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The Four Feathers

original 1939 movie poster
Directed by Zoltan Korda
Produced by Alexander Korda
Written by R. C. Sherriff
Lajos Biro
Arthur Wimperis
based on the novel by
A.E.W. Mason
Starring John Clements
June Duprez
Ralph Richardson
C. Aubrey Smith
John Laurie
Music by Miklos Rozsa
Cinematography Georges Perinal
Editing by Henry Cornelius
Distributed by United Artists
London Films
Release date(s) 20 April 1939 (UK)
August 3, 1939 (US)
Running time 130 minutes
Country United Kingdom, Sudan
Language English

The Four Feathers is a 1939 adventure film directed by Zoltan Korda, starring John Clements, Ralph Richardson, June Duprez, C. Aubrey Smith. Set in the 1890s during the reign of Queen Victoria, it tells the story of a man accused of cowardice. It is one of a number of adaptations of the 1902 novel of the same name by A.E.W. Mason. The movie was mostly filmed in the Sudan in Technicolor.

It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.



In 1895, a military expedition is prepared by the British Empire to belatedly avenge the death ten years earlier of General Charles "Chinese" Gordon by Sudanese led by the Khalifa (John Laurie). On the eve of its departure, British officer Harry Faversham (John Clements) resigns his commission. As a result, his three friends and fellow officers, Captain John Durrance (Ralph Richardson) and Lieutenants Burroughs (Donald Gray) and Willoughby (Jack Allen), signify their contempt of his supposed cowardice by each sending him a white feather attached to a calling card. When his fiancée, Ethne Burroughs (June Duprez), says nothing in his defence, he bitterly demands one more, from her. She refuses, but he plucks one from her fan and leaves.

While the officers go off to war, he admits to his old acquaintance Dr. Sutton (Frederick Culley) that he is a coward and must make amends. He departs for Egypt. There, he adopts the disguise of a native with the help of Dr. Harraz (Henry Oscar), choosing to play a despised mute Sangali to hide his lack of knowledge of the language.

In the Mahdist War, Durrance is ordered to take his company to lure the Khalifa's army away from Omdurman. Durrance is blinded by sunstroke and can do nothing when his company is overrun and wiped out. He is left for dead on the battlefield, and Burroughs and Willoughby are captured. However, Faversham, still pretending to be a mute native, manages to take the delirious Durrance across the desert and down the Nile to the vicinity of a British fort. He then puts something in a letter that Durrance kept with him. Some soldiers witness this and mistakenly assume Durrance is being robbed. Faversham is beaten and placed in a convict gang, but escapes.

Sightless, Durrance is discharged from the army and returns to England. Out of pity, Ethne becomes engaged to him. One day, when he is telling the tale of his miraculous rescue, he takes out the letter. A white feather attached to his calling card drops out of it. The message is clear: his rescuer was Faversham. Nobody has the heart to tell Durrance.

Burroughs and Willoughby are thrown into a prison in Khartoum with numerous other inmates. Soon afterwards, the disguised Faversham passes them a file while drinking from the river, but arouses the suspicions of the guards. He is flogged and imprisoned as well. He reveals his identity to his friends and organizes an escape, timed to coincide with the Battle of Omdurman. Faversham leads the prisoners in capturing and holding the Khalifa's arsenal, playing a major part in the British victory. When Durrance learns of Faversham's deeds from the newspaper account read to him by Dr. Sutton, he concocts a story, dictating a letter to Ethne, telling her that a prolonged course of treatment in Germany will restore his eyesight...and sending his congratulations to Faversham.

The hero returns to England in triumph. When Ethne playfully asks what act of bravery will make her take back her white feather, he interrupts her father, General Burroughs (C. Aubrey Smith), in the midst of his favourite war story about the Battle of Balaclava and corrects his embellishments; the irritated general complains that he will never be able to tell that story again.


See also

  • Khartoum, a 1966 film dealing with the events leading up to General Gordon's death.

External links



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