Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Drum, The (1938)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment

Main image of Drum, The (1938)
35mm, 104 mins, Technicolor
DirectorZoltan Korda
Production CompanyLondon Films
ProducerAlexander Korda
ScenarioArthur Wimperis
AdaptationLajos Biro
CinematographyGeorges Perinal
EditorHenry Cornelius
DesignerVincent Korda

Cast: Roger Livesey (Captain Carruthers); Sabu (Prince Azim); Raymond Massey (Prince Ghul); Valerie Hobson (Mrs Carruthers); Desmond Tester (Bill Holder)

Show full cast and credits

When the Khan of Tokot, on India's North West frontier, is murdered, his killer, the evil Prince Ghul, plots an uprising against British rule. But the brave young Prince Azim comes to the aid of the British and his friend, Captain Carruthers.

Show full synopsis

Following the success of Elephant Boy (d. Robert Flaherty/Zoltan Korda, 1937), Alexander Korda's London Films returned to an Indian subject to capitalise on its newest star, 13 year-old Sabu. The Drum would be the third of Korda's loose series of Empire films, and the first of a pair adapted from the novels of A.E.W. Mason (The Four Feathers followed in 1939). It was a suitably ambitious subject to mark London Films' first picture in Technicolor.

Stung by Flaherty's profligacy on Elephant Boy, Korda determined - much to the annoyance of his director, younger brother Zoltan - that most of the film would be shot in the UK, with Snowdonia standing in for India's North West Frontier (as it would again in the spoof Carry On... Up the Khyber, d. Gerald Thomas, 1968). Contrary to some reports, however, there was a deal of Indian footage, with a unit dispatched under cameraman Osmond Borradaile, although none of the main cast set foot in India.

The film is terrifically cast, with Sabu's immensely engaging presence, a wonderfully villainous turn from Raymond Massey, a charismatic and intelligent hero in Roger Livesey's dashing Captain Caruthers and a warmer-than-usual performance from Valerie Hobson, and this, together with the striking photography and some powerful combat sequences, makes the film a good deal more entertaining than it perhaps deserves to be as a champion of continued British rule in India. Leaving aside Massey's 'blacking-up' - scarcely remarkable in the 1930s, alas - the film presents the native population as inherently treacherous, with the exception of the few, like Sabu's Prince Azim, who align themselves with their British rulers in defiance of their own interests and those of their people.

Still, there is some surprising light-hearted joking at the expense of the bureaucratic inflexibility of the British military command (Azim's warning of the impending massacre of Captain Carruthers' men travels at snail's pace up the hierarchy; when it finally reaches the governor he chooses to ignore it for fear of the waste of resources if it should prove wrong), and a touching friendship across race and class boundaries between Azim and Desmond Tester's lowly drummer boy (although a less charitable reading might be that an Indian prince is equivalent in status only to a working-class British soldier), and the pace of the plot largely keeps at bay political concerns.

Mark Duguid

Click titles to see or read more

Video Clips
1. The Young Prince (4:07)
2. An invitation (2:50)
3. Eyes open into a trap (1:42)
4. The final drum (3:26)
Production stills
Monthly Film Bulletin review
Carry On... Up the Khyber (1968)
North West Frontier (1959)
Biró, Lajos (1883-1948)
Cornelius, Henry (1913-1958)
Hobson, Valerie (1917-1998)
Korda, Alexander (1893-1956)
Korda, Zoltán (1895-1961)
Livesey, Roger (1906-1976)
Massey, Raymond (1896-1983)
Périnal, Georges (1897-1965)
Sabu (1924-1963)
Unsworth, Geoffrey (1914-1978)
Korda and Empire