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- Blu-ray: Four Feathers Criterion Collection
- Rating: Not Rated
- Starring: John Clements, Ralph Richardson, C. Aubrey Smith, June Duprez, Allan Jeayes
- Written By: A.E.W. Mason (novel), R.C. Sherriff (screenplay)
- Directed By: Zoltan Korda
- Distributor: Criterion Collection
- Original Year of Release: 1939
- Extras: Commentary, Trailer, Essay, Interview, 1939 News Short
Four Feathers Criterion Collection Blu-ray
In Amazing Technicolor!
By Robert T. Trate
October 25, 2011
The Four Feathers from Criterion now on Blu-ray
© Criterion Collection
There is one year in the history of movies that has an incredible pedigree. Take a deep breath as you read the following titles: Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Stagecoach, Ninotchka, Love Affair, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights, Of Mice and Men, Dark Victory, Goodbye Mr. Chips, and one more called Gone With The Wind. There are a few more here and there, but those are the biggies. However, no true film aficionado can over look Zoltan Korda’s The Four Feathers (Spine # 583)from (you guessed it) 1939. This film is an epic even by today’s standards. Shot in beautiful Technicolor and on location, Criterion Collection has given this film the Blu-ray it so rightfully deserves.
In 1885 the British lose control of the Sudan. The audience is shown this brutal collapse and then whisked away to England where old soldiers meet to discuss the news. General Faversham (Allan Jeayes) and his war buddies are now too old for war. However, the General has hopes that his son, Harry, will one day carry on the family line of great soldiers; a family tradition that haunts Harry.
Ten years pass and we witness Harry (John Clements) graduating from the military just as his company gets the news that they are to be the first to return to the Sudan. Harry looks uneasy as all his other friends are joyful with the chance for glory. We learn that Harry had no desire to be a soldier and, with his father recently deceased, he resigns his commission. His friends and fiancé immediately brand him a coward. On the eve of his friends leaving, each sends him the mark of the coward: a single white feather. His fiancé does the same. With great trepidation Harry looks at his own life and wonders if he truly is the coward they all believe him to be. He never wanted the life of a solider and simply became one for his father. Harry decides to go to the Sudan and earn his friends’ respect back.
In this adaptation (there were three prior) the plot continues as Harry journeys to the Sudan with little or no reason except to earn back the respect of his friends. In previous and later versions, Harry learns his friends are captured before he leaves England and goes to save them. This film offers little in character development between Harry and his friends. We know they are soldiers together, but we see Harry go from a boy to a man and then graduate. He is then given his orders to head to the Sudan. The only real character development shown in the film is the relationship between Harry’s fiancé, Ethne (June Duprez), and Harry’s classmate John Durrance (Ralph Richardson). It matters later in the story, but why there is a feeling of betrayal is never touched upon. One could easily argue that The Four Feathers is more about Harry’s journey into being a hero, which John Clements brings to the center stage with Harry’s first brave act.
The film is from 1939 and has been made again as recently as 2002 starring the late great Heath Ledger as Harry. However, despite its age, this version is still a brilliant spectacle loaded with a cast of thousands that old Hollywood used to brag about. The journey itself is marked with peril and heartache, but one that you’ll easily embrace again and again.
The Blu-ray Experince:
As this is a Criterion Collection release, it is accompanied with more special features than ever before. The audio commentary by film historian Charles Drazin is told at a break neck pace. Drazin not only gives you back story to the making of the film, but the actual history that The Four Feathers involves itself with. He is also fourth coming with differences between the A.E.W. Mason novel and the plethora of remakes and previous films. What was truly fascinating was learning about the producing and directing combination of the Korda brothers. Their personal politics created a much needed film in a pre WW2 England.
There are some interviews with the Korda family as well as an original trailer included here too. “A Day at Denham” (a short film from 1939 featuring making of footage of The Four Feathers) is the must see feature. This tiny studio, 14 miles outside of London, was responsible for making the film. The short (or news reel) also included on-location scenes from the Sudan. It is a great look at the studio system from days of old.
Any film from 1939 is going to show its age on Blu-ray. Criterion has done an outstanding job in bringing Zoltan Korda’s brilliant film to life in 1080p. The colors pop from the fancy balls in England to the Union Jack blowing in the Sudan. It still looks like a film from another era, which is fitting because they don’t make epics like this anymore.