Friday, September 14, 2007

Son of Fury

“Son of Fury” (1942) is a rousing adventure film in the best tradition of Hollywood’s Golden Age. It was a real treat to re-discover it as part of the new DVD collection of Tyrone Power films.

Set in the latter half of the 18th Century, “Son of Fury” tells the story of Benjamin Blake (Roddy McDowell) who is cheated out of his inheritance by his uncle (a sneering George Sanders) who makes Benjamin his bond servant. Roddy grows up to be Tyrone Power, who escapes to the South Seas where he finds a treasure bed of pearls and an even greater treasure (Gene Tierney in a sarong). Newly wealthy, he returns to England to reclaim his estate.

There’s nary a wasted moment in the film, which clocks in at 98 minutes. It’s wonderfully escapist movie viewing, and shows why Tyrone Power was 20th Century Fox’s prime male box office star. As I’ve noted before, he always looks good in costume pictures, though I suspect he was somewhat disdainful of them. (Power’s best performance is in the harrowing “Nightmare Alley” (1947) with Power as a carny worker turned scam artist. It’s a wonderful film but was a huge box office bust, so 20th Century Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck put Power back in the adventure films which were consistently successful.)

Like so many classics from the 1930s and 1940s, the supporting cast is exceptionally strong. Just take a look at this who’s who of Golden Age character actors who appear in “Son of Fury”: Elsa Lanchester, John Carradine, Harry Davenport, Dudley Digges (who steals every scene he’s in as the lawyer Bartholomew Pratt), Halliwell Hobbes, Arthur Hohl, Pedro de Cordova, Lester Matthews, Dennis Hoey (Inspector Lestrade from the Universal Sherlock Holmes films) and as a judge, Robert Greig. A few postings ago I wrote about Greig’s butler role in “Trouble in Paradise” so it was nice to see him in a different role than his typical servant portrayal.

The film also marks the final screen appearance of Frances Farmer in the supporting role of Sander’s daughter who Benjamin has a romance with. Farmer was one of the most promising actresses of her generation, until alcoholism and mental health issues put a halt to her career.

In the other female role, Gene Tierney is about as Polynesian as I am, but she’s so gorgeous we don’t mind. Many of the South Seas scenes are accompanied by another lush Alfred Newman score, with one of those unforgettable island melodies that he seemingly wrote in his sleep.

When the film was released in 1942, the South Seas scenes were sepia tinted. (Much like the Caribbean scenes in Errol Flynn’s “The Sea Hawk” two years previously). When the film was successfully re-issued over the years the sepia tints were gone. I was hoping when the DVD was announced that the sepia tinting would be re-instated but it was not to be. That’s OK, because the transfer on the film is exquisite.

The film was directed by John Cromwell (father of the actor James Cromwell) and he’s woefully underrated as a director. I was looking at his filmography and I was surprised to see how many of his films are really first rate. My favorite film of his is the sublime 1937 version of “The Prisoner of Zenda” with Ronald Colman and Madeline Carroll. It’s a shame that these two films are his only entries in the swashbuckling field, as these films show he was able to bring out the best in this type of material.

Rating for “Son of Fury”: Three stars.

1 comment:

Mrs. R said...

I am so happy to see a mention of "Son of Fury" - I just saw it in Los Angeles in June on the big screen, courtesy of American Cinematecheque. It was great fun. I think the DVD collection is excellent, too.