The Four Feathers (1939) – A Classic Movie Review

This 1939 British version of the story stars John Clements as Harry Faversham a young Englishman whose family has a centuries old tradition of military service but who himself fears the reality of war.  He is engaged to Ethne Burroughs daughter of retired General Burroughs and sister to Peter Burroughs his best friend and comrade in the Royal North Surrey Regiment of the British Army.  Ralph Richardson plays Captain John Durrance, Faversham’s rival for Ethne’s love and the main cast is rounded out by Jack Allen as Lieutenant Willoughby.

As the marriage approaches the British Army is about to send an expedition from Egypt to Sudan to reconquer Khartoum ten years after the Mahdi had captured it from General Gordon.  The Royal North Surrey Regiment is called up for service but Faversham resigns his commission to avoid fighting.  His three friends send him a package that consists of a box with three white feathers attached to cards with each of their names.  When he arrives at Ethne’s home her father will not even speak to him and because of Ethne’s sorrowful reaction to his actions he takes a white feather from her fan and tells her he will add it as her contribution to his collection of white feathers.

Now feeling himself to be the coward that his friends have declared him he visits his father’s old friend Dr Sutton and works through his feelings with this mentor and decides that he must restore his honor by going to Sudan and proving himself.  But of course, he’s no longer in the British Army so he goes to Egypt and recruits the help of an Egyptian friend of Dr. Sutton who disguises him as a native.  But to hide his lack of knowledge of Arabic he is branded on the forehead to appear as one of the mute Sangali tribe.  In this guise he travels to Sudan and joins the work gang that is helping to transport the British Army under Kitchener to Khartoum.  And he is just in time to save Captain John Durrance from death when his company is surrounded by the Mahdi’s army during a diversionary action that the British planned to allow the bulk of their army to escape a battle at the enemy’s stronghold.

Durrance has suffered a heat stroke and is now blind.  When his position is being overrun Faversham is able to save his life although both of them are wounded and left for dead by the Mahdi’s men.  Burroughs and Willoughby are captured and taken back to Khartoum for imprisonment or worse.

Faversham continues the impersonation of a mute while he transports Durrance across the desert back to the British territory and medical help.  Before escaping from the British Faversham manages to place the feather that Durrance gave him back in Durrance’s wallet.

Now Faversham travels to Khartoum and manages to give his two friends a file that they can use to saw through their shackles in prison.  He ends up being discovered as an Englishman by the Mahdi and tortured for information.  He is thrown into the prison with his friends.  He reveals himself to his friends and tells them his plan.  If the Mahdi is beaten by Kitchener in battle, he is likely to retreat back to Khartoum and kill his prisoners before the British can take the town and free them.  So, Faversham’s plan is to use the file to free as many of the prisoners as possible and wait until the Mahdi’s army sets out for battle then overwhelm the few guards and take possession of the arsenal building that will provide them with the weapons and walls they need to survive until the British take the town.

Things work as Faversham expects until the British army follows the Mahdi’s army and begins bombarding the arsenal.  To save themselves from being blown to bits they manage to find an old British flag from the former regime and raise it over the arsenal just in time to save their lives.

Returning to England with his comrades Faversham finds himself forgiven his former cowardice and indeed a hero.  But most importantly his fiancée revives her plan to marry him.

The movie has several things going for it.  It was filmed on location in the places depicted in the story.  The cinematography is impressive and the production was able to enlist British soldiers in period costumes to film the battle scenes.  Large forces of men on camels and horses also adds drama to these scenes.  The story is highly improbable but the action is enjoyable and the characters are interesting.  One standout is C. Aubrey Smith’s portrayal of General Burroughs.  In several scenes Burrough’s laments the present-day army’s lack of toughness.  In each case he uses food found on a banquet table to reenact the Crimean War, Battle of Balaclava.  By the end of the movie, to the relief of the audience, Faversham is in a position to finally shut up his prospective father-in-law by correcting his mistaken narrative of how Burroughs’s actually began the famous charge.  I like these old tales from the British Empire.  They are filled with adventure and the ethos of the time.  Highly recommended for fans of high adventure.

