It’s the economy, stupid!

Persisting in the pursuit of vulgarianism

Published: Nov 20 2021, 01:01:am

Saturday, July 31, 1976

DRUM. Written by Norman Wexler. Based on the 1962 novel by Kyle Onstott. Music by Charlie Smalls. Directed by Steve Carver.  Restricted entertainment with the B.C. Classifier's warning: Brutal violence and coarse language.

IT'S 1860. HAMMOND MAXWELL (Warren Oates), plain-spoken heir to an Alabama estate called Falconhurst, the site of his family’s slave-breeding business, is taking a midday meal on his white-pillared verandah. He has just given Regine (Pam Grier), his most recent bed-wench, to Drum (Ken Norton), his favourite stud nigger, and is cheerfully speculating on how long it will be '' 'fore she knocked."
     New Orleans-raised Augusta Chauvel (Fiona Lewis), a proper white woman, is scandalized. Such talk at the table!
     "Must you persist in being a vulgarian, Mr. Maxwell?"
    "Miss Augusta," he replies self-righteously, "nigger fornicating is what Falconhurst is all about. If they stop fornicating, we stop eating.”
    Drum, based on a pulp potboiler by Kyle Onstott, is the sequel to last year’s Mandingo.  (Indeed, Drum, the 1962 book, was the first of seven [eventually 14] sequels to Mandingo, a 1957 book.) The original movie was full of bad taste and bare bosoms, but it was all done with such overblown seriousness that a surprising number of critics were absolutely beside themselves in outrage.
    Filmgoers caught on more quickly. Mandingo was, of course, an accomplished comedy, the sort of movie designed to gladden the hearts of Russ Meyer fans and readers of the National Lampoon. Audiences had the good sense to laugh out loud, just as they are doing during Drum, a film that offers more of the same.
    Here, Warren Oates replaces Perry King as "Massa" Hammond, and effects some changes that are nothing short of miraculous. Gone is Hammond's soulful romanticism, his abhorrence of violence and his pronounced limp.
    At least two other miracles have been wrought by continuing screenwriter Norman Wexler, this time wordmongering for action director Steve Carver. Both Ken Norton (boiled alive at the end of Mandingo) and Brenda Sykes have been resurrected.
    Both performers, though they played major characters in the last film, turn up here in completely different roles. On deck as a special guest villain is John Colicos.
    The Canadian actor plays an unpleasant New Orleans dandy who wants hero Drum to be his “bed-wench”. He sports an accent that he must have perfected during his days with the CBC drama department. " 'ammond! You are not see-riously con-see-dare-ring a nego-see-ation wiz nee-gairs?"
    Here, the by-now familiar outrages of sexual perversion, miscegenation, social injustice, unthinking cruelty and deliberate sadism lead to a slave rebellion and double massacre. Believe it or not, though, Drum is actually less steamy (and marginally less violent) than its predecessor.
    It manages the feat by working harder at generating laughs. It succeeds in being good, dirty fun.

CUT AND PRINT: Ken Norton, a professional boxer, is pretty handy with his mitts. In both Drum and Mandingo, he wins virtually every fight he gets into. The script guarantees it.
    On Sept. 28 [1976], Norton is set to go before the cameras again, fists high. There is no guaranteed victory here, though. His opponent is Muhammad Ali, and their battle is for the 41st heavyweight championship.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1976. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: “Good, dirty fun,” echoed my assessment of 1975’s Mandingo as “bad enough to be good.”(Click on the link to read my mea culpa to these words in the Afterword to my review of the earlier film.) In revisiting American film’s blaxploitation moment, it’s interesting to note how the language has shifted to reflect our social dynamic. In 1975, use of the f-word was forbidden in the mass media. It could neither be written nor spoken. That’s no longer the case (though it was major news in 2017 when Ensign Sylvia Tilly (Mary Wiseman) said “This is so fucking cool!” during an episode of Star Trek: Discovery, dropping the first f-bomb in the history of the 50-year-old franchise).
    Today, of coarse, we are more mindful of the n-word. Much heard in blaxploitation movies — for more on this, click on this link and read the afterword to my review of 1975’s The Legend of Nigger Charlie 
— the word is freely used in Drum’s dialogue, and my references to it in the item above. And while we’re on the subject of language use, did you notice my including the word “miscegenation” among the outrages leading to the film’s slave rebellion?
    Until June 12, 1967 — five years after the novel Drum was published – interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 of the 50 U.S. states. The word “miscegenation
(racial interbreeding) was in common use since at least 1863, and laws banning it were part of the fabric of the nation from the beginning. Nor did the racialism that it represents go away with the 1967 Supreme Court decision (Loving v. Virginia) that struck down the remaining statutes barring the conjugal matrimonification of blacks with whites. A year later, in the Star Trek episode “Plato’s Stepchildren,” Captain Kirk (William Shatner) shared television’s first interracial kiss with the Enterprise’s Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols).
    In other news, Muhammad Ali retained his heavyweight boxing title in a brutal September 28, 1977 bout with Ken Norton in New York’s Yankee Stadium. It was Norton’s third fight with Ali and his second defeat. Norton retired from the ring in 1981. His starring roles in Mandingo and Drum provided him with a springboard into his subsequent media career as an actor and television boxing commentator.