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A Thunder of Drums
Reviewer: Richard Tara
Director: Joseph M. Newman
Cast: Richard Boone, George Hamilton, Luana Patten, Charles Bronson, Richard Chamberlain, Slim Pickens, Carole Wells

Joseph Newman directed this little Western Gem in 1961. For its time it was less introverted than most movies. The movie starts with an Indian massacre of settlers. A brash young lieutenant Curtis McQuade (George Hamilton) arrives at a remote cavalry outpost in the desert. He is full of self-confidence in his abilities as an Indian fighter boosted by the fact that he was raised in the territory when his father who is now a general was in command of the same post.

Hostile Indians are on the warpath attacking innocent farmers; killing the men and horribly raping and mutilating the women. Captain Maddocks (Richard Boone) is a bitter man who has been passed over for promotion many times and knows that he will either die or retire as a captain. With limited resources, he manages to keep both the Comanches and the Apaches at bay. He is a tough taskmaster and does not hide his dislike of Lieutenant McQuade, especially after he discovers that he is having an affair with the fiancé of his second in command, a Lieutenant Gresham (James Douglas.)

The danger of Indian attack and wholesale massacre of the troopers and the remaining civilians increases daily. A patrol lead by Lieutenant Gresham is ambushed and massacred by the Indians. There is no choice but to face the Indians and try to turn the ambush around, but they are not sure if the Indians are Apaches or Comanches, since they seem to be using strange tactics.

This is probably one of the last honest Westerns made by Hollywood. Soon a new era began. The movie world was soon inundated by Italian Westerns of Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly etc.) Hollywood stopped portraying Indians as savages. They become noble warriors and the whites became the intruders.

As always, Richard Boone, as Captain Maddocks, has a commanding presence as a strong willed and yet devoted commander who will never be promoted to a higher rank because his commanding officer (Lieutenant McQuade's father) wrongly blacklisted him years ago. Yet he bears no personal bitterness towards the young lieutenant. He is determined to handcraft him the hard way.

Arthur O'Connell plays the even-tempered Sergeant that keeps the men together. Richard Chamberlain plays a righteous Lieutenant who, unfortunately, has a very short screen presence. Charles Bronson, as trooper Hanna, is a tacky private who loves loafing and blackmailing officers. Other cast members were picked shrewdly.

Joseph Newman was a versatile director whose repertoire ranged from Film Noir (Dangerous Crossing, The George Raft Story), Science Fiction (This Island Earth, War of the Planets) and Westerns (Fort Massacre, Pony Soldier etc.) He was a skilled director. There are never “fillers” in his movies. No redundant sequence shots or long dialogs in this work. This is not just a western; it is story of developing relationships when lonely individuals are thrown into hostile desolate surroundings. Given actors such as Richard Boone and George Hamilton, Joseph Newman has made a well-crafted movie that could be watched repeatedly. This movie is suitable for all audiences. Even the massacre scene is handled delicately through lights and shadows.