The Drum (Drums) (1938)  

 

 

 

Director:      Zoltan Korda.

Starring:     Sabu (Prince Azim), Raymond Massey (Prince Ghul), Roger Livesey (Capt. Carruthers), Valerie Hobson (Mrs. Carruthers), David Tree (Lieut. Escott), Desmond Tester (Bill Holder), Francis L. Sullivan (Governor), Archibald Batty (Major Bond), Frederick Culley (Dr.Murphy), Amid Taftazani (Mohammed Khan), Laurence Baskcomb (Zarullah), Roy Emerton (Wafadar), Michael Martin Harvey (Mullah), Martin Walker (Herrick), Ronald Adam (Major Gregoff).

in the time of the British Raj, Indian Prince Azim tries to warn the prejudiced British about a coming revolt

 

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Peshawar, Northwest Frontier, Tribal Territory, India.  The British army is on the move in the mountains.  They walk into an ambush.  Their enemy has a machine gun which makes the situation all the worse for the British.  Captain Carruthers had warned his superiors, among them Saunders, that the army may be up against machine guns, but they didn't believe it.   Carruthers is now somewhere in the Doro Pass. 

A man begs for something to eat from a man named Haji.  An Indian policeman comes over to tell the beggar to move on and stop begging.  Haji, however, gives the man a folded over piece of bread.  The beggar thanks him and moves away from the policeman, who tells Haji he is going to starve if he gives everyone a piece of bread who asks for it. 

Inside the folded bread is a message:  "Convoy of arms moving south through Doro Pass.  Meet Herrick Patia station.  Ninth.  Instruct him to investigate."  Undercover Carruthers, who played the part of the beggar, meets Herrick.  Carruthers tells him about the caravan carrying machine guns heading through the Doro Pass.  Then he says he is going to Peshawar. 

Carruthers has now gotten a fresh shave.  A servant tells Carruthers that he is to see His Excellency as soon as he is ready.   The niece of His Excellency, Miss Brook, is here also, but she will be leaving tomorrow.  Tonight there will be a farewell party for the niece.  It's the Governor's Ball. 

The British governor walks with his niece Marjorie.  The governor has to excuse himself to speak with Capt. Carruthers.  The captain says from China to Afghanistan there is a movement to bring all the smaller kingdoms together in one kingdom that will fight against the British.  He recommends to the governor that they establish a strong presence in the region in the center of all these little kingdoms at Tokot, northeast of Peshawar. 

Now Carruthers goes over to talk with Marjorie, who has been dancing with Lt. Escott.  Carruthers and Marjorie go outside and Marjorie asks him why did he suddenly disappear?  He says that he had to leave very suddenly and couldn't send her word of where he was.  She says she doesn't like India.  Carruthers says she only knows the India of the tourists.  Here in the Northwest Frontier, he loves his India.  He asks Marjorie if she would ever considered living in the frontier area with him?  She says no, but then yes.  They kiss.

The governor interrupts them saying that's a rather warm goodbye.  Marjorie explains that she is staying on.  The governor warns her that she better marry Carruthers right away because he is going on assignment to Tokot. 

Tokot.  Capital of one of the independent frontier states.  The Khan dotes over his son, Prince Azim.  The prince wants to rush out to greet Carruthers and the troops.  The Khan lets him go.  He is also enthusiastic about having the British come because that will assure that they will have peace. 

Carruthers and his man can see Tokot in the distance.  And now they hear the beat of the sacred drum of Tokot announcing the welcome arrival of the British.  All of a sudden shots ring out and the British have to take cover.  And yet Prince Azim now comes riding up unafraid of the rifle fire.  Soon after his men bring in the shooters.  The prince says to take the men away and shoot them.  The captives are taken away and shots ring out.

Carruthers gets very serious and he tells Azim he wants to speak to him in private.  He tells the lad that maybe it would have been better to have given the prisoners five lashes and then just let them go.  Azim objects that the men are already dead.  But Carruthers knows they are not dead.  He asks Azim why did he set up this elaborate ruse?  Azim says he wanted to see if the British would be fearful under fire, as he has heard.  Carruthers wants to know about these men that say the British are afraid under fire.  He gets the impression that Azim is looking forward to a war with the British.  Azim says of course he is. 

Carruthers says he wants Azim to give five lashes to the shooters and two lashes for Azim himself.  Azim objects so Carruthers says then he will have to tell his father about the ruse.  Azim doesn't want the captain to tell his father, so Carruthers makes a deal with him.  If Azim will promise he will at least try to tell the truth when he speaks to the captain, he won't tell his father or have the lashes delivered.  It's a deal. 

