Khartoum (1966)

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Released 8-Jun-2004

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Theatrical Trailer
Rating ?
Year Of Production 1966
Running Time 130:09
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (67:46) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Basil Dearden
Eliot Elisofon

Starring Charlton Heston
Laurence Olivier
Richard Johnson
Ralph Richardson
Alexander Knox
Johnny Sekka
Michael Hordern
Zia Mohyeddin
Marne Maitland
Nigel Green
Hugh Williams
Ralph Michael
Douglas Wilmer
Case ?
RPI $19.95 Music Frank Cordell

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    North Africa, 1884. The natives are restless. The Mahdi, self-proclaimed chosen one of the Muslim faith, has gathered together a large band of followers in Sudan. An army of natives under General Hicks is massacred by the Mahdi's forces. Back in England, Prime Minister Gladstone (Ralph Richardson) does not want to commit British troops to the area, fearing another massacre like the recent defeat of the Army at Isandlwana in South Africa. Instead, to appease the public he sends the popular General Charles "Chinese" Gordon (Charlton Heston), hero of the Opium Wars and former Governor of Sudan, to single-handedly evacuate the Egyptian and European population from Khartoum, figuring that if he succeeds it will reflect well on the government, and if he fails it will reflect badly on Gordon.

    Gordon is a highly religious man and charismatic as well. Sent with Colonel Stewart (Richard Johnson) along to spy on him for the government, Gordon is received as a saviour in Khartoum, but the city is already surrounded and cut-off by the Mahdi (Laurence Olivier). Gordon builds a moat around the city, and they have supplies for months, but when the level of the Nile has its seasonal drop, the city will be unprotected. The Mahdi will not allow the Egyptians to be evacuated, seeking to massacre them and thereby send a message to the Islamic world. Will the British send an army to relieve Khartoum, or will the Mahdi massacre all non-believers in sight? You will have to watch this to find out, or at least have a look in the history books.

    Approach this film expecting an epic on the scale of Lawrence of Arabia or Ben-Hur, and you may be disappointed. Expect a political thriller with not a lot of action but a lot of talk, and you may be satisfied. Despite the epic nature of the subject, the excellent widescreen location photography and the presence of any number of first rank actors, the film fails to deliver as a spectacle, due to the talky script and lack of any real action. The film does a very good job of discussing and showing the political side of the Khartoum affair, but given that one side has an army and the other does not, there is little opportunity for anything but talk. This film might have been better if it was a bit more cerebral, as little is made of the religious differences between the two devout protagonists.

    In order to flesh out the conflict between Gordon and the Mahdi, they meet on screen twice, though in real life they never met. While most of the film is accurate, Gordon was apparently a small man, unlike the tall and vigorous Heston, and also spoke with an English accent, not a poor imitation of one. And when Olivier first opens his mouth, I'm not sure if he is giving an accurate rendition of 19th century Arabic speech or just imitating the waiter at the local Pakistani restaurant. It has been accurately pointed out that when he pronounces the name of the eponymous city, it sounds as though he is about to spit.

    If you don't expect heroics and derring-do, this is actually quite a good film. The acting is good even if the accents are off, and Heston has rarely been better. The film looks superb, with lovely widescreen photography, and the score is excellent. This typically near-barebones MGM release has a good transfer and is reasonably inexpensive, so this might be worth buying if the content appeals.

    The transfer includes the overture, intermission, entr'acte and exit music as per the original presentation, a nice touch.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The film was shot in SuperPanavision, which has an aspect ratio of 2.75:1, but this release seems to be plain old Panavision, which is 2.35:1. The film was shown in the wider format in Cinerama venues, though it is not an amalgam of three print elements as most Cinerama releases were (for example How the West Was Won). It was shown theatrically at 2.35:1 as well, which makes the aspect ratio on this disc somewhat authentic. It would have been nice to have the wider ratio though.

    While the film elements used in this transfer have not been restored, they were in very good condition and as a consequence the video image is very clear and sharp, with a lot of detail visible. Shadow detail is also good.

    Colour too is excellent, with some bright and vivid shades. Reds are very rich without any colour bleeding. Blacks are dark and there is no sign of low level noise. Whites are quite pure.

    There is a lot of aliasing in this transfer. There are only a couple of sequences where the effect is severe, such as the moving door at 22:04. The rest of the time the effect is minor, but it occurs with annoying frequency throughout the film. There are also several instances of the moire effect, for example at 31:52.

    There are some film artefacts present, mainly small white spots, and sometimes there is a flurry of them. Occasionally there is a larger fleck or coloured mark. This is a pity as the film looks excellent otherwise.

    Subtitles are provided in large white lettering. They are clear and match the dialogue, though I thought that they were a little large. For the most part they are shown below the bottom of the frame, over the so-called "black bar", though if they extend to two lines they appear across the image.

    This is an RSDL-formatted disc with the layer change placed at 67:46. It occurs mid-scene and as such is noticeable, though not overly disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    The film has several audio tracks, the default being English Dolby Digital 2.0, with a choice of four alternative languages.

    The original stereo track is included, and for the most part it sounds very good. Dialogue is clear, though a little harsh-sounding at times. Otherwise the audio sounds top notch, with rich and deep bass, and a believable soundstage across the front. Surround encoding is provided, and provides directional effects and music from the rear channels, with some rumbling from the subwoofer. This is achieved though at the expense of loss of body from the main speakers, with the soundstage not sounding quite as wide as in the stereo mix.

    There is an excellent music score by Frank Cordell, possibly the best aspect of the film. When listening to the overture I thought that it might have been by William Walton, and it certainly sounds as if he was an influence. Cordell weaves patriotic themes and marching tunes into the score and it is well conveyed by the audio transfer.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Theatrical Trailer (2:06)

    This original trailer is in 2.35:1 and is 16x9 enhanced, and gives a pretty good account of the film without giving too much away. The video is quite clear and sharp, but there are a lot more film artefacts than in the main feature.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The UK Region 2 release appears to be identical to the Region 4.

    The US Region 1 release differs slightly. Instead of five separate soundtracks, there are just two, English and Spanish, but both are Dolby Digital 3.0 tracks, making use of the centre and main speakers. Reviews of the English tracks are positive, but I do not think that this is sufficient to recommend the Region 1 ahead of the Region 4.


    A reasonably good film with an excellent video and audio transfer.

    Just a trailer as an extra.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Saturday, August 21, 2004
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplaySony 86CM Trinitron Wega KVHR36M31. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD player, Dolby Digital, dts and DVD-Audio. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES
SpeakersMain: Tannoy Revolution R3; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Richter Harlequin; Subwoofer: JBL SUB175

Other Reviews NONE
Comments (Add)
Lawrence Olivier was superb -
This release is cut -