79 of 83 people found the following review helpful
To the modern eye, certain elements and attitudes on exhibit in Zoltan Korda's 1939 adaptation of "The Four Feathers" may appear dated. That's to be expected, really, and shouldn't discourage any real movie lover from appreciating this British epic of unlikely heroism. Once you get past a rather heavy handed beginning--there is much pointed discussion about what makes a man, bravery versus cowardice, and the supreme glory of British imperialism--a terrifically outlandish, but spectacularly entertaining, adventure starts to unfold. With sweeping desert vistas, gorgeous British estates, spectacular battle footage, and impressive location shooting--this is really a film begging for a Criterion restoration as the previous DVD presentations were relatively underwhelming. The film boasts Oscar nominated cinematography, and it deserves to be appreciated and admired for the spectacle that it truly is!
The story revolves around Harry Faversham (John Clements), a British officer who resigns his commission on the eve of his unit being dispatched on an African campaign. Filled with a lifetime of horror stories by his overbearing father and his military cronies, Harry has never aspired to a soldier's life. He took the post to please his father, but upon his death--he feels no need to follow through with the commitment. Branded a coward by his three best friends and his fiancee (he receives a symbolic feather from each), Harry must come to terms with his own self-doubt. Embarking on a ridiculously convoluted scheme, Harry sets off to Africa to prove his manliness and worth to those that turned their backs on him. To say that Harry's journey is rather implausible is an understatement, but it's easy to get swept up in the tale as a straight-up adventure. It's a big, bold, and rousing tale of perseverance and determination.
There have been a number of adaptations of this narrative, most recently a 2002 update with Heath Ledger and Kate Hudson, but (to my mind) this is easily the definitive version. Incredibly impressive visually by 1939 standards, the film holds up very well as a true epic. This classic deserves to be re-discovered by modern audiences, and I'm hoping the Criterion release will make this possible. If you love the big budget spectaculars, you might be surprised by how effective this film is. Great use of Technicolor, fabulously dramatic score, a truly massive cast, and terrifically orchestrated battle sequences--if you haven't caught this one, it comes highly recommended. KGHarris, 8/11.
Preliminary Criterion Specs:
New high-definition digital restoration (with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the
Audio commentary by film historian Charles Drazin
New video interview with David Korda, son of director Zoltán Korda
A Day at Denham, a short film from 1939 featuring footage of Zoltán Korda on the set
of The Four Feathers
* Theatrical trailer
* PLUS: An essay by film critic Michael Sragow
112 of 122 people found the following review helpful
Thank god I gave this movie another chance! A few years ago I watched this film on a local public television station. The print they showed, however, was old and worn, with hundreds of lines and specks marring every scene. Also, the color was so badly faded that it almost looked like it was filmmed in black and white.
But reviewing the film on a newly restored and enhanced print was nothing short of a revelation. It was frequently gorgeous to look at, and the high quality of the print allowed me to focus on the story. Many of the scenes were filmmed on location in the Middle East, which greatly added to the appeal of the movie (in American epics of the thirties, even the Crimea and India ended up looking like the Mojave Desert for obvious reasons--reminds me of the funny scene in the second Austin Powers movie, where Austin casually remarks while driving down a road that is clearly on the California coast, "Isn't it amazing how much the coast of England looks like California?").
In 1939, the British film industry still lagged far behind the American film industry in technical proficiency. Alfred Hitchcock, who left England in 1940 to work in the US for the next 25 years, managed to succeed despite the studio shortcomings, but even in his British films of the thirties the gap in sound and basic photographic techniques is all too apparent as we watch the films of that time. One of the great achievements of Producter/Director Alexander Korda (his brother Zoltan directed THE FOUR FEATHERS while Alexander produced and owned the studio that made the film) was making the first films in Great Britain that rivaled the technical (as opposed to cinematic) accomplishments of Hollywood. THE FOUR FEATHERS holds up admirably with most of the big budget films made in Hollywood in 1939. The color is perhaps not as vivid as in GONE WITH THE WIND or THE WIZARD OF OZ, but it nonetheless is quite good for the time. And this film is thoroughly convincing as an epic. Thousands and thousands of extras were used, but unlike Hollywood, where whites were made up to look like Native Americans, Asian Indians, or Arabs, the extras in THE FOUR FEATHERS clearly hailed from one or another part of Africa or the Middle East.
