The Korda Brothers gave us an epic filming of A.E.W. Mason's popular and oft-filmed 1902 novel The Four Feathers in cinema's golden year, 1939. Producer Alexander Korda gave us the glory of Technicolor to capture filming locations in Sudan. Director Zoltan Korda, a former cavalry officer, handled the spectacle of thousands of extras and the intimacy of characters battling only themselves with equal skill. Art director Vincent Korda took us from sumptuous English country estates to a crowded prison in the desert.
"There's no place in England for a coward."
- General Faversham (Allan Jeayes)
Harry Faversham (John Clements) has spent his life in the sure and certain knowledge of one thing; he is a disappointment to his father, the General. Harry's gentle nature and love of poetry have his father convinced that Harry is a coward who will not live up to his military ancestors. The youngster's head is filled with tales of glory and tales of the disgrace of cowards, and their grizzly deaths or suicides. If these lessons were intended to stick, they did. If these lessons were meant to inspire, they did not.
June Duprez, John Clements
The adult Harry has become a soldier to please his father. He has fallen in love with Ethne Burroughs (June Duprez), the daughter of an old comrade of his father (C. Aubrey Smith), and the sister of a fellow officer, Peter. Tom Willoughby (Jack Allen) and John Durrance (Ralph Richardson) round up what should be a close-knit group of friends. Captain Durrance is also in love with Ethne and Ethne's brother Peter wishes his sister returned John's regard. He senses something "off" about Harry.
Man's memory is long and selective. A decade earlier General Gordon was routed at Khartoum and now the British are sending General Kitchener to avenge that loss and stabilize their interests in the region. On the eve of their deployment to Africa, Harry resigns his commission. His reasoning is sound as he only entered the military for his father and now his father is dead. Harry is engaged to be married and feels he can serve his country best at home.
Harry is presented with three white feathers from Captains Durrance, Burroughs, and Willoughby signifying their belief in his cowardice. When Ethne also disapproves of Harry's actions, citing their tradition and the people who rely on them, Harry must face some uncomfortable truths about himself. Taking a white feather from Ethne's hat, he has her present him with the one which will complete the set of four. Harry is now determined to prove himself and make them each take their feathers back.
Harry consults a doctor in Egypt who can dye his skin so Harry can move freely as a mute Sangali native. The brand worn by the group cannot be imitated, so Harry must endure branding. The doctor commends him for his bravery. Joining labourers for the British, Harry is able to blend with the enemy and with his "friends."
John Clements, Ralph Richardson
John Durrance and his company of men are tasked with causing a distraction to the Dervishes in order for Kitchener to regroup. During this assignment, John is the victim of sunstroke which leaves him blind and the company is overwhelmed by the Dervishes. Peter and Tom are taken captive and only John and Harry remain. Ascertaining John's predicament, the mute native takes his old friend through the deprivations of the desert to the bounty of the Nile, leaving him near a fort. Will John ever discover his saviour or the returned white feather among his effects?
Braving torture, Harry next seeks out Peter and Tom in the prison at Omdurman. Many have been in that hellhole for decades. What can Harry do to rescue his friends and make them take back their white feathers? Is there anything he can do to win back Ethne's love? Does he not know he always had Ethne's love?
The screenplay for The Four Feathers is filled with interesting dialogue and many thoughtful conversations. There is humour and heartbreak in this adventure and romance all wrapped up in a Technicolor spectacular. The Four Feathers is a great achievement and great entertainment.
TCM is screening The Four Feathers this month on Friday, the 5th of July as part of their month-long salute to the great films of 1939. The Four Feathers starts off the programming day, and if you're not careful, you will be glued to your couch for hours!
A grand old-fashioned adventure expertly crafted and well-acted! After watching it, I always wonder why John Clements didn't become a bigger star. I guess the stage was his true love.ReplyDelete
I think the stage must have been "it" for John Clements, producer, director, playwright and actor. Have you seen Knight Without Armour. He has a small role in that film debut and, for me, he absolutely shines. Of course, I think Robert Donat and Marlene Dietrich let him, but you would have thought the movies would snap him up. We must look for quality over quantity when it comes to Sir Clements and the movies.ReplyDelete
I don't know the work of JOHN CLEMENTS but I just found out from imdb that JOHN STANDING is his stepson. I remember Standing from a MURDER, SHE WROTE episode-it was the second time ANGELA LANSBURY played EMMA, the cousin of JESSICA FLETCHER. Also in the cast was RICHARD JOHNSON, ROSEMARY MURPHY, CAROLYN SEYMOUR and JANE LEEVES. The title is IT RUNS IN THE FAMILY. Standing did another ep later that I haven't seen-THE SICILIAN ENCOUNTER which also guest-starred DEIDRA HALL who is best known as DR. MARLENA EVANS on DAYS OF OUR LIVES. Also JOHN STANDING has worked with ROBERT WAGNER different times including on the short-lived show LIME STREET (1984-85). I never saw that show.ReplyDelete
Well, that is certainly an interesting tie-in to today's movie. The voice of Mr. Brown (Paddington, 1990) was the son of the ghostly Elvira (Blithe Spirit) and stepson of our hero.Delete
All of the times I have seen John Standing over the years, I don't think I was aware of his famous parents. Those episodes of Murder, She Wrote are favourites, and the second had the feel of a pilot.
