Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Overlooked Movies: The Four Feathers (1939)

There have been several film versions of The Four Feathers, and while I'd seen (and enjoyed) the 2002 version with Heath Ledger in the lead, I'd never seen this one.  I'm glad I caught up with it because it's a dilly.  When people say, "They don't make 'em like that anymore," they might well be talking about it.  It was filmed on location in the Sudan, and the Technicolor photography of the desert is spectacular.  The movie is from a distant time, and it was about a time even more distant than that, the last years of the 19th century, when the military and colonialism were viewed differently from now, and it's all about stiff upper lips and honor and duty and courage.  It works very well.

Jack Clements is Harry Faversham, brought up to be a soldier.  But never having bought into the idea of the glories of dying for his country, he resigns his commission the night before his deployment to Egypt to fight the rebels at Khartoum.  Each of his three best friends sends him a white feather, signifying their belief that he's a coward.  His fiancĂ©e, Ethne Burrows (Jane Duprez), refuses to give him a white feather, so he plucks one from her fan and leaves her house after her father (C. Aubrey Smith), a very military fellow ("Sure, war is great now, but it was even greater when I was fighting") refuses to speak to him.

Harry decides that he's indeed a coward, so he goes to Egypt to prove himself.  Disguised as an Arab tribesman, he [SPOILER ALERT] proves very heroic, indeed, and manages to save all three of his friends from almost certain death and free Khartoum in the bargain [END OF SPOILER ALERT].

Keen-eyed readers might note that in the poster above, Ralph Richardson gets top billing.  That might be because as one of Harry's friends, he has the showiest role in the film.  I won't give it away, but the movie's worth seeing just for portrayal of a noble guy.  Check it out.

8 comments:

Dan said...

A lot of spectacle here but I love the opening where the child is traumatized by tales of cowardice.

August West said...

This was my fathers favorite movie. And another great one that came out in the best year for movies - 1939.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

I remember exactly where and when we saw THE FOUR FEATHERS for the first time. We were visiting my parents at Christmas of 1977 in California. New Year's Day they were showing THE FOUR FEATHERS, but when it came on it was not, as listed, the 1939 version, but rather a new made-for-British TV version, starring Beau Bridges (yes, really), Robert Powell, Simon Ward, and Jane Seymour. I remember it as being pretty good, but I had to wait several years until I got to see the 1939 version.

Rick Robinson said...

I've seen a couple of versions of this, probably on TCM, but don't know if this was one of them. Is this a colorized version (guessing from the poster) or B&W?

Rick Robinson said...

No, now looking at the trailer, I guess not.

Doc Quatermass said...

Saw it for the first time years ago when a pre-TCM's American Movie Classics ran old films commercial free. It's up there with 1938's The Adventures of Robin Hood, 1948's The Three Musketeers, 1940's Northwest Passage, and 1939's Gunga Din (Din is sadly more often mispronounced to rhyme with pin instead of green, but if memory serves the movie gets it right) for my all time favorite adventure films. I've yet to get to the 1955 remake, 1955 Storm Over the Nile which used the same script and has a great cast, or Heath Ledger movie (I've always felt had he lived HL would be the Michael Caine of Australia) or the 1977 TV remake with Jane Seymour and, one of my favorite modern actors, Beau Bridges.

Cap'n Bob said...

I've seen it two or three times and enjoyed the hell out of.

Don Coffin said...

I believe that Len Deighton makes a (fairly sarcastic) reference to the movie in The Ipcress File.