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Four Feathers

The Four Feathers

Director: Zoltan Korda

Cast: John Clements, Ralph Richardson, C. Aubrey Smith


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"Those were the days when war was war, and men were men," Sir C. Aubrey Smith's retired general says, more than once, in Zoltan Korda's The Four Feathers (1939), the last great epic of the British Empire's history made while the empire was intact and a reality, and for much of its length the movie can seem deceptively simplistic. But at several moments, the


"Those were the days when war was war, and men were men," Sir C. Aubrey Smith's retired general says, more than once, in Zoltan Korda's The Four Feathers (1939), the last great epic of the British Empire's history made while the empire was intact and a reality, and for much of its length the movie can seem deceptively simplistic. But at several moments, the script and director Korda tip their hand, that they're doing something bigger and better than a homage to the empire, and at about 84 minutes in, there comes a moment of such intimacy, drama, poignancy, irony, and overall impact, that it makes men in the audience shed tears -- a moment so brilliantly written and staged that the best playwrights of the period could only wish they had such a moment to their credit. In brief, there aren't ten titles in the whole history of war movies that are better, or better made, than this 1939 production of Sir Alexander Korda's London Films, and it finally showed up in the U.S. market in the spring of 2005, more than three years after its DVD release in Australia. The most opulent and critically successful of the seven film versions of the A.E.W. Mason story (and that's not counting at least two satirical treatments of the same story), this film has been the subject of several restoration efforts across the decades, although there is still no sign of the original 130-minute version that was supposedly found by the BFI in the 1990s. Still, this disc is easily the best presentation of the extant 115-minute edition that has yet been seen, with a sharp image throughout and rich picture detail even in the darkest night shots, which look like real night shots (compare them to the day-for-night work on a lot of modern movies). The attack on the desert outpost at just under an hour in remains one of the most finely staged battle scenes in movies, and the images of the Anglo-Egyptian Army en route up the Nile to meet the enemy blaze with still brighter color -- yet, always, natural color -- than in the film's theatrical showings of the 1980s. The full-screen (1.33:1) film-to-video transfer is impeccable, with exceptional detail visible even in the wide shots of a desert battlefield littered with corpses. The source print for this disc manages to capture all of the Technicolor's original richness, but also the most exquisitely natural skin textures and flesh tones. And June Duprez, who had her first major role in this movie, never looked more gorgeous on home video than she does in the second half of the movie in this transfer. Otherwise, the disc is well done if not exceptional. The story has been broken down into 20 chapters, most of which are expended before the first hour is up, in the setup for the final 55 minutes. The audio has been mastered at a fairly high volume level and captures the richness of Miklos Rozsa's score reasonably well. There is a trailer from the original release, which looks nearly as good as the complete movie (and better than the old laserdisc). There are English, French, and Spanish subtitles available, but no other special features. The movie looks so good, though, that it is, in effect, its own "special feature." A commentary track would have been nice; this was one of the most enduringly popular British movies of the 1930s, and was so well photographed that, when Korda remade it in 1955 as Storm Over the Nile, he reused all of the second unit footage shot by Osmond Borradaile. The plot description on the back is strangely inaccurate, but this is still an irresistible treat for fans of adventure films, drama, or romance, a four-and-half-star treatment of a five-star movie, which is still close enough to the bullseye to marvel at.

Editorial Reviews

All Movie Guide - Bruce Eder
Zoltan Korda's 1938 The Four Feathers was the last and best traditional patriotic film of the pre-World War II era. Based on a 1902 novel by A.E.W. Mason, it benefited from glorious Technicolor photography and unique location shooting: Korda and his second unit crew, under Osmond H. Borradaile, not only shot the action scenes where the battles really took place but also included among the extras people who'd actually seen the fighting (and participated in it) 45 years earlier. Coupled with Korda's skills as an action director (he'd been a cavalry officer, and he knew how to move men and their mounts quickly and to good effect), the result was a movie that captured the imagination of the public on the eve of World War II with its vision of self-sacrifice and gallantry. The movie is a reminder of a time when it was possible to believe that armies could liberate peoples from tyranny, and that the use of force could be a good thing. The film is not unquestioning in this belief, as attested by its brutally humorous treatment of the aging general played by Sir C. Aubrey Smith ("Those were the days when war was war, and men were men"), but ultimately it comes down on the side of action as opposed to inaction. Korda's and Borradaile's African footage was so good that it has been reused in dozens of other movies (including remakes of this one). Follow That Camel, by the British Carry On company, was a direct and savage satire of The Four Feathers; and, as was revealed in an interview shortly after its release, it was The Four Feathers and not Beau Geste that Marty Feldman was satirizing in The Last Remake of Beau Geste, but it was too late to change the title once he'd realized his mistake.

Product Details

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Cast & Crew

Performance Credits
John Clements Harry Faversham
Ralph Richardson Capt. John Durrance
C. Aubrey Smith Gen. Burroughs
June Duprez Ethne Burroughs
Allan Jeayes Gen. Faversham
Jack Allen Lt. Arthur Willoughby
Donald Gray Lt. Peter Burroughs
Frederick Culley Dr. Sutton
Clive Baxter Harry Faversham (younger)
Derek Elphinstone Lieutenant Parker
Henry Oscar Dr. Harraz
John Laurie Khalifa
Amid Taftazani Karaga Pasha
Archibald Batty Adjutant
Robert Rendel Colonel
Hal Walters Joe
Norman Pierce Sgt. Brown
Hay Petrie Mahdi Interpreter
Alexander Knox Actor

Technical Credits
Zoltan Korda Director
Donald Anderson Consultant/advisor
Lajos Biro Screenwriter
Osmond H. Borradaile Cinematographer
Godfrey Brennan Costumes/Costume Designer
Jack Cardiff Cinematographer
Henry Cornelius Editor
Oliver H.P. Garrett Screenwriter
William W. Hornbeck Editor
Rene Hubert Costumes/Costume Designer
Alexander Korda Producer
Vincent Korda Production Designer
Muir Mathieson Musical Direction/Supervision
Georges Périnal Cinematographer
Miklós Rózsa Score Composer
R.C. Sherriff Screenwriter
Stirling Consultant/advisor
A.W. Watkins Sound/Sound Designer
Arthur Wimperis Screenwriter

Scene Index

Side #1 --
1. Main Title/Fall [2:45]
2. The Old Guard [6:42]
3. Making of a Man [3:25]
4. Betrothed [5:30]
5. Taking Leave [5:18]
6. Urgent Delivery [5:13]
7. Fellow Men [1:47]
8. Fool for Life [3:56]
9. To Egypt [5:16]
10. Up the Nile [3:37]
11. Blinded by the Sun [4:28]
12. Native Country [4:14]
13. Leaving Their Post [1:18]
14. Still of the Night [:35]
15. Friend of Foe? [10:28]
16. No Word for a Year [10:14]
17. Journeymen [2:11]
18. Return to Society [4:16]
19. Bravest of Them All [5:05]
20. Reunited/End Credits [9:32]

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