Blu-Ray Review: The Thief of Bagdad

Director: Raoul Walsh
Screenplay: Lotta Woods, Douglas Fairbanks, Achmed Abdullah (uncredited), James T. O’Donohoe (uncredited)
Starring: Douglas Fairbanks, Julanne Johnston, Snitz Edwards, Sôjin Kamiyama, Anna May Wong
Producer: Douglas Fairbanks
Country: USA
Running Time: 149 min
Year: 1924
BBFC Certificate: U

Douglas Fairbanks and his wife Mary Pickford were thought of as the king and queen of Hollywood back in the 1920’s. As well as finding great success as two of the earliest true movie stars (Pickford in particular is often thought as one of the very first), they set up United Artists (UA) alongside Charlie Chaplin and D. W. Griffith in a bid to have more control over film production, away from the powerful commercial studios. Through UA they were able to create the films they wanted, hiring the best collaborators available to make the finest films they could. Indeed, UA were responsible for many of the most famous films of the era and beyond. The company in fact still produces films now, although they’ve been a bit thin on the ground during the last few years and the company is now in the hands of MGM.

Anyway, I won’t delve into the complicated history of UA, but with this pivotal move, Fairbanks showed he was clearly more than just an actor. He was passionate about film and would go to great lengths to produce work which met his high standards. A lot of his work, as with a disturbingly large number of films from the silent era, has been lost or forgotten. Even his most famous films such as Robin Hood, The Black Pirate and The Mark of Zorro haven’t been given a decent upgrade to modern home video formats (in the UK at least), only showing up on ropey independent releases from companies that have capitalised on their public domain status and plonked any old print onto a disc. Possibly Fairbanks’ most critically successful film (it didn’t totally win over audiences at the time), The Thief of Bagdad has finally been given the release it deserves in the UK though, with Eureka releasing it on dual format Blu-Ray and DVD as part of their prestigious Masters of Cinema series. I must admit, largely due to the poor distribution of his work in this country, I’ve never seen a Douglas Fairbanks film before, so I was very excited about checking this one out.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Spirited Away

Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Screenplay: Hayao Miyazaki
Starring: Rumi Hiiragi, Miyu Irino, Mari Natsuki (Japanese version) or Daveigh Chase, Jason Marsden, Suzanne Pleshette (English version)
Producer: Toshio Suzuki
Country: Japan
Running Time: 126 min
Year: 2001
BBFC Certificate: PG

I remember being incredibly excited when Spirited Away was released in the UK. I’d discovered the wonders of Hayao Miyazaki’s work a year or two before it was released. I was getting into anime at the time and picked up a copy of Princess Mononoke on DVD and instantly fell in love. I needed to see more, but only that and The Castle of Cagliostro were available. So I’m ashamed to say I bought most of the director’s early work on pirated Chinese DVD’s (don’t judge me – I didn’t have a choice). I loved every title, as well as the other couple of Studio Ghibli films packaged with them (they came as 2 on 1 sets) and Miyazaki became my favourite director. There are plenty of directors I love, but Miyazaki is one of the few, if not the only one that has a perfect scoresheet for me. So, with Spirited Away getting enough mainstream critical praise and awards to grant it a nationwide release, I was incredibly happy to hear I’d be able to watch Miyazaki’s latest on the big screen instead of a ropily subtitled DVD imported from Asia.

When I did go and see it I thought it was great of course. However, after all the hype I’d created for myself, not to mention the insanely positive reviews it was getting, I never ranked it quite as highly as Miyazaki’s three ‘epic adventure’ titles, Princess Mononoke, Laputa: Castle in the Sky and my all time favourite, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. Maybe it was because I was still relatively young (21) and yearned for more action and a grander scale or maybe it was just the fact that his previous films, which in my mind were equally as good if not occasionally better, weren’t gaining the attention that Spirited Away was getting. For whatever reason, even though I thought the film was brilliant, I couldn’t shake the feeling that it was a little overrated.