Kim (1950) – A Movie Review

I remember finding a copy of the novel Kim in my home when I was a kid.  Not knowing much about colonial India at the time some of the references were obscure to me.  But the story was engaging.  Many years later I saw the motion picture and enjoyed the story all over again.  Errol Flynn and Dean Stockwell carry most of this movie on their shoulders with Stockwell as the title character, an orphan son of a British soldier living as a native boy in the streets of India and Flynn as a spy for the British Intelligence Office known as Mahbub Ali, The Red Beard.  And in the Flynn’s affable relationship with the boy, it reminds me of his performance in the 1937 movie “The Prince and the Pauper” where his character befriends and ultimately saves the Prince of Wales from his misadventures.

This story is a cloak and dagger spy story of the “The Great Game” between England and Russia in Asia and also a coming-of-age story for the boy.  He discovers his roots and makes some valuable friends.  He learns different lessons about himself from sources as different as a Tibetan Lama and a British Intelligence Officer.

And along the way he shows himself to be brave, resourceful and reliable to all those he befriends.  The story is one of Kipling’s best and has a fantasy feel to it that belies the 19th century time frame it exists in.  Stockwell and Flynn and the supporting cast are excellent in this tale and it is a throwback to the 1930s and 40s when movies of this sort were more common.  And the portrayal of life in colonial India with Europeans enjoying their white privilege would be completely unacceptable to woke viewers so of course knowing it would outrage those losers makes it that much more amusing to watch.

Read the book if you haven’t and then watch the movie.  Both are highly recommended.

Gunga Din – An OCF Classic Movie Review

“…

So I’ll meet ’im later on

At the place where ’e is gone—

Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.

’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals

Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,

An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!

Yes, Din! Din! Din!

You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!

Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,

By the livin’ Gawd that made you,

You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”

(Gunga Din by Rudyard Kipling)

 

Kipling’s poem celebrates the courage and loyalty of Indian water bearer Gunga Din.  The 1939 film builds on the bare sketch of the poem and adds in the British soldiers from Kipling’s Soldiers Three stories.  Cary Grant, Victor McLaglen and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. portray Sergeants Cutter, MacChesney and Ballantine.  The three sergeants are comedic partners in crime constantly in trouble for their off-duty brawling and ridiculous escapades.  But they are also ferociously courageous and loyal to the British Army to their core.  And attached to the regiment that the sergeants serve in is the regimental bhisti (or water carrier), Gunga Din.  Gunga Din is also a minor partner in the sergeants’ syndicate.  He convinces Cutter that they can cart off a temple made of solid gold that’s just there for the taking.  Superimpose the sub-plot of Ballantine’s upcoming nuptials as a threat to the triumvirate and then top the whole thing off with a Thuggee Mutiny planning to drive the British out of India.

Sam Jaffe plays Gunga Din and along with the three co-stars they chew up the scenery and move the plot along smartly.  By the climax we find out why Gunga Din is a better man they are.  And we get to see the British Army (or the Hollywood version of it) unleashed on the Thugs.

The movie features a goodly amount of action adventure scenes but for me the stand out is the comedy.  The exchanges between Cary Grant (featuring his most over the top cockney accent) and Victor McLaglen are very funny and make me wish they had co-starred in other action comedies.

It goes without saying that the movie could never be made today.  It features language and plot elements that would be labelled, racist, sexist, colonialist and white supremacist.  And if they got around to it, I’m sure the critics could come up with an angle that made it homophobic and transphobic too.  But it is solid entertainment that creates a comedy adventure out of the reality of the British Raj.  Of course, this is a Hollywood fantasy version of the Raj.  In this version, the British Army is powerful and the generals are competent and all the good Indians are loyal subjects of the Queen-Empress and all the bad Indians are disloyal, murderous followers of Kali, the goddess of death.  In this version the non-commissioned officers are anxious to re-enlist every 11 years without fail.  But it’s got fight scenes, battle scenes, comedy, pathos, dynamite tossing and even an elephant-based jail break.  What else could anybody ask for.

4MAR2018 – Quote of the Day

(I should just have a Kipling Corner but, anyway, here is a poem he wrote for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.  And you could tell that he knew that sitting at the summit of the British Empire’s power the coming fall would be calamitous.  Looking at where things are now it is just as timely today as it was in 1897).

