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Khartoum

While the 1966 Khartoum may be a minor entry into the big-budget military epics Hollywood became so enamored of in the '50s and '60s, it actually has more historical relevance today than it did at the time, particularly in light of long-standing conflicts between wealthy colonial powers and indigenous Muslim populations — a political issue that isn't about to disappear from current headlines anytime soon. Charlton Heston stars as Charles George "G.G" Gordon, a Major General in the British Army who built his reputation during the Taiping Rebellion in China (1850-64) and then become governor of Egyptian Sudan, where he battled the local slave-traders. But after leaving Sudan for other assignments, he finds himself drawn back once again as the British must contend with a local rebellion led by the charismatic Islamic leader Muhammad Ahmad — a.k.a. "The Mahdi" — who is committed to fighting all infidels, believing he is God's chosen instrument of war. The British government is reluctant to send the headstrong Gordon to Sudan, but it is necessary to have an experienced commander reach the city of Khartoum and evacuate the garrison. However, arriving in Africa, Gordon refuses to follow his superiors' orders, demanding the British send reinforcements so he can defeat The Mahdi and restore order to a nation and a people he holds dear. Khartoum was not the box-office success that was hoped for upon release, although it does have all the right ingredients — location shooting in Africa, two big-name stars, and plenty of battle scenes. However, the plot never quite reaches the same pitch as the action sequences, with Heston playing Gen. Gordon as a noble (if slightly over-committed) military man — a far cry from the unhinged enigma of Peter O'Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. He also sounds like nothing so much as Chuck Heston with a fake English accent. Olivier is somewhat more interesting, but in a role that finds him literally shrouded in dark makeup — it's essentially just a curio in his long line of notable screen appearances. Where Khartoum shines are the battles, all helmed by second-unit director Yakima Canutt, who also handled the chariot race in Ben-Hur. Clocking in at just over two hours, it's sure to please folks looking for a good old-fashioned adventure. MGM's DVD release of Khartoum features a strong anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) of the Cinerama film, which originally was projected at 2.75:1 on the curved-screen format. Audio is in a pleasant Dolby 2.0 Surround, and the original overture and intermission music are included. Trailer, keep-case.
—JJB



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