DRUMS ACROSS THE RIVER is a well-made Universal Western starring Audie Murphy and a strong cast.
Gary Brannon (Murphy) and his father Sam (Walter Brennan) run a freight business in a dusty Western town. Nasty Frank Walker (Lyle Bettger) has plans to force the Brannons to steal a shipment of gold, and while he's at it he stirs up trouble with a Ute Indian tribe.
The plot's not a favorite of mine, as Gary and his father are helpless in the face of events through much of the film -- indeed, it felt like Walter Brennan spends most of the 78-minute movie tied up! -- but it's beautifully made in every other respect, and it does build to a satisfying conclusion.
There's a fine one-scene performance by Morris Ankrum as a dying Indian chief, and Jay Silverheels is also excellent as his son, the new chief. The film's respectful treatment of Indians is something I especially liked. Silverheels' role here is light years from his part in MASTERSON OF KANSAS (1954), where I found his broken Indian speak to be awkward.
Bettger is always a reliable heavy, and other actors with moments to shine include Mara Corday as Bettger's saloon gal mistress and Bob Steele as one of Bettger's henchmen.
The deep cast also includes the always-welcome Regis Toomey as the sheriff and Emile Meyer as the father of Gary's sweetheart. The cast is rounded out by James Anderson, George Wallace, Lane Bradford, Howard McNear, and Chief Yowlachie.
Gary's girlfriend, Jennie, is played by Lisa Gaye, younger sister of actresses Teala Loring and Debra Paget. Just the other night I saw Loring in ALLOTMENT WIVES (1945). This was Gaye's first leading lady role after some small parts earlier in the year; she was 18 or 19 when this was filmed. She went on to do a great deal of work in television including recurring roles on SEA HUNT and THE BOB CUMMINGS SHOW.
Like most Universal Westerns of the era, it was filmed in lovely Technicolor, in this case by Harold Lipstein. Although much of the movie was shot on the Universal backlot and around Southern California, the film also makes extremely effective use of Red Rock Canyon as the Ute tribe's sacred burial ground.
Fun side note: A giveaway that you're looking at the Western set on the Universal backlot is the staircase that goes up a hill behind a house at the edge of town. I couldn't count in how many Westerns I've seen that house and hillside staircase!
DRUMS ACROSS THE RIVER was directed by Nathan Juran.
This movie is part of the 4-film TCM Vault Audie Murphy Westerns Collection. The print is beautiful. Extras include an introduction by Ben Mankiewicz and a collection of stills, posters, and other publicity materials.