Making the Grades
Harry Faversham (John Clements) has a secret. Ever since the supper party for his fifteenth birthday, he has been haunted by the offhanded tales of brutality related by his father's windbag war buddies. Descending from a long line of exemplary servicemen, the sensitive lad with a penchant for poetry knows he is a disappointment to the family's good name.
Although he submissively attends the best military schools money can buy, the death of his father and the calling of his regiment into active duty combine to give the now twenty-five-year-old man the motivation to tender his resignation. Sweeping aside his excesses of estate obligations, Harry's best friends Peter (Donald Gray), John (Ralph Richardson), Arthur (Jack Allen), and his fiance Ethne (June Duprez) are convinced he is acting out of fear. With disgust for his decision, each gives him a white feather-- the symbol of a coward.
After his comrades depart for the conflict in the Sudan, the British citizen determines to reclaim his honor. Disguising himself as an African native (which includes having his forehead branded), he heads into the desert hoping to meet up with his former detachment. But fate complicates his mission with attacks by the opposing Dervishes, heat stroke, thirst, whippings, imprisonment, and a sentence to hard labor.
Based on the classic adventure novel by A.E.W. Mason, The Four Feathers has been adapted for the silver screen several times. This version was made in 1939, a mere forty years after the real Lord Kitchener's campaign, and assumes the audience has some familiarity with the historical facts. The movie's sentimental story (with a decidedly British slant) concentrates on Harry's heroic efforts to prove he isn't as yellow as his chums believe him to be.
While battle scenes are abundant, gore is not. The dead and injured simply fall over and lie about. With few content concerns for parents (other than a romanticized depiction of war) the film uses the various perilous situations the characters find themselves in to illustrate the importance of having courage and living up to the best you can be.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Four Feathers (1939).
Do you feel Harry’s decision to go behind enemy lines was motivated by true bravery or pride? Of the characters depicted in this movie, who do you feel showed the most courage?
Why was it important for Harry to examine the real reasons why he resigned his post? What is the danger of lying to one’s self?