Drums in the Deep South (1951)

 

 

 

Director:     William Cameron Menzies.

Starring:     James Craig (Maj. Clay Clayburn), Barbara Payton (Kathy Summers), Guy Madison (Maj. Will Denning),  Barton MacLane (Sgt. Mac McCardle), Robert Osterloh (Sgt. Harper), Tom Fadden (Purdy), Robert Easton (Jerry), Louis Jean Heydt (Col. House), Craig Stevens (Col. Braxton Summers), Taylor Holmes (Albert Monroe), Lewis Martin (Gen. Johnston), Peter Brocco (Union Corporal),  Dan White (Corp. Jennings).

two old friends find themselves on opposite sides during the Civil War

 

 

Spoiler Warning:

Georgia. 1861.  A man returns to the plantation from a trip to Atlanta.  Uncle Albert asks him how is the cotton market performing these days?  The young man says that they have planted too much cotton this season.  Uncle Albert starts reminiscing about his younger days, but the young fellow just wants to know if his wife Kathy is close by.  Brax goes to find Kathy.  He finds her and they embrace.  He tells Kathy that they're talking about calling up the militia in Atlanta.  And he has been given the rank of colonel --  Colonel Braxton Summers.  Brax has also brought her a scarf from Atlanta, which pleases Kathy.  Then he tells her he ran into his old friend Will Denning.  Kathy refers to him as that Yankee boy from Boston.  Her husband then says that he also met Clay Clayburn.  Kathy says Brax shouldn't have invited Clay.  Brax says that he, Will and Clay were altogether as friends at West Point.

Brax tells his wife that he knows about Kathy and Clay's history, but in the four years since they last saw him, Clay has changed for the better.

The two guests arrive and Will and Clay agree that Kathy is more beautiful than ever.  Clay and Will are in the shipping business together.  And Clay says that he for one is going to live in Atlanta again. 

After dinner Brax takes Will into the other room to talk about a new cotton seed he has been developing.  Kathy doesn't want to be alone with Clay and she objects to the other men talking about business.  Her husband insists they won't be long.  When Kathy and Clay are alone, he tells her that he didn't come to Atlanta on business.   He came to see her.  He admits to her that he is not a successful business man.  He was at sea alright, but as a common seaman not a ship owner.  The two hug and kiss each other.  They are interrupted when Uncle Albert comes indoors saying:  "We're at war!  Fort Sumter has been fired on!"

Will says that he has to go back to Boston tonight.  Clay says he will escort Will to the train station.  Brax says that Clay can stay here with them, but Clay says he has to report to Richmond, Virginia.  Kathy seems crushed to see Clay go. 

1864.  Three officers talk about using Captain Clayburn for an upcoming mission.  But two of the officers say that Clayburn is too brave and too reckless.  The commander, however, insists on Clayburn being the man to use.  Clayburn now shows up and the commander says he has an important mission for Clayburn.  Sherman's whole army pulled out of Chattanooga, Tennessee three weeks ago.  He's heading for Atlanta.  If Sherman takes Atlanta, their cause is doomed.  He wants Clayburn and his men to cut the railway supply line aiding Sherman.  They have been destroying the tracks, but Sherman's men have been quickly restoring the tracks.  So, the commander wants Clayburn to use the position at Devil's Mountain as a place to put four cannon.  It's a sheer cliff there and there's a secret passageway set within a cave to get up there.  He wants Clayburn and 20 men to constantly blast away at the railway until the rebs can get together enough men to counter attack Sherman.   

Clayburn picks his 20 men.  He says they all will have a chance to be a hero.  They proceed to the Devil's Mountain area.  They have to pick up a guide at a local farm.  The men, however, discover that the Yankees have already hanged the guide in his own barn.  So the group will have to find their own way up the mountain. 

The men heavily grease the wheels and muffle them too with cloth.  The men travel by night to avoid being seen by the enemy.  They have to wait for a Yankee patrol to go by them.  Just to get to the base of Devil's Mountain or Tower (which looks like a volcanic plug) is a very difficult task. 

They finally make it to the cave.  Clayburn divides his men into two groups.  Each will take a different route up to try and reach the top.  Meanwhile, Clayburn is going down to the Moravia plantation owned by the Summers family.  Clayburn has to crawl by the Yankee detachment at the plantation.  He knocks on a window for Uncle Albert, who opens the window for Clayburn.  Clay gets into the room just in time, because a Yankee guard comes to investigate the noise made by opening and closing the window. 