And a couple of weeks ago, 11 years on (the film was released in 2003 in the UK), I was offered the chance to review the blu-ray release of the film. God knows why it’s taken so long to bring Spirited Away to high definition in this country, but I was delighted to be one of the first people to get my hands on the disc. It also gave me the chance to re-evaluate the film after not having seen it for around 7 or 8 years.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: The Killing Fields

Director: Roland Joffé
Screenplay: Bruce Robinson
Starring: Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich, Julian Sands
Producer: Lord David Puttnam
Country: UK
Running Time: 142 min
Year: 1984
BBFC Certificate: 15

The Killing Fields is a classic British film which I’ve avoided for a long time. I’ve had it on DVD for years, but an ‘issue’ war film which looked weighty, worthy and bleak didn’t always appeal when I’d flick through my collection for something to watch. When a shiny new 30th Anniversary blu-ray was offered to me I finally gave in though and decided to give it a whirl.

The ‘issue’ under scrutiny in The Killing Fields is the Cambodian civil war and the atrocities dished out by the Khmer Rouge during their infamous ‘year zero’ cleansing campaign as well as looking at the poor handling of the situation by the American military. However, the film’s plot doesn’t spend too much time delving into the political machinations, it’s more a tale of friendship, loyalty and survival set amongst the carnage of civil war and ethnic cleansing. Based on a true story, The Killing Fields follows the relationship between Sydney Schanberg (Sam Waterston), a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist for the New York Times, and his Cambodian aide Dith Pran (Haing S. Ngor). Pran, being well educated, is a prime target for the Khmer Rouge and chooses to stay with Sydney early on in the film when he has a chance to leave the country so, later on whilst his American friend is evacuated, he is sent to one of the notorious ‘re-education camps’ where he is savagely treated by his captors.

I find that epic, award winning war films can often be overrated, especially over time as their presentation becomes more dated. However, The Killing Fields has stood the test of time rather well and remains a powerful experience 30 years on. A lot of this is due to the fact that it is unflinching in its depiction of the horrors of war, more so than a lot of other films of that genre and era. It’s a bloody, dirty, often chaotic film which throws you into the madness of what was happening and rarely lets you take a breath. A portion of the third quarter which sees Pran, Sydney and his fellow journalists held at the French Embassy is the only time the film really calms down, but wisely this time is used to develop the friendship between the lead characters as well as to deliver the most tense film developing scene I’ve come across.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Youth of the Beast

Director: Seijun Suzuki
Screenplay: Ichirô Ikeda, Tadaaki Yamazaki
Based on a Novel by: Haruhiko Ôyabu
Starring: Jô Shishido, Misako Watanabe, Tamio Kawaji
Producer: Keinosuke Kubo
Country: Japan
Running Time: 92 min
Year: 1963
BBFC Certificate: 15

I‘ve been aware of Seijun Suzuki in the Japanese cult cinema landscape for some time. I’ve seen his two most famous classics, Tokyo Drifter and Branded to Kill, but I haven’t ventured beyond those yet, which is a bit mad seeing as I enjoyed both quite a lot and he’s directed over 50 films so far. His career has been an unusual one though which resulted in (supposedly) quite a hit and miss collection and his story is possibly more well known than his films have actually been seen.

In the mid-50’s, the Japanese entertainment company Nikkatsu started producing films again after a hiatus which began during WWII and, in a bid to keep productions fresh and exciting, they hired a number of young assistant directors from other studios, promising to promote them quickly to full director status, which was unheard of in the traditional Japanese studio system back in those days. Among those directors were Shōhei Imamura and Seijun Suzuki. Whereas Imamura started making his unique glimpses of the underbelly of society pretty much straight away, Suzuki found himself churning out cookie-cutter releases for the studio by the dozen, largely yakuza/gangster pictures. By all accounts, most of the 20-odd films he directed in his first 7 years or so at the studio weren’t particularly memorable. However, growing tired of this workmanlike practise and getting jealous of the freedom allowed to his peer Imamura, he finally tore off his shackles and made what is considered his breakthrough film with Youth of the Beast in 1963. It didn’t make much of a mark at the time, but in retrospect, it paved the way for his most highly regarded period which culminated in Branded to Kill which may have got him fired from Nikkatsu, whose head thought it was “incomprehensible”, but cemented his name in the pantheon of cult classic cinema.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Blacula – The Complete Collection

I‘ve got too many review screeners piled up for October and November as well as several work and home life barriers to put together any special seasonal Halloween features, but I got sent one Blu-Ray release to review which fits into the spooky milieu at least, Blacula – The Complete Collection.

