionalised enhancements to further dramatic impact. Snatching from a little known part of the Indian Wars from 1872/3 (to be applauded), that of the Modoc Uprising, film is set in 1869 around the Oregon-California border. Plot and story are put in place neatly, where the characters are interesting, the back drop of various Arizona locations is simply in "scope" gorgeous, and the narrative promises some boldness as the first person killed is an innocent woman and the white man protagonists are fuelled by anger and hatred. But...

Unfortunately with a running time of one hour and fifty minutes, many passages of chatter never really expand the characters. Something which is not usually applicable to Delmer Daves when he was on form. We should be getting high grade dramatic worth from the principle players, their conversations should ping with emotion and depth, after being set up as people with voices to be heard, we never get a real grasp of Mackay's inner conflict, or Captain Jack's (Bronson) staunch loyalty to his cause, or even the depth and reasoning of Bill Satterwhite's (Keith) hatred. While there is, as the historians will tell you, a severe dilution of the story to suit the white man's cause. It's hard to believe this is the same director of Broken Arrow from four years earlier! But then Daves wasn't writing the screenplay....

Maybe Daves felt he needed to better the screenplay for Broken Arrow? To show he could put down on the page some "liberal" quality as well as directing? He would prove post Drum Beat that he could "co-write" great Western screenplays (Jubal/White Feather/The Last Wagon), but here on his own he falls short. Not only does it skulk in the shadow of Broken Arrow, it also pales into insignificance to Anthony Mann's brilliant Devil's Doorway, which was also from 1950. You can feel Daves striving for relevance in the mid fifties, but he is trumped by narrative zest elsewhere, a shame since the acting performances and production quality make Drum Beat very watchable.

Visually it's superb, Sedona's various natural beauties are excellently captured by Peverell Marley (The Left Handed Gun/Westbound), while Daves proves adept at utilising the landscapes as part of his action sequences (check out the red rock rifle engagement scene). Young's score is a goodie, blending bombastic beats with ballad strains, and the Warnercolor is gorgeous, one of the better Warnercolor productions that I have seen. Acting wise it's Bronson's movie, physically perfect and featuring a shifty aggressive ebullience that's most appealing. Ladd scores well, too, nicely underplayed at the critical moments, Keith has a thespian quality that suits the role of an Indian hating aggressor, and Elisha Cook provides weasel smarts that make us yearn for his part to have been bigger.

Some have questioned why this isn't better known or worthy of a widespread home format release? The answer is that simply it has more style than substance, and Daves, as much as us Western fans love him, is to blame from a writing perspective. Visually and aurally the film ranks a comfortable 9/10. As a whole, sadly, it rounds out as 6.5/10.

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