The cast is solid, but two performances stand out. C. Aubrey Smith made a career out of playing bombastic and self-important British Colonels or Generals. And he never performed that role better than in this film. But the best performance was by the always spectacular Ralph Richardson (does anyone else find a stunning physical resemblence between him and Kevin Spacey?). No one ever stole a scene from Ralph Richardson. Even in small roles he could dominate the action. Tragically, his film opportunities rarely took advantage of his gigantic talent. His technique and voice were the equal of Olivier and Alec Guinness, yet he never quite matched their film success. He did, however, manage to excell on the stage. In this regard, Richardson's career mirrored that of John Gielgud, whose screen career was equally paltry compared to his stage successes. Apart from THE FOUR FEATHERS, my favorite Ralph Richardson performances are an amazing film version of A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT and Q PLANES (AKA CLOUDS OVER EUROPE). His character in the latter was the direct inspiration for "John Steed" in THE AVENGERS on TV in the sixties.
Now for the scary news. This marvelous film is being remade starring Heath Ledger (from A KNIGHT'S TALE--medieval history reborn as an MTV inspired movie) in the Ralph Richardson role and Wes Bently (from AMERICAN BEAUTY) in the John Clement role. Kate Hudson from ALMOST FAMOUS takes the female lead.
62 of 68 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 2004
There are films that are classics since the day they are released. This film is one of those. Zoltan Korda shows his elegance and skills presenting us a typical adventure.
Based on the novel by A. W. E Mason, it is the story of young Harry Faversahn born and raised to follow the military life like all his ancestors. Pity that his father is an obssesed of the glories of the Empire, and that his friends bored the child telling stories about battles, slaughters and Baklava (the scene with C. Aubrey Smith explaining the battle with a pineaple and some walnuts is one of the best in the story of cinema).
But Harry is a good boy so he joins the army, trains all day and even has time to conquer beautiful Ethne. With that Harry decides to leave the army, but good things do not last forever, so in the evening of his engagement party his regiment is call to arms. To Egypt to fight against the wicked Egyptian rebels. But Harry refuses and so his former best friends send him three feathers, a sophisticated way to call him a coward. But the fourth, ah! the fourth one is the most terrible of all because is Ethne who gives it to him.
So our hero is an outcast, nodoby loves him, nodoby cares for him. And Harry proving that after all he is a Favershan embarks to Egypt to save his comrades. Disguised as a mute native he saves them all. Crosses the dessert, saves Durrance (who is in love with Ethne too), saves Willoughby and Burroughs from a dreadful prision and evidently gives back each of the four feathers.
The locations and the scenes are espectacular. But also the dialogues. The cast is superb, and propbaly you will end watching the film while humming Rule Britannia.
No adaptation done after has ever reached its level so do not waste your time with others. This is the version.
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on October 16, 2011
This magnificent Korda production looks beautiful on Blu Ray. A story often told but never better than in this version. If you love old movies and Criterion's loving remastering of them, this is a keeper for any collector's library. The story of a man accused by his fellow soldiers -- and friends and his fiancee -- of cowardice on the eve of war when he resigns his commission and then sets to prove something to himself is a timeless tale. Forget the other versions, this is the one to have. Blu Ray brings out the beauty of the early Technicolor photography and with a sweeping score by Miklos Roza. 1939, a year that also saw GONE WITH THE WIND, THE WIZARD OF OZ, DODGE CITY, STAGECOACH, ROARING TWENTIES, GUNGA DIN, BEAU GEASTE, INTERMIZZO, DARK VICTORY, DESTRY RIDES AGAIN, YOUNG MISTER LINCOLN, DRUMS ALONG THE MOHAWK and too many other acknowledged classic films. This one stands well with all the rest. Get it. Trust me on this one. You will not be disappointed. Extras include an interview with director Zoltan Korda's son and a featurette from 1939 on the making of the film. Hey, it has the grand old crusty stalwart C. Aubrey Smith and John Clements and Sir Ralph Richardson. All are long gone but what they did lives on. Well it should.
37 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on April 22, 2005
My review is not of the movie itself, which has always been one of my favorites and is grand, but of the cheap DVD just released by MGM. I have been waiting for several years for a DVD of this movie and was eagerly anticipating buying it as soon as it was available. My disappointment is based on several factors: one, the transfer is only OK, it looks much the same as the VHS version. It's clear that no restoration or enhancement was done to create a sharp, clear DVD. It's just a video transfer to DVD. So, one must ask why did MGM bother to do this except to cash in. Second, whichever idiot wrote the liner notes on the back cover obviously hasn't even seen the film. Also, there isn't even a card on the inside listing the scenes or any information at all about the film. In addition, the sole "extra" is the trailer. No one even took the trouble to give biographies of the actors or the producers/director. An essay on the Kordas would have been most welcome.