Great write up of one of my favorite Films. I think this is best version and a very good adaptation of the book. The Sudan locations made it feel authentic. Ralph Richardson is amazing and its incredible he's the same actor that was in "Long Day's Journey into Night (1962)" and "Fallen Idol (1948)". My favorite, though, is C.Aubrey Smith. "Crimea, by Jove. War was war in those days, and men were men. No room for weaklings. Balaclava for instance. Here, you fellows remember the positions. Now, here, these nuts were the Russians - guns, guns, guns. On the right, the British infantry - the thin red line." And then he puts down a pineapple - indicating himself. Ha.ReplyDelete
Oh-ho, when Sir Smith goes into "the thin red line" ... it is so very memorable. The location certainly adds a lot to this film, but it is something more, isn't it? It is one of those magic movie moments from 1939.Delete
Interesting how this film came out in 1939, just before WW2 began; I don't know if it was deliberate or just a great sense of timing on Korda's part. As fine as all the actors are, my heart always belongs to the great Ralph Richardson. His blind scene in the desert, as he stumbles about in the raging sun while yet in the dark, his only company a man who won't answer him, is eerie to watch, yet beautifully played.ReplyDelete
Indeed. Ralph Richardson is so sympathetic as Captain Durrance, and so admirable as an actor. Every era of his career is filled with roles that leave us in awe.Delete
Paddy Lee, Happy Canada Day!ReplyDelete
A grand review of a rousing fabulous Classic Masterpiece from the Korda Family. They sure don't make movies like this anymore. Fact is I think A.E.W. Mason's often filmed 1902 novel has been filmed at least seven times. The latest was released in 2002. I think Zoltan Korda's 1939(What a great year for movies) version with John Clements, Ralph Richardson, C Aubrey Smith, Jack Allen, Donald Gray, and June Duprez still leads the way.
Thank you. We enjoyed a lovely long weekendDelete
I agree wholeheartedly that the Korda movie tops the list. Other versions have their own excellent aspects but everything came together for perfection in 1939.
Caftan Woman, speaking of Canada Day who are your favorite stars from Canada? I know you are a fan of GLENN FORD & RAYMOND BURR, as I am. Im also a fan of YVONNE DECARLO best known from THE MUNSTERS. Yvonne was a great beauty and a good actress. I believe I heard on TV that she originated the song IM STILL HERE on BROADWAY. I read recently that when she married stuntman BOB MORGAN that her former movie co-star RORY CALHOUN gave her away. She worked with JOHN WAYNE, CLARK GABLE, BURT LANCASTER,CHARLTON HESTON and ALEC GUINESS. Also PATRICK WAYNE, MAUREEN OHARA and she did an ep of MSW with ANGELA LANSBURY. MSW again!ReplyDelete
P.S. I want to mention WALTER PIDGEON and HUME CRONYN who were from Canada. Two of the movies I remember Walter from are THE BAD AND THE BEAUTIFUL(that I know I mentioned once or twice) and HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY(with MAUREEN OHARA). Two of the movies I remember Hume from are PEOPLE WILL TALK with CARY GRANT & JEANNE CRAIN and a TV-Movie, the HALLMARK HALL OF FAME production TO DANCE WITH THE WHITE DOG with his wife, the elegant JESSICA TANDY.ReplyDelete
1. Yvonne De Carlo was multi-talented as a singer and actress. She was right at home in drama, adventure, and comedy.Delete
2. Walter Pidgeon was a Maritimer from New Brunswick and a very fine singer. He toured in operettas in the 1920s and was on Broadway in the 1960s.
Hume Cronyn was from a prominent London, Ontario family. I saw him on Broadway in Foxfire in 1982 with Jessica Tandy and Keith Carradine.
A wonderful rousing adventure. Love it.ReplyDelete
Happy belated Canada Day. I really think TCM owes you guys at least one full day of Canadian related movies.
