Four Feathers

The definitive 1939 version of A.E.W. Mason's often-filmed imperialist classic, with John Clements as the scion of a soldierly family who's given the four feathers of the title as a ritual condemnation of his cowardice and must spend the rest of the film in a solitary quest for reacceptance, working as an undercover agent in the Sudan. Most of the stiff-upper-lip stuff is played for satire (C. Aubrey Smith is the head of the family, muttering senilely about his days of glory in India), which helps make it palatable to contemporary audiences, yet the satiric approach leaves the film without a moral center to justify the action sequences, reducing them to jolly wop-slaughter not unlike Raiders of the Lost Ark. Superior pulp but pulp nonetheless, directed with an impressive pictorial sense by Zoltan Korda. In Tecnicolor, with Ralph Richardson and June Duprez. 115 min.

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