Distant Drums – Gary Cooper 1951

I must have seen this first about a 1954 or 55 when each Tuesday we had someone come to out local village and put on a proper film show with a typical second film about 60 mins or so, then the trailers and then the big picture – as we used to call it.

We had a village hall in this small rural village in England and it was here that among many others we saw Distant Drums – and what a thrilling film it was and is.   That was the first time that I knew that such a sub tropical part of the USA existed and I learned about  the Everglades in Florida of course.  We all know of it nowadays but in the mid fifties not very many people had ever been there.  It was only 10 years after the end of the war – and during that time many men had travelled widely but sadly that was because of conflict but other than that most people had not.

This was an unusual western – first because of its setting in Florida and also because we saw alligators and snakes – here again that was the Everglades and probably still is. The underwater fight to the finish at the end of the film was shot at Silver Springs in Florida which is still very much on the go and used in movies.   Prior to this film Tarzan Finds a Son used Silver Springs with Johnny Weissmuller and Johnny Sheffield.

In this film  we are taken to the  swamps, jungle and the Indians in a stone fort because  this is a Florida Western!

The story opens with US Navy Lieutenant Richard Tufts arriving in Florida with a small boat which he has taken overland to Lake Okeechobee.  He travels separately and meets up with Capt. Quincy Wyatt, who will lead the mission against an old Spanish fort on the opposite side of the lake which is being used by the Seminole Indians.

Watch the trailer to Distant Drums 1951


The real story is about how Quincy Wyatt (Gary Coper) and his men along with some rescued prisoners from the fort, escape through the alligator infested Everglade swamps with the Seminole chasing after them.  Not all of them will make it –  some will die at the hands of the Seminole Indians and others to the alligators!

The above shot is a favourite of mine. It really sums up the film – Florida Everglades,  Gary Cooper and Mari Aldon.

The Florida setting certainly gave this film a different feel to just about every other western.  The alligators here ARE more frightening than the usual rattlesnake and there was one quite bloody sequence  shown when one of the men was killed by an alligator.



They all pause for breath – above – in the Everglades.


It is an action-packed film and I love the Technicolor here which gives the Everglades a realistic beauty.  The scenes where they are on the canoe on the water paddling through the trees is a beautiful shot.

 Gary Cooper is good as always but  nowhere near as good as he was in ‘High Noon’ .   I reckon he would have enjoyed working down in Florida though.   Mari Alden takes the female lead but there isn’t a lot in this part for her to do much with.   We do learn that she isn’t quite the Southern lady she makes out to be but that  hardly seems to affect  her character and this revelation is quite sketchy anyway.

Mari Aldon was originally a ballet dancer born in Lithuania. She later married film Director Tay Garnett although he was more than 25 years older than her and he died in 1977 although they were by then divorced.

Mari Aldon.

I don’t know much about her but here are some interesting quotes written at the time.

Columnist Sheila Graham reveals: “Mari Aldon, who could have been a big star after her role with Gary Cooper in Distant Drums, won’t be. The Warners are dropping her like a hot coal. ‘Too much temperament.’”

May 51 – Columnist Louella Parsons knows: “Incidentally, Mari Aldon flies home ahead of the rest of the Cooper company – that’s how lonely she is for Tay Garnett…”

10 August 1953 – Louella Parsons tells that “Tay Garnett phoned from London to say he and Mari Aldon are getting married Thursday in a London registry…”

25 October 1955   Her daughter, Tiela, is born in Los Angeles.

August 1970  She files for divorce from Tay Garnett in Los Angeles,

31 October 2004   Mari Aldon Garnett  she died at age 78 in Las Vegas. She is survived by her daughter, Tiela Garnett; grandson, Taylor Benatsou-  granddaughter, Chloe Fazio; and sister  Janet Kozlowski.

It seems that she could have been a bigger star but she had a family and continued her career in films and later TV so she maybe had a good time. I hope she did.






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