The blaxploitation genre came about at the turn of the 1970’s when Hollywood producers discovered there was a lot of money to be made out of films featuring, created by and/or aimed at African Americans. At the the tail end of the 60’s, the Civil Rights Movement had given African Americans equality in America (legally speaking – unfortunately racism continues to rear its ugly head so it’s difficult to claim full equality, even now) and they were riding high on this fact. People liked to see African American heroes kicking ass and giving it to “the man” and the Hollywood bigwigs saw this and jumped on it.

The first and in fact most blaxploitation films tended towards the action and thriller genres, set on “the streets” with bad ass heroes taking down drug dealers, pimps and corrupt cops. Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, Shaft and Superfly were the early groundbreakers of this style, but soon the producers branched out to fuse the hip blaxploitation template with other popular film genres. Thus came Blacula. The title makes it clear what intention the filmmakers had: with Hammer making Dracula making popular again back in 1966, why not use this to create a blaxploitation/horror hybrid?

The film was a reasonable success on its release in 1972, so much so that it spawned a sequel, Scream Blacula Scream and Eureka are releasing both films on one Blu-Ray in the UK, just before Halloween. I ventured into a dark room to see how well they hold up today.

Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Le jour se lève

Director: Marcel Carné
Screenplay: Jacques Viot & Jacques Prévert
Starring: Jean Gabin, Jacqueline Laurent, Arletty, Jules Berry
Producer: Jean-Pierre Frogerais
Country: France
Running Time: 91 min
Year: 1939
BBFC Certificate: PG

The best thing about being sent screeners of old classics to review is that it can open your eyes to films which you’ve not heard of as well as those that have passed you by. My most recent discovery, Le jour se lève (a.k.a. Daybreak), falls into the latter and appears to be fairly unknown or at least unseen by critics and film buffs in general, despite its director Marcel Carné enjoying decades of success with Les Enfants du paradis. Supposedly Le jour se lève was very well received on release and has been considered the equal to, if not better than, Renoir’s La Règle du jeu which was released in the same year. You only have to look at Sight and Sound’s highly regarded Top Ten Greatest Films of All Time Poll, run every decade, to see how their paths have since veered. In the first poll in 1952, Le jour se lève was placed at joint 7th, higher than La Règle du jeu at joint 10th. As the decades went on though, Renoir’s classic jumped to number 3 and has never left the top 4 since. Carné’s film, on the other hand, dropped out straight away in the 60’s and has never returned. It wasn’t even in the top 50 of the 2012 poll. Part of the reason may be because the film was almost lost in the late 1940’s, when RKO acquired the rights to the film so that they could remake it and sought to buy up and destroy every copy available. It re-appeared in the 50’s though. The critics of Cahiers du cinéma, who would come to make up the French New Wave movement, are known to have dismissed Carné, claiming his writing collaborator Jacques Prévert was the real genius behind his work, so perhaps they were to blame. Whatever the reason, Le jour se lève has become a distant memory in cinema’s history books.
Would you like to know more…?

Blu-Ray Review: Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari

Director: Robert Wiene
Screenplay: Carl Mayer, Hans Janowitz
Starring: Werner Krauss, Conrad Veidt, Friedrich Feher, Lil Dagover
Producers: Erich Pommer, Rudolf Meinert (both uncredited)
Country: Germany
Running Time: 77 min
Year: 1920
BBFC Certificate: U

As with a number of the classic titles I’ve reviewed here over the last couple of years, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari (or The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari if you couldn’t translate it yourself) is one of the major ‘canon’ titles which has been on my ‘to watch’ list for far too long. Once again, Eureka’s wonderful Masters of Cinema Series has come to the rescue though and released an immaculately restored Blu-Ray (and DVD) of the film, complete with an abundance of special features so that I can finally sink my teeth into this dark and twisted classic of silent cinema.