Clay finds out that Uncle Albert is staying at the plantation because Kathy is staying there.  She is, however, constantly under watch by a guard.  There's a guard on duty right now watching her.  The guard tells Kathy that General Sherman usually tells them to burn down all the plantations.  Kathy asks him why don't they go ahead and burn her plantation down?  Because they are hoping to catch Colonel Braxton Summers when he comes to check on his wife and uncle.  When the guard leaves the sewing room, Uncle Albert calls Kathy over to him, asking her to step into the other room.  She steps out of the sewing room and Uncle Albert steps into the sewing room.  He then goes over to the main door to the sewing room to check on the guard, but the guard is just opening the main door now.  He asks where's the lady, saying he wants his shirt mended.  Albert says she's gone to bed already.  The guy says he was in the hallway and nobody passed him.  He goes and opens the other door to see if Kathy is in there, but she's not.  Albert repeats that she has gone to bed.

She hasn't gone to bed.  She is outside the house hiding with Clay.  She asks Clay why didn't he ever write her back?  He says he wrote back, but he never mailed the letters.  He says he never thought he would see her again.  Clay adds that he didn't care if he lived or died.  Everyone around him was dying, but he never even got hit.  She says she would have went with him to New Orleans.  Clay talks about going now out to California with her. 

Clay takes Kathy back with him to the cave.  He introduces her as Mrs. Summers.  He finds out that one of the men fell and hit his head and another man, Jerry, is lost in the maze of paths up to the top.  Clay tells his men they have to find the lost man and they have to get to the top of the mountain in order to get the cannons up there.  Pushing a wheel up through the passageway a man falls to his death below. 

Clay and Kathy are the first to make it to the top of the mountain.  The men gradually arrive and start setting up the cannon.  They now have three cannon instead of four and only 16 able men out of the original 20 selected.  Clay asks Kathy to signal him from her window when the train is coming. She agrees to do that.  They kiss.  She leaves. 

As Kathy goes down the passageway she hears a man calling out for help.  She assumes it's Jerry and starts calling back to him.  She asks him to keep calling out to her and she will answer back.  She follows the sound of his voice until she reaches him.  She helps him out of a hole he must have fallen into. 

The next day the rebs check the distance and figure that the trains down there will be sitting ducks.  Meanwhile, Kathy tells her guard that she is tired of him following her and watching her so intently.  The guard says she reminds him of his wife back home in Springfield, Massachusetts.  He just likes to look at Kathy.  Kathy expects there might be trouble and gets ready with her knife.  The man says she can put that knife down, because he's not going to do her any harm.  Kathy relaxes a bit.  She starts asking when the trains will be moving again.  The guard says they are leaving on a train coming in on the track in the afternoon.  The guard wants to show Kathy a tintype of his family.  He goes to get the tintype.

Kathy runs to her room and with a big hand mirror starts signaling to Jerry on the top of the mountain.  The guard returns and doesn't find Kathy so he checks all the rooms of the house.  He finds her signaling someone.  He says she is a dirty, little spy and slaps her across the face.  He is stopped by a bullet from Uncle Albert's revolver.  But then the guard shoots Uncle Albert, who dies. 

Jerry tells Clay that he saw the signal from Mrs. Summer's window.  So Clay tells his men to get all the cannons in shape to be used quickly as a train is coming in sometime soon. 

Two trains are coming and Clay wants to smash both of them.  He delays his first shots to get a shot at both trains.  The first train is hit.  The second train starts backing up as fast as it can go.  They now hit the second train and the men whoop and holler over their success. 

The Yankees come to Kathy to take her uncle's body to be buried. She tells them to bury him tomorrow.  The soldier in charge says he has his orders to bury the man now.  He adds that they lost 30 men in that bombardment today. 

More Yankees arrive.  They are led by Major Will Denning.  Kathy sees him and tries to get his attention, but he is obviously too preoccupied with the tasks he and his men have at hand.  The cannons the Yankees have are too small to get a cannon ball on top of the mountain.  Denning says they are going to have to make a direct assault on the mountain top.  Denning divides his men into two groups and they both run as fast as they can to the base of the mountain without being hit.  Some of the Yankee soldiers are hit and go down.  Denning finds the cave opening and he and some of his men start upwards toward the top of the mountain.