Prince Ghul, the brother of the Khan, is plotting the overthrow his brother. The influential Mullah tells Prince Ghul to start the fight against the British right away, but Ghul is not ready yet. 

Prince Azim and the drummer boy Bill Holder become friends and Bill teaches Azim to play the drums. 

The Khan signs the peace treaty with the British. 

The British are now headed back to Peshawar.   Azim sees them off.  Once the British have gone, Prince Ghul sets his plan into action.  Men with weapons start rushing toward the town center where a spokesman says that the Khan is a traitor.  Ghul now comes into the Khan's quarters and shoots him.  Azim is grabbed by two men who are supporters of the small prince.  They tell him that Ghul has killed the Khan and they now have to sneak off to Peshawar.

In Peshawar Azim makes contact with Bill Holder. They set up a time and place to meet later. 

The Carruthers have been married for around two months.  The Governor comes to visit them.  He has bad news.  The Khan of Tokot has been assassinated and the prince is missing, probably assassinated also.  Khan Ghul has promised to honor the peace treaty signed by his late brother.  So the captain is being sent as a resident to Tokot.  Marjorie insists she is going with her husband despite the possible dangers. 

Azim and Bill are happy to be together again.  (A potential assassin has followed Azim.)  The Prince tells Bill that his uncle has killed his father.  Azim asks Bill if he could be a drummer boy for the British too?  Bill says you have to be a professional drummer before you can drum for the British.  Bill then tells Azim to go see Capt. Carruthers for he is sure to help him.  Azim says he can't because he must stay hidden as long as there is a possible danger to his uncle.  They say they will meet again. 

Now that Azim is alone the assassin almost manages to stick his long dagger into the prince's back.  Azim slips into the house of Capt. Carruthers.  Marjorie sees that the boy has been cut on his right arm.  Azim tells her a man out there tried to kill him.  Marjorie senses that the man is near and goes to get her pistol.  The assassin sees Azim alone and comes for him, but Marjorie returns with her pistol.  The assassin says the boy is his, but Azim shakes his head no.  Marjorie calls for her male servants and the assassin takes off. 

Marjorie now disinfects and fixes Azim's wound.  Azim keeps staring at her and Marjorie asks why?  He tells her that she was so brave and now she's so good to him. 

One of Azim's protectors kills the would-be assassin. 

The Captain arrives and tells his wife that this is the rightful ruler of Tokot, Prince Azim.  Azim tells the husband that his wife saved his life. 

The protector comes in saying that Azim must go now.  Carruthers says the boy can stay in the compound where it will be safer, but the protector says now that the enemy knows that Carruthers is a friend of the prince, Azim will have to  stay out of sight even more than he did before. 

The new British residency in Tokot.  Khan Ghul inspects the British troops.  He then goes in to meet Marjorie.  He is very complimentary about her appearance.  After the Khan leaves, a servant says "there's something brewing over there in the palace."  He wants to go into the palace to find out what's going on.  At first the captain says it's too risky, but the servant says it's too risky not to try for all the British and Indians here. 

The servant returns with the password "drums".  He tells the captain that the enemy has fourteen machine guns and tomorrow a convoy will bring in t the ammunition via Doro Pass. 

A polo match takes place between the British and the Indians.    Meanwhile, the ammunition and 400 rifles arrive by caravan.  He shows the weaponry and rifles to Mohammed Khan and says he saw him talking to his friend Carruthers.  He has his men take Mohammed Khan away. 

Carruthers tells his wife that Mohammed Khan will take her to another town away from Tokot.  Marjorie does not like the idea of leaving her husband but will do what he says.  Carruthers and Escott now go to meet with Mohammed Khan, but its Khan Ghul that meets them.  He goes back with them to the room where Marjorie waits for her husband.  The drums start beating and the Khan says this is to mark the beginning of the celebration of the festival.  The fires will burn for five days and nights.  The Khan says he is holding a festival banquet in the palace and he wants Carruthers there as a guest. 

Khan helps set up the party, all complete with machine guns place in strategic places to rake the British troops who will be attending the banquet.  Caruthers's servant hears and sees what is going on. 

Mrs. Carruthers plays the piano and sings for her guests.  Three of Khan's men climb up the wall and throw something through a window.  The British turn off all the lights and candles.  Carruthers goes to see what's going on and finds his servant's head thrown through a window.  Mrs. Carruthers screams. 

