Thursday, November 13, 2014

"The Four Feathers" with John Clements and C. Aubrey Smith (1939)

Have you ever wondered how an old favorite film would hold up after several years? Can it still measure up to the thrill of your memory? This one does all that and then surpasses itself. The sheer scope and message of this film rings even louder than it did in 1939 when it was first released. They did a remake of it in 2002 with Heath Ledger. I got through about 15 minutes of it before hitting the eject/reject button.

This is the story of a young man who has been through military school and is the youngest member of a family of soldiers going back centuries. It has always been his presumed destiny to follow in their steps. He and his 4 friends are chomping at the bit waiting for a war to break out so they can go off on their big adventure.

But when war does break out in Khartoum one of them begins to question the whole sanity of fighting. He has fallen in love and spoken of this feeling with his fiancée many times; and she agrees with him. At least until the flag waving and parades begin as the soldiers head off to Africa for the fight. Then she becomes ashamed of him.

As if losing the love of the woman he loves is not enough he also loses the friendship of his 3 best friends who are doing their duty and going off to fight as planned. His former comrades; as well as his fiancée; each send him a white feather, a symbol of cowardice. He can only redeem himself by returning the feathers after doing a courageous deed. It seems as if all is lost.

Now heroes come in all shapes and sizes; and heroics do not always follow a set form. What this young man does o redeem his honor and respect will astound you. Going off to war as a group; under the color of a flag; is fairly easy. The artificial camaraderie of group action can have a calming effect, and things you formerly thought impossible become almost second nature.

But when you have to face your own demons; rather than a common enemy, all alone; a different form of courage becomes necessary. The question then becomes not when, but how you will acquit yourself and recover the honor which others perceived to be lost. The answer may be that your honor was never lost to begin with; it just took a different form.

This is a truly classic film produced and directed by the Korda Brothers; Zoltan and Alexander. Remarkable character roles filled by the likes of C. Aubrey Smith; and a screenplay by R. D. Sherriff combine to prove that they just don’t make films like this anymore.

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