Denning says he has been in this cave before. He knows there's a path around here somewhere. They find the path, but the rebs open up on them.  In all the Major loses a dozen men.  He is called to Sherman's headquarters and is told that he better get those rebs off the mountain or someone's head is going to roll.  Sherman 's march to Atlanta can't be stopped by a few men and cannons up on top of a mountain.  Denning says he wrote many letters begging for some troops to occupy the top of Devil's Tower, but nobody would listen to him.  The colonel tells him that a Dahlgren artillery piece used by the navy and mounted on a railroad car is headed here now.  The colonel now tells Denning to make sure Mrs. Summers gets a safety pass back to Chattanooga. 

When Will talks with Kathy, she is as bitter toward him as to the guard who was watching her.  Will finally says that he didn't come here to fight with Kathy.  He has to give her a safety pass to Chattanooga.  Kathy says she wants to stay here in Monrovia.  Will figures that Kathy wants to see Brax.  He has good news.  Brax and his men are out safe from being boxed in by the Yankees due to the Yankees pulling out to deal with Devil's Tower.  She says that's good news.  She keeps begging him until he gives in and lets her stay.

News arrives that the big cannon will be arrive around 2 a.m.  Will is thrilled about the news. 

Kathy sneaks out of the house and watches as the new gun arrives.  Then she runs to the cave to warn Clay.  The Yankees are inside the cave, so she takes another entrance.  She reaches the top and tells the men.  The men realize that the naval gun is out of their range, but Clay says if they can get some wire to wrap around the barrels of the cannon, they can hit the Dahlgren gun.  So Clay and Kathy return to the plantation and get the piano wire from her piano. 

They wrap the wire around one of the cannons and prepare to fire the cannon.  Then a group of the rebs are hit by a cannon ball from the Dahlgren.  The Dahlgren hits close to the wired-up cannon, but the rebs are still able to fire the cannon at the Dahlgren artillery piece.  They finally hit and destroy the Dahlgren artillery piece.

So now Denning decides to take black powder up into the cave and blast the top of Devil's Tower off.  Of course, Kathy is going to try and warn Clay again.  But this time Denning discovers that the piano has been stripped of its piano wire.  He calls in the guard and asks whose been in the house today.  Only himself and Mrs. Summers.  Will goes to confront Kathy.  Kathy says Will forgot that they are fighting on two different sides of the war.  Will has Kathy put under constant surveillance to be shipped out to Chattanooga tomorrow as a prisoner of war.

The Yankees start planting the barrels of gun powder in the cave.  They are about ready to blow the cave up.

Back at the house another weak Yankee soldier tells Kathy what's going to happen to the men on top of Devil's Tower.  She then starts begging the weak fellow until he takes her to see Major Denning, who is none to happy to see her. 

And now the femme-fatale starts begging Will to let her bring the men down from the top of the mountain.  She says he has to give the men a chance to surrender.  And, finally, Will gives in to her.  Of course, Will wants to see his buddy Clay again too. 

At the top the men talk about sacrificing their lives by letting the Yankees blow the top of the mountain off.  The rubble from the Devil's Tower will fall onto the railway tracks and stop Sherman's march for another week. 

The reb sentries shoot and wound Kathy.  She falls to the ground.  Kathy gets up and keeps climbing up to near the summit.  Jerry hears her coming and helps her to the top.  She warns Clay.  He gives the order for the sergeant to take the men down.  The sergeant warns Clay that he will never make it down in time if he has to carry Kathy down with him.  Clay grabs her up in his arms and starts carrying her.  She dies in his arms.  The rebs never make it down.  They are all killed in the destruction of the top of Devil's Tower. 

"Out of the chaos of brother versus brother, came a new realization of our common destiny. From the smoke and debris and the sacrifice, a new meaning of unity was forged for the United States of America, one nation indivisible, now and forever."

 

Here's still another terrible film with a pro-South tilt.  Unlike the producers of the movie, I didn't want Sherman's march to the sea to be stopped.  But, I'm not a racist, and don't tolerate films glorifying men fighting to keep their fellow humans in slavery.  But there are always racist Americans still trying to excuse the behavior of the South and its enslavement of thousands of people.  You may as well produce a film justifying the killing of 6 million Jews by Germany.  The two types of movies would be very much alike in their sentiment that there are some inferior people in the world who should be treated with hatred and death. 

The movie made heroes out of the rebels, including Kathy Summers, who was cheating on her husband with the rebel officer Clay.  And the movie made the Yankees looks like weaklings and idiots, always allowing rebel Kathy, a spy, to do whatever she wanted to do.  She just used her beauty and the men fell over each other trying to please her.  Absolutely disgusting.  If I was there, I would have court-martialed a bunch of men for choosing sexual titillation over the lives of their fellow soldiers. 

 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 

 

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