The film opens with a young man, Francis (Friedrich Feher), telling an older gentleman of the horrific events he endured with his fiancée Jane (Lil Dagover) over the past few months. Francis and his good friend Alan (Hans Heinrich von Twardowski) both fell for Jane on meeting her, but both stated that the other shall be satisfied with the choice she would ultimately make. However, that night they went to the local carnival and entered the tent of Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss) and his somnambulist (a sort of sleep walker) Cesare (Conrad Veidt). The mysterious zombified figure awakened to tell Alan that he would die that night and lo and behold he did. Francis vowed to find the killer, especially seeing as the local police force wasn’t effectively dealing with the situation. Of course the chief suspect was Cesare, but Francis struggled to prove his guilt and various events along the way turned the story in surprising directions, bringing the power and identity of the mysterious Dr. Caligari to the fore. Even when we return to the ‘present day’ there are more twists in store for the audience though and there are still debates as to exactly who played what part in this mystery.

This narrative isn’t always handled brilliantly, rarely making perfect sense and feeling quite muddy at times, but after the whole thing plays out you realise that could well be the idea. Featuring perhaps the first ‘unreliable narrator’, the majority of the film plays out in the mind of the possibly deluded Francis who may or not be being manipulated by the evil (or possibly not evil) Dr. Caligari so a lack of clarity works very effectively in a subtextual sense. The film’s fairly unusual and messy development (inexperienced writers with an experimental idea, the first choice of director – Fritz Lang – being unavailable, and some changes imposed by the producers etc.) may suggest a happy accident though. Whatever the case, the film is certainly more interesting than most from the era due to its structure and twists and these have led to almost a century of discussion among critics and theorists. The film plays havoc with the auteur theory though due to the never fully resolved debate of authorship over the film. The writers Carl Mayer and Hans Janowitz, designer Hermann Warm, producer Erich Pommer and director Robert Wiene have all claimed or been given credit for the film’s success.

I don’t want to get bogged down by that too much though as, in my mind, a review should be more focussed on how well a film works rather than who was responsible for it doing so.

And Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari still works extremely well. I think the decades of hype and expectation I had coming into the film perhaps prevented me from giving the film top marks, but the reasons for why it has remained so well respected for so long are blatantly clear. Front and foremost is the film’s extreme expressionistic style. Caligari is cited as being hugely influential on film noir, horror movies and more, but, as a few critics and theorists have pointed out, very few, if any, films have actually copied its daring visual-art-infused approach. Rather than simply playing with lighting and camera angles to make dark and unsettling visuals, the sets are crafted in bizarre angles and shapes, and shadows and light patches are literally painted on to the walls. Even the make-up and costumes are exaggerated by strong blacks and whites. This all creates a creepily disorientating and surreal atmosphere, acting as a construct of Francis’ mental state. The closest modern filmmaker I can think of who adopts a vaguely similar style is Tim Burton, but even he doesn’t push the boat out as far as Weine (or whoever was in charge) did. I imagine he’s seen the film a few times though.

What’s interesting about the style is that if you take individual elements of the sets and production design they look rather crude and simplistic, but when presented as a whole within the construct of the film they help create a hugely effective and stunning vision. In fact, I found several shots so bizarrely beautiful I wanted to freeze the frames and hang them on my wall.

Perfectly complementing the bold style are two big but perfectly measured performances from Werner Krauss and Conrad Veidt, playing the chief ‘villains’. Krauss is the archetypal evil scientist character for the most part as Caligari, coming across as genuinely unpleasant and fiendish, before presenting a wholly different side after a revelation in the film’s later scenes. Veidt grabs your attention from the moment Caligari opens his cabinet (or rather coffin) and Cesare’s eyes slowly flicker open. He’s a great presence in the film, especially during his still quite shocking abduction of Jane. Like Veidt, he also gets a chance to subvert his character in the final minutes.

