Drum Beat is a 1954 CinemaScope western film in WarnerColor written and directed by Delmer Daves and co-produced by Daves and Alan Ladd in his first film for his Jaguar Productions company. Ladd stars along with Audrey Dalton, Charles Bronson as Captain Jack, and Hayden Rorke as President Ulysses S. Grant.
Filmed in Sedona, Arizona, the story uses elements of the 1873 Modoc War in its narrative, with Ladd playing a white man asked by the U.S. Army to attempt negotiations with Native Modocs who are about to wage war.
An early role for Charles Bronson (originally Buchinsky), who plays Captain Jack as a memorable villain wearing the coat of a deceased US Cavalry Captain. After murdering General Edward Canby (Warner Anderson) during a peace negotiation, Bronson puts on the late General's coat and announces to the audience "Me GENERAL Jack now!"
In 1872, veteran Indian fighter Johnny MacKay (Alan Ladd) is sent for by then President Grant (Hayden Rorke). He tells government officials in Washington about hostilities between settlers, soldiers and Modoc renegades near the California and Oregon border. He is appointed peace commissioner for the territory.
On the way west, Johnny gives an escort to Nancy Meek (Audrey Dalton), a retired army colonel's niece. Nancy is traveling to a ranch owned by her aunt and uncle. There is an ambush outside Sacramento during which the sweetheart of their stage driver Bill Satterwhite is killed by a Modoc renegade. Later they find Nancy's aunt and uncle murdered and the ranch burned.
The grown children of an old Modoc chief, Toby (Marisa Pavan) and Manok (Anthony Caruso), meet Johnny at Fort Klamath. They tell Johnny it is a chief who calls himself Captain Jack (Charles Bronson) and a band of renegades who are responsible for the brutality while most of the other Modoc wish to live in peace. They both served as intermediaries for the Modoc.
Toby and Manok take Johnny and others to a peace talks near Lost River to discuss violations of the peace treaty signed by the Modoc in 1864 in hopes of bringing about peace again. When the violations are being discussed between Johnny and Captain Jack a vengeance crazed Satterwhite (Robert Keith) opens fire and kills the brave who killed his woman. A rampage results in which the renegades massacre 18 settlers. The Army responds but is unable to dislodge the renegade Modoc from their mountain stronghold and are forced to retreat with several casualties. After hearing of the massacre and the Army defeat President Grant orders General Canby's to act as a defensive force only.
Once more peace talks were arranged but Toby and Manok warn of treachery. General Canby (Warner Anderson), Dr. Thomas (Richard Gaines), a Modoc sympathizer, Johnny and friend Mr. Dyar (Frank Ferguson) are to come unarmed but Johnny and Mr. Dyar come armed with revolvers hidden under their shirts. During the negotiations Captain Jack pulls a hidden revolver and kills the General as other Modoc pull theirs and start firing. Dr. Thomas is also killed. Johnny is shot but only wounded and unconscious and is about to be scalped when Toby tries to shield him from harm and is killed. Mr. Dyar escapes in a hail of bullets. The Army responds causing Captain Jack and the other Modoc to retreat back to their stronghold before Johnny can be killed.
President Grant is forced to act because of the public outcry and orders Johnny to do whatever is necessary to bring Captain Jack to justice. The renegades are eventually dislodged from their stronghold and are forced to split up into separate groups. Soon most of the Modoc surrender leaving Captain Jack to survive on his own. He and Johnny have a shootout and hand-to-hand combat. Johnny prevails and places him under arrest. Captain Jack is jailed, put on trial and sentenced to hang. Afterwards Johnny returns to the woman he has fallen in love with, Nancy.Alan Ladd as Johnny MacKay
Audrey Dalton as Nancy Meek
Marisa Pavan as Toby
Hayden Rorke as President Grant
Robert Keith as Bill Satterwhite
Rodolfo Acosta as Scarface Charlie
Charles Bronson as Captain Jack
Elisha Cook, Jr. as Indian Agent
Paul Wexler as William Boddy
Strother Martin as Scotty
The film was announced in April 1954. It was the first production from Ladd's own company, Jaguar, which released through Warner Bros. He made it after a spell of almost two years making films outside the USA.
Delmer Daves wrote the script based on his family's first hand knowledge of the Modoc Indians on the California-Oregon border in the 1870s.
Marisa Pavan and Audrey Dalton were signed to three picture contracts with Jaguar. Dalton was borrowed from Paramount.Dell Four Color #610 (January 1955)