Among the two dozen or so westerns Audie Murphy made for UniversalPicturesfrom 1950-1966, DRUMS ACROSS THE RIVER (1954) is one of the better ones,featuring a gold miners-vs.-Indians plot with Audie caught firmly in themiddle. It's fast-paced, full of action, and features a host of livelycharacter actors, including some great villains.<br><br>Audie plays a wagon freighter in a Colorado mining town who is, initially,awitting pawn in a plot by a group of Denver mine bosses to stir up troublewith the local Ute Indians in order to get gold concessions on their land.Audie's dad, Sam (Walter Brennan), is a friend of the Indians and,followinga shootout with the Utes in which Sam is wounded, Audie meets with the Utechief (Morris Ankrum) and his son Taos (Jay Silverheels) and negotiates atemporary peace. Unfortunately, the hired guns working for the mine bossescontinue to stir things up and force Audie to aid in a stage robbery byabducting his dad and threatening to kill him. When Audie is charged withmurder after the robbery, he has to keep quiet to insure Sam's safety. Inthe final stretch of the movie, Audie has to break free, save his dad,subdue the bad guys, clear himself and avert a battle between Indians andcavalry. The whole story is told in 78 compact minutes.<br><br>Unassuming war hero-turned-western star Murphy was at his best in partslikethis, playing an ordinary westerner caught up in a tumultuous situationandhaving to fight his way out and summon up the moral courage to do therightthing. He always looked best when he faced down truly formidable bad guysand here he faces one of the best western villains of the 1950s. LyleBettger, who had one of the most sinister smiles in movie history,specialized in corrupt western capitalists (ranchers, miners, saloonowners,railroad men) who could be utterly smooth and charming one minute andmurderously evil the next. Here he's the miners' lead troublemaker and isjoined by a great rogues' gallery made up of future TV star Hugh O'Brianasthe black-clad Morgan, who also smiles a lot, and a quartet of thugsplayedby frequent heavies James Anderson, George Wallace, Lane Bradford andformerB-western star Bob Steele. In addition, there's Mara Corday as avoluptuous(and very attractive) saloon girl who does some of Bettger's dirty work.<br><br>Walter Brennan is very good in a rare turn as an upright authority figureand father. Jay Silverheels plays a sympathetic Indian and leads a band ofUtes who appear to be played predominantly by actual Indians rather thantheusual painted-up white extras. The Technicolor film was shot partly on theUniversal backlot with some fine location work at key California westernsites, including one dramatic desert spot representing the Indians' sacredburial ground. This was director Nathan Juran's third film with Murphy.<br><br>
Drums Across the River
Drums Across the River
Crown City, Colorado, may become a ghost town; the only gold left is in Ute Indian land. Gary Brannon, an honest man who hates Indians, joins a mission to try for mining concessions; but crooked Frank Walker, more realistically, plans to start an Indian war. Gary and his wiser father Sam have their hands full keeping the peace, and Walker has lots more schemes up his sleeve. More plot twists than the average Western.
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