Mohawk's Matchless Miss Oliver
Today’s birthday celebration covers a multitude of memorable movie characters: Cimarron’s Mrs. Tracy Wyatt, Alice in Wonderland’s Red Queen, master sleuth Hildegarde Withers, David Copperfield’s Aunt Betsey, A Tale of Two Cities’ Miss Pross, Romeo and Juliet’s Nurse and Pride and Prejudice’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh. All were signed, sealed and delivered on screen by the incomparable character actress Edna May Oliver (1883-1942), possessed of a countenance and a flint that forever engraves her in film lover’s memories. One of this busy actress’s four appearances in Hollywood’s Golden Year of 1939 earned her only Oscar® nomination: director John Ford’s Technicolor Revolutionary War saga Drums Along the Mohawk. Born of solid New England stock and descended from U.S. President John Quincy Adams, Oliver brought fire and gravitas to her portrayal of Mrs. McKlennar, a widow who opens her heart and her farm to a couple (Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda) whose home has been destroyed by a force of British soldiers and Native American tribesmen. Embodying the revolutionary spirit of the American colonies as depicted in Walter D. Edmonds’ source novel, she becomes a source of sustenance and defiance for her Mohawk Valley neighbors defending their homesteads, one minute beating back intruding Indians pillaging her home, the next minute nursing the wounded and comforting the settlers’ wives and children. Oliver’s contribution is only one of the many assets of this magnificent movie (one of three classics of Americana Ford made that same year, the other two being Stagecoach and Young Mr. Lincoln). But Drums Along the Mohawk, well presented on a dazzling Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray, raises not only the American flag, but also the banner of the unconquerable Miss Oliver.