The Four Feathers (1978 film)

The Four Feathers is a 1978 British television film adaptation of the classic novel The Four Feathers by novelist A.E.W. Mason. Directed by Don Sharp, this version starred Beau Bridges, Robert Powell, Simon Ward and Jane Seymour, and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. It follows the novel almost exactly, and response to the film was very positive.

The Four Feathers
DVD cover
GenreAdventure
Drama
Romance
War
Based onThe Four Feathers
1902 novel
by A. E. W. Mason
Written byGerald Di Pego
Directed byDon Sharp
StarringBeau Bridges
Jane Seymour
Robert Powell
Simon Ward
Harry Andrews
Music byAllyn Ferguson
Country of originUnited Kingdom
Original language(s)English
Production
Executive producer(s)Robert D. Cardona
Producer(s)Norman Rosemont
Bruce Sharman (associate producer)
Production location(s)Wiltshire, England
Hampshire, England
Almeria, Spain
CinematographyJohn Coquillon
Editor(s)Eric Boyd-Perkins
Running time100 minutes
Production company(s)Norman Rosemont Productions
Trident Films
DistributorNBC
Release
Original networkNBC
Original releaseJanuary 1, 1978 (US TV)
February 1978 (UK cinemas)[1]

Plot

Lieutenant Harry Faversham (Beau Bridges) is the latest scion of a prominent military family. A deeply sensitive boy, he is much traumatised by the early death of his kind-hearted mother. Though he never wants to be a soldier, he feels obliged to join the army. Though no coward (as he will later show), he has no interest in an army career. Having met and become engaged to Ethne, he decides to resign his commission. The fact that war in the Sudan is coming is irrelevant to this decision. During their engagement ball on the final day of his army career, Faversham receives telegrammes summoning him and three of his brother officers (Durrance, Willoughby and Trench) back to the regiment prior to being sent to the Sudan. As determined as ever to leave the army, Faversham burns the telegrammes so that he can pretend not to have been summoned back to the regiment before his commission expires. Willoughby sees him burning papers and notices that he is embarrassed to have been taken by surprise in doing so. On later realising that Faversham was burning the telegrammes from the army, Willoughby assumes that Faversham has done so because he is afraid of going to the Sudan. Durrance, Willoughby and Trench then send Faversham three white feathers, betokening cowardice, and turn their backs on him. When Faversham tries to explain to Ethne what has happened, she also reaches the same mistaken conclusion and gives him a fourth white feather. Following his regiment's deployment, Faversham realizes he has made a grave mistake and, having toyed with suicide, finally resolves to redeem his honour.

Disguising himself as an Arab, Faversham makes his way to the Sudan determined to perform three acts of courage that will persuade each of his former comrades to take back their white feathers. He learns of an impending attack on the regiment, and tries to make it in time to save them. During the battle, his closest friend Captain Jack Durrance (Powell) becomes engaged in close combat, during which he is blinded when a black-powder rifle goes off next to his face. Faversham attacks the Arabs who surround Durrance, and rescues him as he staggers blindly. In the end, Faversham is able to help his regiment, and redeem his honour.

Cast

Production

The film was produced by Norman Rosemont, who specialised in making adaptations of classic tales for television. He had recently made The Man in the Iron Mask, Captains Courageous and The Count of Monte Cristo. The films would be made for over $1 million which was more than US networks would pay for them, but they could be released theatrically overseas. "The great classic authors wrote good stories with strong plots about people you could care for," said Rosemont. "And filming them at length - usually three hours - you can get most of the plot in."[2]

The Four Feathers was, like Captains Courageous, a Bell special for the ABC (i.e. it was sponsored by Bell Systems.[3]

Norman Rosemont normally filmed works in the public domain but he had to pay London Films $150,000 for the rights to Four Feathers.[2]

Part of the money was provided by Trident Films, an off-shot of Trident Television, a Leeds based regional television group.[4]

The casting of Powell and Bridges was announced in July 1977.[5] Bridges had a dialect coach, Robert Easton, to help him with the accent.[6]

Filming started in August 1977 and took place in England and Spain. The Duke of Wellington's estate was used for English scenes. The desert sequences were shot in Almeria, Spain over three weeks. During the Spanish part of filming, Powell says the unit was affected by sandstorms. "Everyone wore surgical masks ans goggles and was covered from head to foot , except the bloody actors," said Powell.[7]

Reception

Critical

The Los Angeles Times praised it as "a large, sumptuous movie in the grand, romantic tradition... staged with fine sweep and power by Don Sharp from a meticulous adaptation".[8] The Christian Science Monitor called it "rollicking entertainment."[9]

A New York Times reviewer wrote: "Mr. Bridges is quite effective as the bearded adventurer, and the action scenes are jolly good, if you will. 'Four Feathers' may possibly be the bloodiest pacifist lesson ever devised, but its grand posturing and silly sentiments work nicely."[10]

The Monthly Film Bulletin called it "a museum piece, brought up from the vaults, dusted down and carefully mounted."[11]

Ratings

It was the 28th highest rated show of the week on American television.[12]

References

  1. TRAILER: Theatre The Guardian 25 Feb 1978: 13.
  2. Why Norman Rosemont Likes to Film the Classics: Norman Rosemont's TV Films By DAVID LEWIN. New York Times 23 Nov 1980: D35.
  3. The Rosemont Special: Classic Tales for TV Smith, Cecil. Los Angeles Times 31 July 1977: o53.
  4. Advertising sales at Trident boosts profit The Irish Times (1921-Current File); Dublin, Ireland [Dublin, Ireland]18 Jan 1978: 12.
  5. INSIDE TV: A Laundering for ABC's Soap Margulies, Lee. Los Angeles Times 22 July 1977: 32.
  6. Buck, Jerry (30 December 1977). "Tube Talk: Beau Bridges at the Four Feathers Remake". The Lewiston Daily Sun. p. 10.
  7. Cecil Smith (1 January 1978). "Robert Powell: From Christ To Cad". Los Angeles Times.
  8. Cecil Smith (2 January 1978). "TV Review: 'Four Feathers' in Grand Tradition". Los Angeles Times.
  9. New Year's specials: an uneven lineup: The Christian Science Monitor 30 Dec 1977: 22.
  10. TV: Celebrating New Year's, 'Sheba' Comes Back, Other Dramas, by John J. O'Connor. New York Times 30 Dec 1977: A22.
  11. FOUR FEATHERS, The Monthly Film Bulletin; London Vol. 45, Iss. 528, (Jan 1, 1978): 46.
  12. CBS Gets a Win in the Nielsen Bowl Los Angeles Times 5 Jan 1978: f18.
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