Upstate New York in 1776 is the setting for John Ford’s war film Drums Along the Mohawk. Gil Martin (Henry Fonda) is a Revolutionary War-era farmer who has recently wed the lovely and well-to-do Lana (Claudette Colbert). Giving up her privileged life, Lana journeys with her hubby to start life anew in the increasingly dangerous Mohawk River Valley. Although she finds her new life difficult, Lana assists her husband in tilling the soil, harvesting the crops and building a farmhouse. However, things become much more tense as the two learn that the 13 Colonies are at war with the British. Siding with the Brits are a savage band of Native Americans who are eager to pillage and plunder all that the Colonists have built. After their farmhouse is burned to the ground, Gil and Lana find themselves under the temporary supervision of Mrs. McKlennar (Edna May Oliver), a fiesty widow who doesn’t take any shit from anyone. Not ones to back down, the Tory-led Indians launch one brutal assault after another. Will peace be restored to the Colonies? Will the stoic Gil and the spritely Lana live to build yet another new life for themselves?
John Ford’s first film in Technicolor is beautifully shot in rich, vibrant color (Cinematographers Bert Glennon and Ray Rennahan received well-deserved Oscar nominations) and the actors all do an admirable job in bringing their characters to life. The standout in this cast is Edna May Oliver, nominee, (178), as the widow Mrs. McKlennar. Oliver was one of John Ford’s perfect character actors. In each and every scene, she plays the ornery and defiant matriarch to the hilt. While Oliver’s Mrs. McKlennar takes cantakerousness to new heights, nothing stands taller than the visual beauty of this commerically-successful 1939 film.
Edna May Oliver lost the Best Supporting Actress award to the first ever African American Oscar nominee and winner, Hattie McDaniel in Gone With the Wind.