In Peshawar.  A protector of Azim has just returned from Tokot with news that all the tribes are gathering in Tokot for the festival celebration.  He tells Azim:  "They're massing for war."   The signal for the rising will be the massacre of the British of the Residency.  This will show the tribes that the English are not to be feared.  The British will avenge their dead and kill the usurper Khan Ghul.  Then Azim will rule.  The signal will be given at the end of the fifth and last day of the feast.  Azim tells his protectors that he doesn't want to see his British friends killed.

Azim goes to his friend Bill, who takes Azim to the sergeant, who takes the two of them to see the man in charge of the banquet for the governor, etc. until they get to the Governor himself.  The Governor says he will need some kind of confirmation of what Azim tells him, because if they sent out a British army, there might be war.  They are going to hold Azim in the barracks, but he jumps over a railing into the dark of night.  He tells his two protectors that he is going to Tokot.  They warn him that he could be caught and killed by Khan Ghul.  Azim talks to them about his being the rightful ruler and then he takes off. 

One of the protectors is the British agent Herrick.  Now he goes to the Governor about the plot against Carruthers and the flight of Azim back to Tokot.  Now the Governor believes Azam.  The army sets out the very next morning. 

Carruthers gets ready for the banquet.  He takes a pistol with him.  He goes to talk with his wife.  She is worried about her husband and he tries to convince her that everything will be alright. 

Fifty British troops sit at the banquet.  Carruthers sits near the Khan.  A dancing girl performs for them and then some male dancers.  Azim reaches the palace in secrecy.  The British troops now do a dance for the Indians.  Carruthers and the Khan go into the other room to watch the Scottish dance.  The captain looks around carefully and he doesn't like what he sees.  Azim and a protector knock out the drummer and now Azim drums of the sacred drum of Tokot.  The captain suddenly sees a slight glimpse of a machine gun behind a curtain, so he sounds the alarm to his soldiers.  Then he slugs the Khan.  The bugler sounds a warning of trouble.  The Khan shoots the bugler. 

Carruthers grabs control of a machine gun and starts firing it at the other machine gun nests.  An Indian shoots Carruthers, wounding him.  Then another Indian jumps on top of the captain. 

The British troops arrive at the palace and all hell breaks out.  Many men are now dying from each side.  The Scottish contingent from the banquet fall back into the residency. 

The Khan shows the captured Carruthers the tortured body of Mohammed Khan.  He tells Carruthers that the British officer will be placed in a wooden cage and paraded through the small kingdoms of the mountains.  This will show the people that the English are not to be feared.  But now explosions are heard and a message comes in that the British army has just crossed the border.  The British are fighting the Tokots at the border.  They overrun the enemy's positions and assault the gates of the palace.   

Khan Ghul grabs his money chest and plans his escape into Turkistan.  From there he will come back, he says, stronger than ever, because he always wins in the end.  But it's too late.  The Indians loyal to Azim have freed Mohammed Khan from his prison cell.  They bring the former prisoner to the room where the Khan is and Mohammed Khan shoots the man five times.  Now Azim comes into the room.  The rest of Khan Ghul's men surrender their weapons.

Mr. and Mrs. Carruthers are united again.    

Azim and Carruthers now inspect the troops. 

 

 

The story is pretty simple and straightforward.  But since it is mostly fictional, there is only limited information here for history buffs.   The movie sides with the British colonialists.  Prince Azim learns of the trustworthiness of the British and he becomes friends with a number of them.  Of course, they make the brother of the present Khan the villain and so you don't mind if he should get knocked off.  I don't feel easy with siding with the colonialists and colonialism, but the writers made sure the colonialist situation was more palatable to swallow.   That Sabu actor did a good job as the young boy Prince Azim.  Valerie Hobson (as Mrs. Carruthers) was very charming. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 


Historical Background:

 

1848-1849  --  after the Second Anglo-Sikh War, the Punjab and the province that became the North-West Frontier came under British rule.  The 'Frontier Tribal Areas' acted as a 'buffer' zone with Afghanistan.

From Wikipedia:  "The North-West Frontier Province was a former province of British India and then Pakistan which was established in 1901 and dissolved in 1955. The province covered an area of 70,709 kmē including much of the current Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province but excluding the former princely states of Amb, Chitral, Dir, Phulra and Swat. The capital was the city of Peshawar and the province was composed of three divisions (Peshawar, Dera Ismail Khan and Malakand). The province was bordered by five princely states, to the north, the Gilgit Agency to the northeast, the province of West Punjab to the east and Balochistan to the south. Afghanistan lay to the northwest with the tribal agencies forming a buffer zone."

 

 

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