Korda's production delivers the tale in lavish style. A large-scale Technicolor picture, The Four Feathers was a monumental shoot in its day that extended from its London studio lot to location footage in Africa. Employing its own veritable army of extras, the battle sequences are every bit as big in scope as the production merits. Although the running time is kept brisk, at just under two hours, the film still feels epic in scope. It is the British equivalent of the Hollywood epic, and matches the effort in both substance and style. Korda's deft direction is aided by lush cinematography and production design. And although the acting can feel overly formal in delivery at times, it's a reflection of the style of the times. Some excellent performances by Richardson and C. Aubrey Smith - as the retired general, and father of Faversham's fiance - enliven the film, and the engaging story help to secure classic status for The Four Feathers.
Film restoration efforts are tricky business, and I hate to judge harshly a craft of which I have only a cursory understanding. However, Criterion have provided us numerous prior examples of excellent classic film restorations, including many from a similar time period, and so my comments are in light of both the present film and these other reference points.
The Four Feathers starts off on a shaky foot, with an opening credit sequence that reveals a surprising amount of debris left on the print. Granted, I'm sure it's vastly improved over the original sources used, but we're a bit spoiled with pristine Criterion transfers, and this one doesn't exactly raise the bar. Overall color is rich and engaging, and the Technicolor presentation is handsomely displayed, even with the characteristic overly red tint in many sections. However, there are some color separation anomalies that peak through, as well as overall sections that just feel sharper than others. But again, for a seventy-plus year old film, we should hardly be expecting a trouble-free print. In the end, this is a good encoding but not one of Criterion's best (it's not Red Shoes good). Perhaps some of its own source issues keep it from coming across as strong.