Contrary to the title, there is no thunder, of drums or otherwise, to be seen or heard in director Joseph Newman's routine 1961 western A THUNDER OF DRUMS. So, points off for false advertising. However, any western, no matter how generic, that has both Slim Pickens and Charles Bronson in the cast, automatically gets points on. Call it a draw. Bronson gets more screen time than Pickens but it's always a treat to see these guys, two of my all time favorites.
Richard Boone stars as Captain Stephen Maddocks, the commander of Fort Canby, located deep in Indian territory. Boone is another one of my favorites. He was capable of playing both good guys and bad with equal skill. Here, he bears the weight of command heavily as four of his men and two white women have just been killed by a marauding band of Apaches.
Before he can address the current crisis, Lt. Curtis McQuade (George Hamilton) shows up at the fort, ready for duty. He's a brash young officer, full of spit and polish, with no military experience. Captain Maddocks served under McQuade's father and there was bad blood between them. Maddocks takes an instant disliking to McQuade and vows to make him learn how things are done at Fort Canby.
To add further spice to the mix, Lt. Tom Gresham (James Douglas) is engaged to be married to Tracey Hamilton (Luana Patten). As it turns out, McQuade and Tracey were former lovers, a relationship that is rekindled at the fort.
Maddocks sends Gresham out on patrol with a small group of soldiers. When they don't return, McQuade is the only one left to command a patrol. He sets out to find Gresham and the Apaches. A battle ensues in which he proves himself a capable soldier, winning the respect of Maddocks.
James Warner Bellah's screenplay is strictly by-the-numbers. Although produced by MGM, it's definitely not one of their "A" pictures. The fort is clearly the studio back lot, the interiors were shot on a sound stage and there's little location work until the third act. Joseph Newman was a journeyman director who knew where to put the camera but he brings nothing special to the material. The supporting cast features Arthur O'Connell as a crusty old sergeant, a young Richard Chamberlain (who was probably under contract) and rock star Duane Eddy, who strums the guitar in several scenes.
Routine and predictable but enjoyable for the presence of Boone, Bronson and Pickens, A THUNDER OF DRUMS made for a pleasant enough time killer on Thanksgiving Eve.