The Drum (1938)

the drum poster 1938 movie sabu
6.5 Overall Score
Story: 6/10
Acting: 6/10
Visuals: 6/10

British-India relations, Sabu's development

Directionless, needed focused story, missed opportunities with the visuals

Movie Info

Movie Name:   The Drum

Studio:   London Film Productions

Genre(s):   Drama/Action/Adventure

Release Date(s):   April 1, 1938

MPAA Rating:   Not Rated

the drum sabu desmond tester

He’s my less than equal friend!

A British military agent named Captain Carruthers (Roger Livesey) finds himself in a war torn region of India and trying to make allies with the rulers of the region.  Befriending the King of Tokot, the British find their ally in the region, but the king’s brother Prince Ghul (Raymond Massey) is plotting his own overthrow.  Killing his brother, Ghul takes control, but the escape of his nephew Prince Azim (Sabu Dastagir) could mean his plots to overthrow the British rule could be thwarted.

Directed by Zoltan Korda, The Drum was released in America as Drums (and is often called that).  The movie was well received in England, but Indian countries felt that it was British propaganda.  The movie is considered part to London Films’ unofficial Empire Trilogy with Sanders of the River (1936) and The Four Feathers (1939).  It was collected by Criterion as part of the “Sabu!” collection under the Eclipse imprint (Eclipse Series #30).

the drum prince ghul captain carruthers roger livesey raymond massey

I really needed Admiral Ackbar to show up and yell “It’s a trap!”

Growing up Sabu was the kid of the live action Jungle Book.  It frequently aired on TV since it was in public domain, so I was kind of familiar with him as an actor.  The Eclipse collection of Sabu not only was fun to watch for The Jungle Book, but the other films that helped establish Sabu as an actor in Hollywood.

The movie is kind of directionless.  It really isn’t about Sabu’s Prince Azim nor does it feel like it is about Captain Carruthers.  It seems like it needs a focus for the story because I had a difficult time connecting with either character.  The film does play up the subservient nature of India to the British Empire and how they are seen as lower citizens, so I do understand how the film was criticized in India upon its release.  Despite this, trying to develop Prince Azim as a rounded character in the movie subverts this a little…but not completely.

the drum sabu drummer ending

Come…they told me…Pa rum pum pum pum!

The cast is rather flat.  Roger Livesey and his love played by Valerie Hobson have really basic roles.  Sabu is interesting in a non-tradition sense of the cinema.  His acting is pretty flat and he might have fared better if he had been permitted to speak in his native tongue because his dialogue sometimes seems stunted as he delivers his lines.  Child actor Desmond Tester plays Sabu’s “friend” Bill Holder, but he doesn’t come off as particularly likable even if he does befriend Sabu.  Many of the Indian characters were played by non-Indian actors like Raymond Massey as the villain Prince Ghul.

The movie is in Technicolor, but in comparison to some other films of the time, it isn’t as bright and shiny.  The movie is largely set based which is common for the time but it also feels like it misses opportunities (a big lavish Indian setting would have been pretty impressive in Technicolor).

The Drum isn’t the most inventive movie you’ll see.  The picture is pretty predictable and the characters aren’t developed enough to form an interesting plot.  It is interesting (as an outsider) to see the relationship between India and England and how they “worked together” as part of the Empire…and the odd stabs at old patriotism that movies like The Drum try to inspire.

Related Links:

Elephant Boy (1937)

The Jungle Book (1942)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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