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The Four Feathers(1939)
Amidst the British Empire's conquest of Africa, a young officer must fight to redeem himself after being accused of cowardice by fellow officers.
For more about The Four Feathers and the The Four Feathers Blu-ray release, see the The Four Feathers Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on October 14, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: John Clements, Ralph Richardson, C. Aubrey Smith, June Duprez, Allan Jeayes
Director: Zoltan Korda
» See full cast & crew
The Four Feathers Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, October 14, 2011
Nominated for Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival, Zoltan Korda'a "The Four Feathers" (1939) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include original trailer; new video interview with the eldest son of director Zoltan Korda, David Korda; early promotional film focusing on the London Film Productions' studios at Denham; and a new audio commentary by British film historian Charles Drazin. The disc also arrives with a leaflet featuring an essay by Michael Sragow. Region-A "locked".
The 1880s. Fifteen-year-old Harry Faversham (John Clements, Convoy, The Mind Benders) dreams about being a poet. Naturally, he prefers reading over his father's (Allan Jeayes, At Dawn We Die) glorious war stories. But Harry's future is already predetermined - like his father and grandfather, he is expected to be a soldier.
Ten years later. Harry has joined the Army and fallen in love with the beautiful Ethne Burroughs (June Duprez, The Thief of Bagdad, And Then There Were None). But a few days before his regiment is dispatched to fight in Sudan, he resigns because he does not want to have the life his father had. Almost immediately his best friends hand him three white feathers - a clear sign that in their eyes he has become a coward. Then they head to Sudan.
Realizing that he has indeed become a coward - but as far as he is concerned for all the wrong reasons - Harry follows his friends in Sudan to regain his honor. However, first he stops in Egypt, where a local doctor (Henry Oscar) helps him become a Sangali tribesman - he scars his forehead and shows him how to blend in with the locals. This way he can move from country to country without speaking Arabic because the evil khalifa's (John Laurie, Hamlet) men have cut the tongues of all Sangali men.
In Sudan, British and Egyptian forces are already fighting the khalifa. Eventually, Harry meets his friends again. His chance to redeem himself comes during the great Battle of Omdurman in which the British and Egyptian forces are vastly outnumbered by their enemies.
Based on A.E.W. Mason's famous novel, Zoltan Korda's The Four Feathers is a fine period adventure film with some glorious battle scenes and a main protagonist impossible not to admire. It was shot in Technicolor and under some truly grueling conditions in the deserts of Sudan.
The film is divided into various uneven episodes, each with a mini-climax that leads to the next episode. The young Harry is always present but the focus of attention occasionally shifts to his friends. Important facts about the ongoing war are highlighted as well.
The film's unquestionably positive attitude towards British imperialism is its Achilles' heel. The various characters are carefully profiled and key sequences filmed in a way that effectively highlights British cultural and intellectual superiority. The most problematic sequences appear during the second half of the film, after Harry becomes a Sangali tribesman.
Still, the visuals are striking and the acting uniformly good. The great Ralph Richardson is outstanding as Captain John Durrance, who hands one of the three feathers to Harry and later on meets him again in the desert. C. Aubrey Smith is also excellent as the patriotic general who never gets tired of telling his friends about his greatest battles at the dinner table.
Osmond Borradaile and Georges Périnal's cinematography is striking. The panoramic vistas from the desert, in particular, remind about the big scenes from Lawrence of Arabia. The emphasis on detail is also impressive. There are some great costumes and (bright red) uniforms as well as lavish period decors. The film also benefits from an excellent music score courtesy of famous Hungarian composer Miklós Rózsa (Double Indemnity, Ben-Hur).
Note: In 1939, The Four Feathers was nominated for the prestigious Palme d'Or Award at the Cannes Film festival. A year later, the film also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography (Georges Périnal, Osmond Borradaile).
The Four Feathers Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Zoltan Korda's The Four Feathers arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"This new high-definition digital transfer was created on a Spirit 2K Datacine from a 35mm internegative preserved by the BFI National Archive. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS system and Pixel Farm's PFClean system, while Digital Vision's DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction.
Telecine supervisor: Russell Smith.
Telecine colorists: Trevor Brown/Ascent 142, London; Martin Zeichner/Technicolor, New York."
The high-definition transfer has retained all of the key characteristics a Technicolor film has - colors are thick and well saturated and contrast levels well balanced. During close-ups detail is pleasing, though often affected by the color saturation mentioned above (see screencapture #4 and the red glow around the gloves). This unique relationship between detail and color, however, is not a byproduct of any serious transfer-related anomalies. Furthermore, sharpening corrections have not been applied. I also did not see any traces of problematic denoising. Naturally, film grain is present throughout the entire film, though at times it is slightly thicker than usual. There are no serious stability issues to report in this review either. My only complaint here is related to the presence of some extremely light color pulsations that occasionally pop up around the edges. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
The Four Feathers Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: English LPCM 1.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English SDH subtitles for the main feature.
The following text appears inside the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc:
"The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from an optical track negative. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated station."
Generally speaking, the dialog is crisp and very easy to follow. Miklós Rózsa's music score has also benefited from the loseless treatment (though I expected a slightly better range of dynamics). Some mild hiss, however, occasionally has a tendency to stick out. This isn't unusual for a film that is over 70 years old, but with modern technology at least some of the more prominent hiss could have been toned down a bit. Still, the English LPCM 1.0 track serves the film well.
The Four Feathers Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The Four Feathers Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Zoltan Korda's The Four Feathers is arguably the best adaptation of A. E. W. Mason's popular novel. Shot in beautiful Technicolor on location in Sudan, it is an old-fashioned adventure film that has literally been given a new life by the folks at Criterion. The Blu-ray disc herein reviewed also features a new and very informative audio commentary by British film historian Charles Drazin. RECOMMENDED.
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