Although it might not feel as perfectly formed and fully gratifying as some of the other silent greats like Sunrise or The Passion of Joan of Arc, Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari remains a daring and hugely influential (even if was never fully copied) visionary masterpiece. It was possibly the first (successful) true art house feature, pushing the boundaries of what cinema could mean and how it could be presented. Don’t let that put off those who favour more mainstream fare though, as this is also unsettling and pacey enough to keep modern horror fans thoroughly entertained despite the lack of gore or action. So do yourself a favour and tick this off your ‘to watch’ list like I did. You’ll probably want to see it again too, which is more than can be said for a number of the textbook ‘required viewing’ titles.

Das Cabinet Des Dr. Caligari is out on 29th September in the UK on dual format Blu-Ray & DVD, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. I watched the Blu-Ray version and I must say, it looked spectacular. There’s a caption at the beginning stating that the first reel was originally lost so was reconstructed from various sources, but even this portion of the film still looks pretty damn good for its age. The rest of the film is astonishing though. The picture is so clear and detailed it practically feels as though you’re there on set. Colour tinting is kept as it is believed to have been intended and works effectively to my eye. The score comes through very nicely too, I watched the 5.1 mix, but you can also listen in stereo.

On top of a magnificent transfer, you get a whole host of special features too. One featurette is on the restoration process itself, which lets you fully appreciate the work that went into it. The end of this places the new restoration side by side with a previous one and an original print to show the difference, which is remarkable.

Also included is a new and exclusive audio commentary by historian David Kalat, which makes for a fascinating and detailed listen, Caligari: The Birth of Horror in the First World War, a new 52-minute documentary on the cultural and historical context of the film, You Must Become Caligari, a roughly made but informative and mildly quirky video essay by David Cairns, and a reissue trailer.

Plus, being a Masters of Cinema release, you get a hefty booklet which includes a collection of stills, an essay from Lotte H. Eisner, the original Variety review of the film and restoration notes and credits.

Blu-Ray Review: The Gang’s All Here

Director: Busby Berkeley
Screenplay: Walter Bullock
Starring: Alice Faye, Carmen Miranda, Phil Baker, James Ellison, Sheila Ryan, Charlotte Greenwood, Edward Everett Horton, Tony De Marco
Producer: William LeBaron
Country: USA
Running Time: 103 min
Year: 1943
BBFC Certificate: U

A lot of the gaps in my classic movie watching can be found in the musical genre. I’m a huge fan of music and a huge fan of films, but putting the two together doesn’t always gel for me. I love the more subversive, quirky examples of the genre (Frank Oz’s Little Shop of Horrors is a particular favourite), but I often struggle to get into the traditional entries. I guess a lot of it is down to the fact that the music isn’t always to my tastes, although I find myself drawn to show tunes from time to time as there were always plenty of them playing at home in my youth. The general campy ridiculousness of suddenly bursting into song mid scene was something that used to rub me up the wrong way though, especially as a teenager.

In recent years I’ve grown to appreciate the excesses of Hollywood in the golden ages though and I’d like to think my tastes have widened considerably. I finally popped two musical cherries early this year in fact, with my first Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers film, Top Hat, which I loved, and my first Busby Berkeley film, 42nd Street, which I enjoyed more than I thought I would too. These successful steps forward helped sway my decision to take a screener of one of Berkeley’s later films The Gang’s All Here, released as part of Eureka’s superlative Masters of Cinema series, and below are my thoughts on it.