Thank you. I agree regarding TCM and Canada Day. It wouldn't be too difficult to come up with a slate of movies set in Canada or starring Canadian actors. In fact, it would be fun for them to program such a day.Delete
RALPH RICHARDSON was in THE HEIRESS with OLIVIA DE HAVILLAND. Olivia turned 103 yesterday, the day that you put up this page. Besides GWTW what are some of your faves that Olivia did? Two of the movies that I remember her from are LIGHT IN THE PIAZZA with YVETTE MIMIEUX and BARRY SULLIVAN and THE PROUD REBEL, a western with ALAN LADD and his son DAVID LADD(playing father and son). I saw her LOVE BOAT ep in 1985 when it was a few years old. P.S. Her story had JOSEPH COTTEN but at that time I didn't know his work yet.(In a separate story there was KEN KERCHEVAL who was already playing CLIFF BARNES on DALLAS and DACK RAMBO who joined DALLAS later as EWING cousin JACK EWING who at one time is the brother-in-law of Cliff. When I saw the ep DACK had just joined DALLAS. The other story had ALEJANDRO REY and LINDA CRISTAL. I watched the ep because of Olivia, Ken and Dack.)ReplyDelete
Olivia is a fascinating actress. My personal favourites are The Strawberry Blonde, The Male Animal, The Proud Rebel, The Heiress, To Each His Own, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and her pairings with Errol Flynn. I'll probably think of more later.Delete
I had the pleasure of seeing this on the big screen at the Vintage Film Festival in Port Hope last October, and it was fabulous. The colours, the acting and – as you pointed out – the script.ReplyDelete
You know, as I was watching it, I never even wondered where it was filmed. That's how caught up in the story I was.
What a treat! It is indeed the sort of film you will lose yourself in, and it's wonderful.Delete
Maybe we'll make it to Port Hope this year. Something always seems to get in my way.
Speaking of THE LOVE BOAT earlier frequent guest-star ARTE JOHNSON died today(JULY 3,2019) at the age of 90. imdb has that he did 8 episodes. Ive seen 5 of them. He was in a really good ep of MURDER, SHE WROTE titled NO LAUGHING MURDER. I know I mentioned it one time. It also has STEVE LAWRENCE, BUDDY HACKETT, PATRICIA CROWLEY, SHEREE NORTH and GEORGE CLOONEY. Arte guest-starred on FANTASY ISLAND and HOTEL. He is best known for LAUGH-IN. He did a short-lived series in the 80s for AARON SPELLING about a magazine. It was titled GLITTER and starred DAVID BIRNEY and MORGAN BRITTANY. I remember him from eps of a short-lived game show called HOT POTATO with host BILL CULLEN.ReplyDelete
I always enjoyed those episodes of Murder, She Wrote which involved Jessica with show business. It was certainly sad news this morning to hear of Arte Johnson's passing.Delete
I mentioned ALEJANDRO REY was on THE LOVE BOAT ep that OLIVIA DEHAVILLAND was in(in a separate story). He later did 7 eps of DALLAS during the dream season(1985-86). Rey played a Captain in South America. So that Love Boat ep had a Dallas star KEN KERCHEVAL and a future Dallas actor DACK RAMBO and another story had Rey who would also be on Dallas! Alejandro Rey guest-starred on GUNSMOKE-on the only 3-part ep they ever did. By the way, MILBURN STONE, who played DOC, was born on July 5, 1904(115 years ago today.) His passing was on June 12, 1980. He was 75. His uncle was FRED STONE. I saw him in ALICE ADAMS(with KATHARINE HEPBURN).ReplyDelete
I remember Gold Train well. It is one of my favourite episodes of Gunsmoke.Delete
Dack and Dirk Rambo made their acting debuts on The New Loretta Young Show. I have the series on DVD and think it deserved more than one season.
ALEJANDRO REY was in FUN IN ACAPULCO with ELVIS PRESLEY and URSULA ANDRESS. He is probably best known for playing CARLOS on THE FLYING NUN(with SALLY FIELD, SHELLEY MORRISON, MARGE REDMOND and MADELINE SHERWOOD). I don't like that the few times that series is mentioned in magazines or on the computer they hardly ever mention Rey. If they do mention his name they don't give any information about him. He was good in that role-he was attractive and likable. His passing was in 1987 at the age of 57. P.S. He played real-life people in two TV-Movies about female movie stars. He played EDUARDO CANSINO in RITA HAYWORTH, THE LOVE GODDESS. It starred LYNDA CARTER, he played Ritas dad. He also played OLEG CASSINI in GRACE KELLY which starred CHERYL LADD. CANSINO & CASSINI! So you could say he worked with WONDER WOMAN and KRIS MUNROE, A CHARLIES ANGEL. Even though CHERYL LADD wasn't on the show the first season the only actress on the show longer than her was JACLYN SMITH who was on it the entire run. Cheryl, of course, was on it for 4 seasons and is my favorite ANGEL, then JACLYN.ReplyDelete
I remember Mr. Rey best from watching The Flying Nun as a kid, but actors are often so much more than our narrow memories.Delete