Take a Drink: anytime an old man talks about the Crimea
Take a Drink: each time Dervishes or Fuzzy Wuzzies are referenced
Drink a Shot: for each feather that is taken back
By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Lt. Harry Faversham decides to leave the army to attend to the needs of his household, shortly before the final marching orders are given for his unit to be deployed to the Sudan. Unapologetic, Harry goes about trying to live the life of a civilian and a husband as his friends depart for Africa. One day a package arrives for Harry, sent from three of his closest officer friends Burroughs, Durrance, and Willoughby. Inside the package are three feathers, symbolizing Harry’s cowardice in their eyes. He soon finds that his wife also looks down on his decision and in spite of her reluctance to admit as much, Harry launches into a depressive fit and demands a feather from her as well (Isn’t heroism a strange thing?)
His humiliation complete, Harry tells an elderly friend that he intends to venture to the Sudan incognito and right the wrongs which he visited on his friends and his country. Harry passes himself off as a mute Sangali native in order to move through territory held by the Khalifa who controls the Sudan. His goal is to reach the embattled British army, particularly his friends, and make them reclaim the feathers with a demonstration of heroism.
Director Zoltan Korda’s film is a masterpiece of adventure cinema. Unusual for the period, the film was shot almost entirely within the Sudan and in Technicolor. The director, alongside celebrated cinematographer Georges Périnal, took full advantage of both these mediums, filming with great attention to detail and creative nuance which was far ahead of its time. The film’s use of realistic color combined with the overall saturated brown and grey landscapes of the Sudan are often contrasted with bright, sharp colors for dramatic effect, which heightens the suspense of some of the film’s most dramatic moments, such as the nighttime battle among burning bushes in the below frame
The performances in the film are solidly placed within the theatrical tradition of early Hollywood, but with more subtle touches than other works of its time. Particularly impressive is Ralph Richardson, whose character Durrance suffers greatly throughout the film, being the second (and therefore losing) choice of the woman he loves, being blinded by sunstroke, and then unable to prevent his comrades in arms from losing a desperate battle against the Khalifa’s army. Particularly haunting to watch even today is a scene in his tent at night, as his eyes dart around madly while he holds a match up to them in a futile hope of seeing again.
The somewhat rushed conclusion falls into contrast with the steady and perfect pacing of the rest of the film. It was indeed a common practice to rush the coda on films from this time period, an unfortunate trait which can work against the overall impact of the film, leaving the audience with an emotionally unfulfilled feeling. The Four Feathers is fortunately able to mostly overcome this handicap on the strength of the rest of the film.
A classic epic which, alongside Gunga Din (1939), set the benchmarks for adventure filmmaking for generations to come.