(Spoiler Alert – Skip down to last paragraph to avoid spoilers and read recommendation)
Henry Fonda and Claudette Colbert are the newlywed couple Gil and Lana Martin. They have migrated from the settled and comfortable area near Albany, New York to settle in the frontier farming community of Deerfield in the Mohawk Valley. But this is during the American revolutionary war and the Mohawk Valley is the scene of conflicts between Americans and their Indian allies versus British troops, loyalist settlers and their Indian allies. The movie starts off with Lana learning to accept the rigors of frontier life after her more affluent existence with her well-to-do family. But once the young couple begin to prosper the attacks begin. The Indians burn down their homestead and they are reduced to living as servants in the house of a rich old woman Sarah McKlennar (played by the irascible Edna May Oliver). Gil is enlisted in the local militia and they participate in the Battle of Oriskany where they are victorious but at a cost of nearly half their men.
Meanwhile Lana gives birth to their daughter and the Martins find a happy life working for McKlennar. But eventually war returns to Deerfield. An overpowering war party of Indians is approaching. The settlers abandon their farms for the relative safety of Fort Schuyler. The settlers resist the attack for as long as their ammunition holds out but eventually Gil is sent out on a desperate mission to get reinforcements from Fort Dayton. Three Indian braves chase him for hours through forests and grasslands until finally he reaches the fort and brings help. Just as the Indians have occupied the stockade and a desperate hand to hand battle is under way, the militia from Fort Dayton arrive to save the settlers. They quickly defeat the enemy and restore order. The commanding officer informs the settlers that the war is now over and the English have surrendered to General Washington. Lana and her child have survived the battle but Mrs. McKlennar was mortally wounded and as she dies, she leaves her farm and money to the Martins.
The movie is a semi-historical account and the action of the story is dramatic enough and the characters interesting enough to keep the viewers’ interest. I found Edna May Oliver’s portrayal of the cantankerous Mrs. McKlennar as probably the dramatic highlight of the movie. Fonda and Colbert do an admirable job as the young couple trying to survive the war and various character actors such as Ward Bond and John Carradine add substantially to the effort. I would rate this movie as a diverting historical adventure story. Perfect for a winter evening when you don’t want to go to sleep too early.