It will be a long time before I buy a DVD released by this company without reading the reviews first. I feel like a sucker and I would advise any real movie fan to pass on this one and wait in hopes that a better one is in released in the future. As a footnote, I would like to recommend that whoever is in charge of this stuff at MGM call up Warner Bros. or Universal for a how to lesson on releasing classics in DVD. Maybe then they'll "get it."
39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Some viewers, especially if they are Islamic, may find this movie daunting. But unfortuentely they chose to view it in a political context, ..., and miss the whole point. This movie is a stirring, if slightly dated saga of Victorian honor and duty. It bares little resemblence to the novel by A.E.W. Mason providing as it does a lot more action and movement. This is one of the few cases where the movie actaully comes across better than the original novel. The Korda production provides for brilliant sets, authentic costumes and totally accurate scenery. The vast resources of the British Empire were able to provide an authentic backdrop for the production value of this movie. This is truly a classic of the old cinema.
As for the history, the Madhi was hardly some kindly fellow from the desert. He was a fanatic murderer, bent upon distorting Islam for his own purposes. ...The Madhi sought merely to remove the Anglo-Turkish influences from the region and replace it with his own religeous terror. He managed to kill Gordon at the epic siege of Khartoum in 1885, and it took the British 10 yrs to muster the inclination to go back to the region and defeat the Mahdist movement.
It is interesting to point out that the fanatic swine Bin Laden was inspired by the Madhi, and no doubt sees himself as one and the same. There is not much difference between them really. Of course then we had the redoubtable British Empire to crush such vermin, whereas today we don't. The Mahdi's successor, The Khallifah was hardly much better. For 10 yrs he ruined the Sudan and Ethopia with famine and war before the Britsih crushed him at Omdurman, as related in the movie. There was no such prison break inspired by a Faversham character, nor is this shown in the book, but Korda put it in to liven up the novel which it surely does. The prison conditions shown in the movie are accurate as to the way the Madhist treated "infidels" and other prisoners. Make no mistake about it, neither the Madhi or Khallifah were nice men. They were not patriots in the name of Islam, but cruel religeous leaders who killed and exploited for their own gain. The Madhi died of sexual exhaustion in his harem after the fall of Khartoum in 1885, so much for being the pure hero of Islam. Viewers should check out the movie "Khartoum" to get a better perspective of historical events in the Sudan during this period.
This is a wonderful movie which will inspire the viewer with how such pretending murderers were dealt with in Queen Victoria's time. Enjoy.
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on May 21, 2004
Alexander Korda's "The Four Feathers" (1939) is perhaps one of the greatest triumphs of British filmmaking -- a crowning achievement in Imperialistic propaganda and a nostalgic testimony to the societal traditions which once inhibited us as individuals. Simply put, "The Four Feathers" is a cinematic masterpiece in the vein of "The Drum" (1938), "Kim" (1950), "The Jungle Book" (1942) and "Gunga Din" (1939). It also represents a rare instance in which a film is far superior to the original novel.
The original novel upon which the film is loosely based was penned by A.E.W. Mason and has an actual excuse for being somewhat flimsy: Following the bloody outbreak of World War I, Mason wrote the story as a mere identity cover while doing espionage work for the British government. He was able to scout northern Africa under this guise of an accomplished author gleaning material for the plot of the novel.
The plot of "Four Feathers" is simple yet engrossing: A young man, Harry Faversham (the dashing John Clements), is brought up by his distant father (Allan Jeayes) in a lonely household steeped in Imperial tradition which values courage and honor above happiness or life itself. His natural human instinct of self-preservation is accentuated into possible cowardice by the horrifying war stories told around the dinner table by old veterans. As he matures, Faversham falls deeply in love with Ethne Burroughs (the radiantly beautiful June Dupréz) and decides that he would rather spend his life in his own way than be trapped in the futile repetitiveness that is a soldier family. On the eve of his unit sailing for Africa, he resigns his commission and is branded a coward -- one of the worst labels in Victorian England -- by both his friends and his betrothed. To reclaim his honor and prove both to himself and others that he is not a coward, Faversham sails to darkest Africa.