 

Recessional

By Rudyard Kipling (1897)

 

God of our fathers, known of old,

Lord of our far-flung battle-line,

Beneath whose awful Hand we hold

Dominion over palm and pine—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

The tumult and the shouting dies;

The Captains and the Kings depart:

Still stands Thine ancient sacrifice,

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

Far-called, our navies melt away;

On dune and headland sinks the fire:

Lo, all our pomp of yesterday

Is one with Nineveh and Tyre!

Judge of the Nations, spare us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

If, drunk with sight of power, we loose

Wild tongues that have not Thee in awe,

Such boastings as the Gentiles use,

Or lesser breeds without the Law—

Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet,

Lest we forget—lest we forget!

 

For heathen heart that puts her trust

In reeking tube and iron shard,

All valiant dust that builds on dust,

And guarding, calls not Thee to guard,

For frantic boast and foolish word—

Thy mercy on Thy People, Lord!

 

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24FEB2018 – Quote of the Day

(I thought of excerpting this poem but I like it and Kipling too much to break it up.  So enjoy it in its entirety.)

Gunga Din  (by Rudyard Kipling)

You may talk o’ gin and beer
When you’re quartered safe out ’ere,
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;
But when it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ’im that’s got it.
Now in Injia’s sunny clime,
Where I used to spend my time
A-servin’ of ’Er Majesty the Queen,
Of all them blackfaced crew
The finest man I knew
Was our regimental bhisti, Gunga Din,
He was ‘Din! Din! Din!
‘You limpin’ lump o’ brick-dust, Gunga Din!
‘Hi! Slippy hitherao
‘Water, get it! Panee lao,
‘You squidgy-nosed old idol, Gunga Din.’

The uniform ’e wore
Was nothin’ much before,
An’ rather less than ’arf o’ that be’ind,
For a piece o’ twisty rag
An’ a goatskin water-bag
Was all the field-equipment ’e could find.
When the sweatin’ troop-train lay
In a sidin’ through the day,
Where the ’eat would make your bloomin’ eyebrows crawl,
We shouted ‘Harry By!’
Till our throats were bricky-dry,
Then we wopped ’im ’cause ’e couldn’t serve us all.
It was ‘Din! Din! Din!
‘You ’eathen, where the mischief ’ave you been?
‘You put some juldee in it
‘Or I’ll marrow you this minute
‘If you don’t fill up my helmet, Gunga Din!’

’E would dot an’ carry one
Till the longest day was done;
An’ ’e didn’t seem to know the use o’ fear.
If we charged or broke or cut,
You could bet your bloomin’ nut,
’E’d be waitin’ fifty paces right flank rear.
With ’is mussick on ’is back,
’E would skip with our attack,
An’ watch us till the bugles made ‘Retire,’
An’ for all ’is dirty ’ide
’E was white, clear white, inside
When ’e went to tend the wounded under fire!
It was ‘Din! Din! Din!’
With the bullets kickin’ dust-spots on the green.
When the cartridges ran out,
You could hear the front-ranks shout,
‘Hi! ammunition-mules an’ Gunga Din!’

I shan’t forgit the night
When I dropped be’ind the fight
With a bullet where my belt-plate should ’a’ been.
I was chokin’ mad with thirst,
An’ the man that spied me first
Was our good old grinnin’, gruntin’ Gunga Din.
’E lifted up my ’ead,
An’ he plugged me where I bled,
An’ ’e guv me ’arf-a-pint o’ water green.
It was crawlin’ and it stunk,
But of all the drinks I’ve drunk,
I’m gratefullest to one from Gunga Din.
It was ‘Din! Din! Din!
‘’Ere’s a beggar with a bullet through ’is spleen;
‘’E’s chawin’ up the ground,
‘An’ ’e’s kickin’ all around:
‘For Gawd’s sake git the water, Gunga Din!’

’E carried me away
To where a dooli lay,
An’ a bullet come an’ drilled the beggar clean.
’E put me safe inside,
An’ just before ’e died,
‘I ’ope you liked your drink,’ sez Gunga Din.
So I’ll meet ’im later on
At the place where ’e is gone—
Where it’s always double drill and no canteen.
’E’ll be squattin’ on the coals
Givin’ drink to poor damned souls,
An’ I’ll get a swig in hell from Gunga Din!
Yes, Din! Din! Din!
You Lazarushian-leather Gunga Din!
Though I’ve belted you and flayed you,
By the livin’ Gawd that made you,
You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!

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