Monday, June 25, 2012

Distant Drums

Les Aventures du Capitaine Wyatt / Tamburi lontani. US © 1951 United States Pictures. D: Raoul Walsh. SC: Niven Busch, Martin Rackin. DP: Sid Hickox. ED: Folmar Blangsted. AD: Douglas Bacon. M: Max Steiner. S: Oliver S. Garretson. Loc: The Everglades. C: Gary Cooper (capitano Quincy Wyatt), Mari Aldon (Judy Beckett), Richard Webb (tenente Richard Tufts), Ray Teal (soldato Mohair), Arthur Hunnicutt (Monk), Robert Barrat (generale Zachary Taylor). PC: United States Pictures, Warner Bros. Pictures. Premiere: 29. dicembre 1951. 35 mm. 101’. Col. From: Théâtre du Temple per concessione di Paramount Picture. Monday 25 July 2012, Arlecchino (Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato). Sous-titres français. E-subtitles in Italian.

Peter von Bagh: “This is the kind of film – even the film – that marked many an early childhood, including mine, with an overwhelming sense of living through moments in the middle of ‘the best adventure in life’. Distant Drums defined many things: the sense of adventure and cinema, action and meditation, spectacle and silence. The story (a free adaptation of Objective Burma, as Colorado Territory had been of High Sierra) is set in Florida in 1840, and tells of a journey not to a promised land but: to difficulties – snakes, crocodiles, brush impossible to penetrate. The tale is told with a perfect sense of adventure, through movement, silently sneaking through, being part of nature, surprises and sometimes fast action, often dangerously at the borderline between life and death. It’s like a definition: what a true man is (a tone expressed in the narrative by a younger officer: “I saw the man with whom I would share the most remarkable adventure of my life”) and how thrilling a true woman can be. Very concrete and at the same time a dream. Captain Quincy Wyatt – a “soldier, swamp man, gentleman, savage” – is one of Gary Cooper’s roles whose movements seem to define man’s primal elements, like the elements fire and water. Jacques Lourcelles words it best: “This perfect Walshian hero is therefore a loner, but without melancholy or bitterness. Upstanding, steady, master of danger, these notions – both physical and moral – that characterize his actions need a clear, rectilinear narrative without bravura, filling the eyes with a living, fascinating plastic transcription, fully present in this accomplished, laconic film”. Peter von Bagh

AA: I had seen Distant Drums previously only in a 16 mm black and white print, and it was rewarding now to see this Technicolor movie in colour.  The jungle is a soulscape in this adventure story. Distant Drums and Louisiana Story might make an interesting double bill.

Action in a Raoul Walsh movie is crisp yet relaxed. There is a characteristic joy, a gusto in scenes like pushing the great boat into the river.

The battle scenes feel real, but there is no gratuitous violence.

Typical for Walsh is the sequence where Wyatt returns to his paradisiac island and finds his home burned to the ground. The pain and the sorrow on Wyatt's face are very moving.

Before the story starts white soldiers have murdered Captain Wyatt's (Gary Cooper) wife, an Indian Princess, and Wyatt loves their son more than anything, believing he has now been killed, too. Judy Beckett (Mari Aldon) has dedicated her life to revenging her father who was killed by her crooked husband, apparently also her pimp. But during the journey through the Everglades she learns to accept Wyatt's credo: "you can't hold a grudge forever".

Mari Aldon is a good, strong Walshian woman in her only starring role in a feature film.

Distant Drums is a story of Indian wars, but it is not a racist anti-Indian movie.

There is a juxtaposition of Wyatt's natural leadership and Richard Tuft's formal military discipline. This dynamics is familiar for Finns from the novel and the movie The Unknown Soldier (the Koskela / Lammio dynamics).

This print is clean and it gives a good general sense of the colour concept. But if this is the best print available, Distant Drums is need of restoration. There is such an unevenness in the colour definition.

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