Friday, July 23, 2010

Four Feathers Fail

The dangers of Cosplay: Haversham disguised as the enemy.

Gosh, I thought I was in the mood for The Four Feathers. I guess not. I'm usually all about obscure British actors cheerio-ing it up in pith helmets in foreign lands. I can't get enough Korda brothers, and, lately, I've even made my peace with splashy Technicolor spectacle films. In this one, the acting is good, the cinematography is wonderful and yet, through most of the movie, I found myself a little restless and bored. Had I been watching on the Big Screen, I have no doubt that, I wouldn't have moved a muscle for fear of missing a second of travelogue glory, but, at home in my basement I had to stand on my head just to give myself something to do. I think I checked all the actor's bios on IMDB. ( Did you know that Ralph Richardson and Laurence Oliver revived the bombed-out Old Vic just after the war? )

Even in my basement, I manage to watch and thoroughly enjoy Lawrence of Arabia. I love that film less for its landscapes and more for its honest and moving portrayal of friendship. I think it is the best movie ever made on the subject. Four Feathers promises a similar vein of Kipling-esque camaraderie in the Victorian-era British army. The problem is that the four friends, after a brief introduction, quickly go their separate ways. The story begins with the engagement of an officer in the army and the daughter of an army General. The officer, Harry Faversham, decides that he doesn't want to participate in a foreign war because he wants to get started on married life as soon as possible. He resigns his commission and his friends and fiance resign their friendship with him, presenting him with a Victorian bitch slap: a box of four feathers. Haversham then takes the crazy step of trying to participate in a foreign war without actually being in the army anymore. If nothing else, this movie serves as an excellent example of what not to do if you are unhappy in the military.

What keeps me coming back to the likes of Gunga Din, The Lives of the Bengal Lancers, and even The Last Outpost is the give and take, the Victorian Army trash-talk if you will. But John Clement's Harry Faversham determinedly pretends to be mute even when he does meet up with Ralph Richardson's blind Captain Durance (OK, that part is pretty awesome. Faversham leads Durance--the faux mute leading the blind?-- across the desert to safety and then gets arrested because he has disguised himself as a Dervish. Talk about no good deed going unpunished.)

Four Feathers is fairly strong in the romance department. June Duprez, one of my favorite obscure British actresses, acquits herself admirably as the beautiful woman who dumps Haversham for his cowardice but continues to love him anyway. In these kinds of movies, the love story is usually tacked on, so it's refreshing to see the romance actually work for the material rather than against it. Four Feathers is a decent movie, but, given all its incredible natural resources, it should be better. More time on character and less on landscapes and battles, would have helped, I think.

13 comments:

Nora said...

Okay, while I am not overly familiar with this film, I also like the Korda brothers. Particularly Alexander. Since I do not have a basement and cannot stand on my head, I will watch it in the comfort of my recliner while consuming one of the cocktails you so thoughtfully gave us in an earlier post. Any recommendations on which one I should try?

And thanks for broadening my film-viewing horizons.

Jennythenipper said...

Well it's Brits in the army in the tropics so you need your quinine to ward of malaria: gin and tonic. Yes, it's a mixed drink, not a cocktail, I know. You could add a splash of something like limoncella to the gin, throw it in a shaker with ice, strain it into a Tom Collins class, top it with tonic and some more ice and call it a Dervish.

Nora said...

I'm whirling just thinking about that drink. Brits or no Brits, I'm not big on gin. But I can take the quinine with vodka as a substitute (I hope).

rudyfan1926 said...

Jenny, I can attest to seeing this on the big screen and that does make a difference. I have a great fondness for this film, it's beautifully shot and as well done as any other Korda film. It most certainly plays much better than the remake of a few years back, at least to me it does. If you ever get a chance for a big screen viewing, here's hoping you won't be disappointed.

Jennythenipper said...

I won't miss it if I ever get the opportunity. I can think of at least two technicolor epics that I hated until I saw them in a theater and I don't hate this.

Also, I still owe you a shirt. Send me you addy at jenny at physics dot umn dot edu.

SteveQ said...

We're not agreeing much lately; I like this one, though it seems a bit stagey, given all the natural scenery. Unfortunately, it always brings to mind the start of the Peter Sellers film "The Party" and I laugh when I shouldn't.

Jennythenipper said...

How boring would it be if we always agreed!

I forgot about the beginning of the Party! I've not watched that in ages.

Lolita said...

Great review! I just love your descriptions of restless movie watching - I recognize the feeling! Haha.

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The Kid In The Front Row said...

I really love the way you write about old movies-- do you think you could email me and recommend a couple of classic films you think I might like, that I may not have heard of?

Jennythenipper said...

Hey Kid, Thanks. I guess it depends on what kind of stuff you like.

Comedies? Noir? Drama? Adventure? Sci Fi?

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Irena said...

Now after this excellent review of Rochesters I am really looking forward to your detailed analysis of Janes.
I am particularly interested in what you think about Charlotte Gainsbourg's Jane.