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February 9, 2014

Movie Review: Khartoum (Blu-ray, Twilight Time)

Reviewed by Mike Heenan

By the mid 1960’s, the days of the epic roadshow were on its way out the doors of cinemas.  Mutli-plex cinemas were on the horizon, and 3 hour epics with intermissions no longer being show in large single screen cinemas for weeks on end.  Charlton Heston was the star of many epic films, such as Ben Hur, Ten Commandments, The Agony and Ecstasy, and Wayne’s World 2.  It is fitting to have him take the title role in Khartoum, an Ultra Panavision epic shot on location throughout Egypt.

Heston is Charles Gordon, a British General who is sent to try to evacuate the Egyptians from Sudan.  The Egyptians are under attack from Muslim leader The Mahdi, played by a shoe-polish-for-makeup Laurence Olivier.  Gordon is somewhat of a folk hero to the Egyptians in Sudan, having gotten rid of slavery in the past.  He accepts the assignment and rallies the troops to his side.  He helps evacuate some of the Europeans, but then decides to defend the city instead of initiating the full evacuation. The British are reluctant to send support but eventually do so, but help comes too late after an epic battle between Gordon and the Mahdi.

There are many epic battle scenes including the opening one where 10,000 British troops are massacred.  All actors involved are at the top of their game, and even Laurence Olivier’s accent and aforementioned shoe polish makeup gets a pass.  Heston is Heston. Sometimes he can be a little stiff compared to modern actors, but he was Moses, Ben Hur, and some gas station attendant in Wayne’s World 2 (seriously, he elevated that film higher than anyone else). I researched the movie a bit and apparently it’s somewhat accurate with some liberties taken, including the scene between Gordon and the Mahdi which never occurred in real life but was simply added for dramatic tension.

The transfer is nothing short of spectacular, with no edge enhancement and acceptable levels of grain.   The audio is also pleasing as well with a 2.0 soundtrack that sounds great during battle scenes and you can clearly hear dialogue during low key scenes.  Keep in mind this film was made long before Michael Bay started to assault our ear drums with banal dialogue and deafening explosions.  Also included on the disc is an isolated score track, as well as a commentary with film historians Lem Dobbs, Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman.  Lastly, included is the original theatrical trailer in high definition which was a nice treat.

This disc comes highly recommended from this reviewer.  If you’re a fan of the big 50s and 60s epics, you won’t regret your purchase.

Pick up the limited edition (3000 units) of Twilight Time's Blu-ray release of Khartoum directly from Screen Archives while supplies last.

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