Saturday, December 1, 2012

Son of Fury (1942)

Director: John Cromwell                         Writer: Philip Dunne
Film Score: Alfred Newman                    Cinematography: Arthur Miller
Starring: Tyrone Power, Gene Tierney, George Sanders and Roddy McDowall

Through sheer happenstance, I happened to have recently watched three early films of Roddy McDowall: How Green Was My Valley, Man Hunt, (both of which starred Walter Pidgeon) and most recently, Son of Fury. Of course I had known of him through his later work, most notably the Planet of the Apes series, The Poseidon Adventure, and a great later film, Fright Night. It is fascinating to see him not as people of the time did, as a child actor, but as the boy who would eventually become Roddy McDowall as an adult. In this film, however, he only plays the young Benjamin Blake for twenty minutes or so, until the adult role is taken over by Tyrone Power.

Rather than a swashbuckler like the Erroll Flynn films for Warner Brothers, the emphasis in Son of Fury was on fist fighting, beginning with Roddy McDowell brawling in the dirt with a stable boy. The opening scene for George Sanders has him bare knuckle boxing, and twice he and Tyrone Power tangle, including the climactic battle in the mansion. One of the more bizarre bits of casting was Gene Tierney as the exotic island girl. Arguably her best scene in the film is a nighttime dancing scene that was choreographed very well. But for the most part her role is difficult to endure.

The story begins as a Dickensian British family drama, the young Benjamin being discovered to be the illegitimate child of Sir Godfrey Blake, cheated out of his inheritance by his uncle, played by George Sanders. After falling in love with Sanders’ daughter, Frances Farmer, he vows to go to sea to find his fortune and return for her. But once in the South Pacific to hunt pearls he falls for the native girl, Gene Tierney, as he and his partner, John Carradine, await the arrival of a ship to take them home so that Power can reclaim his estate. On returning to England, Power enlists the help of an influential lawyer to buy out his home from under his Uncle.

It’s not a particularly riveting story, and much of it is derivative of any number of similar British dramas, as well as a bit of Mutiny on the Bounty thrown in. In addition, composer Alfred Newman seems to have copied Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s score for Captain Blood, especially in its central theme. Still . . . there’s something interesting in the way the story plays out and though the ending is also fairly predictable, it’s no less satisfying for it. Son of Fury has a great cast that also includes Elsa Lanchester, Mae Marsh, and Halliwell Hobbes, and is certainly worth a viewing even it it’s not worth owning.

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