In Africa, our dauntless hero is embroiled in unfolding military history as General/Lord Horatio Kitchner ventures into the blistering Sudan with 20,000 British personnel against the varied 50,000 warriors of the Khalifa (John Laurie). The film terrifically climaxes in the breathtaking Battle of Omdurman, a historical engagement which a young Winston S. Churchill witnessed and, in one of his most famous literary pieces, fittingly described as a "victory snatched from the jaws of peril!"
When I was very young, my parents would show me this particular film as an example of a forgotten way of life: of lavish ballrooms where uniformed officers and young ladies in ornate Victorian gowns danced the night away on the eve of war amidst whispered pledges of love and marriage. The film taught me that a true gentleman never insults another in public; a leader must be able to command his own self before he can command others; to honor your word even if it may kill you in the process and to be unafraid of whatever befalls you as long as you are true to yourself.
Film Rating: ***** (five) out of ***** (five) stars.
A mesmerizing period piece.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 2005
The 1939 Zoltan and Alexander Korda production of The Four Feathers is one of the greatest adventure movies ever. Accept no substitutes -- especially the 2002 version with Heath Ledger as a totally anachronistic Harry Faversham. That one was shot somewhere with a lot of sand, but it wasn't the Sudan. In addition to an exciting and cohesive plot, one of the factors that make this 1939 version so extraordinary is the authenticity of production. In 1939, "shot on location" meant filming where the story actually took place, not, as now, just outdoors in a place that resembles the story's setting. Then, "location" meant the Sudan, which the British still controlled. The British soldiers were played by the contemporary British Army garrison in Cairo, with correct uniforms and weapons drawn from quartermaster warehouses and arsenals where they had been preserved for decades. Moreover, the Khalifa's Sudanese warriors were played by sons of men who had fought the British 41 years before at Omdurman; indeed, it is likely that some of the oldest Sudanese extras were veterans of that battle.
Although in many respects -- and not just in uniforms and weapons -- the book and the movie were products of their time and place, certainly people today still grapple with questions of service to their country and competing loyalties to family, not to mention self-doubt and bravery. These are central themes of this movie and are handled very well. In 1939, of course, the British were facing the terrible dangers posed by Hitler, giving the movie special relevance to theater patrons.
I've had the VHS version for years and this DVD is a welcome improvement in clarity of picture, color and sound. However, I agree with those who have complained about the chintzy packaging of the DVD: no bios of the stars, no liner notes or even a scene list. That's not the fault of the Kordas but of the present-day cheapskates at MGM. And the DVD jacket notes were obviously jotted down on the back of a leaflet at some anti-war rally by someone who had not seen this movie at all. These are annoyances and disappointments, but they don't detract from the story or the movie production.
Having read the book by A.E.W. Mason, I can say this is one of those rare instances (like "Goldfinger") where the movie is better than the book. Those who choose to project contemporary attitudes back many decades will sniff or gasp at this movie and the standards and mores it portrays. So be it. I suspect that if C. Aubrey Smith (as General Burroughs) were still around, Queen Elizabeth II would even now be toasted as "Queen Empress" in British regimental messes.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2006
Many a time I saw the cover of this DVD; the faces of the 3 leading characters, notably the stunning beauty of June Duprez, and the rich colour of the film shots somehow misled me to think this as a modern movie.
Finally I watched this 1939 classic - a breathtakingly beautiful film, both in terms of the cinematography and the natural flow of the plot. The combat scenes were real and visually capturing - they would not pale compared with its modern counterparts.
To top it all, the story was simple and enchanting. Four feathers were given to Harry Faversham for his apparent cowardice to withdraw, in the last minute, from his regiment which was set to battle in Egypt. To prove his own worth, he would go to Egypt, disguise himself and did courageous deeds to these 4 people so that they would take the feathers back and reinstate his reputation and courage. This is a story about noble characters, not only for Harry but also for his fellow officers.
What follows were as exciting as it was captivating. I like the ending most - the one courageous deed he did for his wife (the graceful June Duprez) proved to be the perfect comic twist for this otherwise heavy film. Highly recommend it!
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2006
Without doubt a film far before its time! Excellent in alll departments, particularly the crowd scenes and the battle charges! A difficult time for British interests in the Middle East durung that period.
John Clements played his part with care, understanding, and an outstandingly gifted portrayal of a so called coward turned hero!
Ralph Richardson also showed us his acting skills with a great performance of a somewhat naive but highly patriotic British military Officer. King and country before anything.
Marvellous scenes in pre-second world war Britain together with the post-Kitchener era in the Sudan!
This film should have won the Accademy Award for that year 1939