Sep. 9, 2011
The Four Feathers (1939)
Grade: 47/100

Director: Zoltan Korda
Stars: John Clements, Ralph Richardson, C. Aubrey Smith

What it's about. A grand technicolor adaptation of the adventure epic by British novelist A.E.W. Mason. Set in the late 19th century. Harry (John Clements) comes from an upper crust family with a long tradition of dying in battle. But Harry is a coward, and resigns from the British Army rather than see action in Egypt. This is a great disappointment to his hottie wife June Duprez and her pompous aged father, C. Aubrey Smith.

Also disappointed are three of Harry's army buddies; Ralph Richardson, Jack Allen, and Donald Gray. It seems the only person who can tolerate Harry is kindly doctor Frederick Culley. Harry then makes a strange decision. He goes to Egypt, disguises himself as an Arab, infiltrates the enemy army, and saves the lives of Richardson, Allen, and Gray, to prove to everyone (and especially himself) that he is not a coward after all.

How others will see it. Considered the best of several adaptations of the classic novel, The Four Feathers does have a few things going for it. C. Aubrey Smith is an entertaining character actor, Richardson was one of the most respected 20th century thespians, and the scale of the technicolor cinematography is impressive. In fact, that was the source of its sole Oscar nomination.

At, the user ratings are high, particularly from those over 45, who grade it 8.0 out of 10. The appeal appears to be the nobility of the upper class, that is, the notion that country, kin, and honor are more important than one's own life. An Egyptian character suggests "Be a coward and be happy." Such advice is practical but uncinematic, and only further demonstrates the alleged superiority of the Anglo-Saxon culture over the "dervishes" and "fuzzy-wuzzies" that populate North Africa.

How I felt about it. But perhaps Harry was right to begin with. Why does England have to conquer Egypt? Is it necessary to hoist the flag of Queen Victoria over the soil of every third world nation? Perhaps mowing down natives with Gatling guns (only rifles are used here, to create the illusion of a fair fight) is merely a waste of life, and there is nothing noble or honorable about it.

So, Harry should tell that blowhard Smith to go to hell, should have sex every night with June Duprez, and should leave Egypt to the Egyptians, no more how exotic or sinister their costumes and culture might appear to the "civilized."

But, no, he has to have his forehead branded, and attempt to pull off the preposterous feat of passing as an Egyptian laborer until he can rescue three specific British soldiers from certain death. The odds of accomplishing this are lower than winning the Texas lottery. But in the movies, it is inevitable.

Pretty upper class women had the best of it. No one expects them to suffer and kill in some distant land, and they can have their pick of officers. He dies, and she receives a pension. The only downside is you have to wear corsets and hold your tongue whenever anything controversial is discussed.