I’m not sure I need a paragraph to sum up the plot of The Gang’s All Here. Somewhere in amongst 103 minutes of singing and dancing, army Sergeant Andy Mason (James Ellison), who is assumed to be marrying the attractive daughter (Sheila Ryan) of family friends the Potters, falls for showgirl Edie Allen (Alice Faye). Soon after, he is posted in the Pacific though. He wins a medal for his efforts before being sent back home and in the meantime, timed with his return, his father Andrew Mason Sr. (Eugene Pallette) talks Edie’s boss into rehearsing and performing their latest show at the Potters’. Of course this brings both of Andy’s sweethearts together under one roof – whatever shall he do?

He doesn’t have to do much to be honest, as Berkeley’s film is not concerned with plot so threads are barely tied up with a simple sentence or two. Flimsy doesn’t even begin to describe the narrative. It’s proof that it’s not just today’s blockbusters that are throwaway efforts primarily concerned with spectacle. In fact the scripts of today’s studio pictures seem like Shakespeare compared to this (in terms of plot at least – the dialogue is occasionally quite sharp).

But does this matter?

Well, no to be honest. So long as you realise from the offset that the film is basically just a string of dance numbers, you’re in for a good time. First and foremost are the dance sequences themselves and presumably that’s the only reason you’d pick up a Busby Berkeley movie anyway. There are a huge amount of them here, although they aren’t all quite as extravagant as you’d expect. Many of them are actually fairly subdued by the director’s standards, often busy and lively, but not always too elaborate, with a number of solo and duo performances thrown in too. The opening number, ‘Brazil’ (a song which I recognised from Terry Gilliam’s film of the same name), the famous ‘Lady in the Tutti Frutti Hat’ and the film’s finale are all prime examples of typical Berkeley excess though. ‘Tutti Frutti Hat’ in particular is full of crazy props (giant bananas), dozens of dancers creating shapes viewed overhead with the camera swooping all over the place on a crane. It’s utterly bonkers, but that’s the beauty of it.

Speaking of beauty, this was Berkeley’s first full colour film and by God does he make the most of it. It may be garish and quite tacky by today’s standards, but there’s so much bold and brazen use of colour that it’s a tremendous sight to behold and pops off the screen in this HD restoration.

The film has quite an infectious energy too. In between the dance numbers it’s largely farcical comedy with quick fire lines coming from the game cast. These lines can be hit and miss and a couple of the performers aren’t all that charismatic, but the lanky Charlotte Greenwood is always fun to watch. Also, Carmen Miranda is mildly offensive but lively enough as the Brazilian Dorita, the chief comic relief.

It is pure fluff of the highest order, taking flimsy to another level, but has plenty of music and dance to keep you entertained. There are only two ludicrously extravagant classic Berkeley numbers, but the less gaudy moments are still pretty showy by everyone else’s standards. It’s also one of the most colourful films I’ve ever seen so is a visual feast even if there’s very little beneath it’s glitzy veneer.

The Gang’s All Here is out on 22nd September in the UK on Blu-Ray, released by Eureka as part of their Masters of Cinema Series. This is proof why old classics are as well served by the Blu-Ray format as glossy modern releases, because this looks mightily good in High Definition. You need the rich palette available on Blu to capture the ludicrously colourful visuals on display here. The transfer is great too with only the slightest sign of age in one or two moments. I noticed a couple of slight grain issues in some of the most colourful sequences, but they were very minor glitches in an otherwise beautiful transfer. The soundtrack comes through nicely too which is especially important for a musical of course.

There are a nice handful of extras too. There’s a feature commentary with critics Glenn Kenny and Farran Smith Nehme alongside film historian Ed Hulse. There’s a 20 minute documentary, ‘Busby Berkeley: A Journey with a Star’, a deleted scene and the customary trailer. Plus of course you get the usual Masters of Cinema booklet, which are always worthwhile additions to the package.


