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Column for 2.1.12
Today’s column is being written, as is usually the case, on a Monday afternoon. Today’s topic will be about the movie Drums Along the Mohawk and the writer of the book upon which the movie was based, which, of course, is Boonville’s own Walter D. Edmonds.
Later today - 6 o’clock to be exact - will mark the beginning of a series of Monday night movies shown at the Oneida County Historical Society. Drums is the first week’s offering.
Before each of the Monday night movies, Frank Tomaino and yours truly, both members of the Historical Society, will offer thoughts about the movie being shown. First our commentary, then the movie. Oh yeah, and free popcorn and candy.
Most of the movies in the society’s Monday night series will have a local connection. Drums Along the Mohawk, a book/movie that takes place during Revolutionary War years and which starred Henry Fonda as Gil Martin and Claudette Colbert as his wife Lana, is based on what took place in Oneida County before Oneida County existed.
The Martin farm was in the Deerfield Corners area, about where today’s Herkimer Road and Genesee Street intersect. During Revolutionary War times, that was the end of the western frontier.
Here are a few points Frank and I are going to make during our commentary before tonight’s start of Drums Along the Mohawk:
The 1939 movie was based on the 1936 book. Edmonds wrote the book while living in Northlands, just outside of Boonville. But Edmonds didn’t call it Drums Along the Mohawk. His original title was The Starving Wilderness. The book’s publisher didn’t like that title, however, and wanted something more powerful. The publisher suggested Drums On the Mohawk. After talking it over with Edmonds, they agreed on Drums Along the Mohawk.
Edmonds was paid $25,000 for the movie rights to Drums Along the Mohawk. Not a lot these days, but keep in mind that the 1930s were depression years and back then $25,000 was a lot of money.
Edmonds was a prolific writer and did pretty well when it came to having his books made into movies. Three of his books that made it to the big screen were Drums Along the Mohawk, Rome Haul and Chad Hanna. The title Rome Haul, though, was changed to Farmer Takes A Wife for the movie version. The interesting thing is that all three movies starred Henry Fonda.
In Drums, Henry Fonda makes a heroic run as he is chased by Indians through the forest. That run is based on a run that really happened. Only it was the scout Adam Helmer who ran 35 miles from Edmeston to Fort Herkimer to warn of an Indian attack. In the movie, Adam Helmer is played by Ward Bond. But it made for a better movie to have Gil Martin (Henry Fonda) outrun the Indians.
Many of the characters in the book and movie were based on actual settlers, names that included Christian Realls and Weaver and DeMooth, which has a variety of spellings.
Drums Along the Mohawk was directed by John Ford. It was his first technicolor movie. Like with all John Ford movies, Drums featured great character actors, including Arthur Shields who played the Rev. Rosenkrantz. In another John Ford movie, The Quiet Man, Shields played another member of the clergy, the Rev. Playfair. This line from Drums, spoken by Rev. Rosenkrantz, jumps to mind: “Any man failing to report for duty will be promptly hanged. Amen.”
That’s some of what we will talk about tonight. Next Monday at the Oneida County Historical Society will feature Last of the Mohicans. Frank and I will talk about that movie, too.