Blu-Ray Review: The Four Feathers

Director: Zoltan Korda
Screenplay: R.C. Sherriff
Based on a Novel by: A.E.W. Mason
Starring: John Clements, Ralph Richardson, C. Aubrey Smith, June Duprez
Producer: Alexander Korda
Country: UK
Running Time: 115 min
Year: 1939
BBFC Certificate: U

War movies are a genre of film that I often think I don’t like, but when I actually pause for thought about it I realise I like quite a lot of them. Apocalypse Now is one of my all time favourite films, I always had a soft spot for Platoon too and Saving Private Ryan for instance, whilst slightly flawed at times, contains a couple of the most incredible set-pieces of all time. I think it’s more that the idea of war movies kind of bothers me. I’m quite a peaceful sort that avoids conflict whenever possible and the idea of glamorising war always bothers me. So the war movies that I generally don’t like are big bombastic ones that are just celebrating the heroes and ignoring the bigger picture. For that reason I often pass on watching a lot of the old war movies, particularly those made during times of conflict, because all that propaganda and bravado rubs me up the wrong way.

So when I saw The Four Feathers pop up on a press release I wasn’t quite sure whether to go for it. My dislike for the dated, simplistic values of dying for one’s country etc. was saying no, but the film’s classic pedigree and a recently blossoming fondness for old fashioned melodramatic filmmaking said yes. The latter won over of course, so I decided to take the film on.

For those that haven’t seen any of the iterations of A.E.W. Mason’s novel The Four Feathers (there are six listed on IMDB although three are from pre-1930’s and are probably little seen these days if available at all), it tells the story of Harry Faversham (John Clements). Born to a family of famous military men stretching back for centuries, Harry’s father forces him into the services from a youngster. However, when he gets engaged to Ethne Burroughs (June Duprez) he finally says enough is enough and hands in his resignation, just before he is due to ship out to Sudan to take on the Dervishes (as they are called in the film – according to Wikipedia these are people treading a Sufi Muslim ascetic path).

His comrades in arms aren’t happy about this and send him three white feathers, a symbol of cowardice, and the shame he can see in his fiancée’s eyes cause him to ask her to give him the important fourth feather. The marriage is called off and Harry shunned by all but the kindly Dr Sutton (Frederick Culley). However, Harry eventually confronts his fear and cowardice and decides to take extreme action. He poses as a mute Sengali tribesman, even getting literally branded as one. These are slaves to the Dervishes so he manages to get behind enemy lines with the intention of helping his friends in the Sudan. So begins the adventure which sees Harry go to extreme lengths to keep his friends alive and prove his worth as a soldier and a man.

The core values being put forward of there being great shame and pure cowardice in not wanting to fight and die for your country did bother me a little and the first half an hour in particular when this is being rammed down your throat hasn’t aged well. However, once Harry begins his mission of redemption, the film becomes an exciting, well paced action adventure.

This being an Alexander Korda production, directed by his brother Zoltan Korda, it’s a feast for the eyes. The costumes and set design are lavish and colourful when in Britain and seem impressively authentic when overseas. No expense is spared on using extras either and, when matched with some great location work, make for some wonderful sweeping wide shots, especially during the battle scenes. Speaking of which, these are generally pretty impressive. They’re not as realistic or gory as in modern war movies, but they’re rather violent for the time and very well mounted.

The more stagey scenes in the UK aren’t quite as mind-blowing, but they’re effective enough. I actually got a bit emotional when Harry’s friend John (Ralph Richardson) finally finds out who saved his life at the end. The performances can be quite ‘of their time’ with John’s violent bout of sun stroke proving almost comically hammy. He pulls off a reasonable blind act later on though as the exposure claims John’s eyesight. John Clements is a little bland in the lead role, but you do care for his character and want him to succeed.

So although dated, particularly in the first half hour, The Four Feathers becomes a grand old tale of adventure and heroism as it moves on, which makes for a rousingly entertaining watch.

The Four Feathers is out in on Blu-Ray on 1st September, released by Network. The film looks great in HD, with a stellar job done on restoration. There is very little damage to the print, the natural grain has been retained and the colours come through nicely, if slightly muted, but that’s probably how it should look as it was from the early days of colour film. The audio restoration is strong too, with Miklós Rózsa’s score coming through nicely.

For special features, as well as the usual trailer and image gallery, Network has provided a ‘Day at Denham’ newsreel film and an archive interview with Ralph Richardson.