While Warner Bros. had dominated the period action/swashbuckler genre with their in-house star Errol Flynn in monster hits like Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk, Fox was taking modest pokes at the genre in non-oceanic outings like The Mark of Zorro – one of the best period action films of the forties, and arguably the pivotal film that made Fox chief Darryl Zanuck realize that film's star, Tyron Power, could move closer to boats, swords, and more bare-chested combat.
Son of Fury was based on the novel Benjamin Blake by Edison Marshall, but screenwriter Philip Dunne seemed to stick with the basic template that worked so well in Zorro: a boy turns on the abusive powers that be, is condemned by the law, and eventually returns to reclaim his place and girlfriend while sneaking about town and teasing his enemies, until he's caught, but narrowly escapes a desperate situation in the nick of time. In addition to swordplay, there's boxing and wrestling (surprisingly well choreographed, with lots of bench smashing and head bashing).
Stuck in the middle of the film is a flight to a tropical island (typical of the Flynn pics, if not the pivotal denouement in MGM's Mutiny on the Bounty) and the hero's involvement with a local girl (a leftover from Polynesian epics such as Hurricane, Bird of Paradise, and prior Dorothy Lamour romances like Aloma of the South Seas) – surgical additions that may have been present in the original novel, but feel tacked on in a film that runs at a fast globe-trotting pace in its 98 min. running time.
The elements would eventually click in the all-Technicolor extravaganza The Black Swan (also made in 1942), but Son of Fury is, well, a completely ridiculous contrivance that never once manages to transcend our expectations – except in the incredible cast.
Power is earnest playing the older Ben Blake, yet he grounds the film with a discernable self-awareness that some of his scenes are laughably bad. Moments between Gene Tierney, the local chief's daughter, are the highpoints (or low points, depending on your own kitsch-o-meter), as she's mostly reduced to laughing, grinning, and keeping her eyes big and wide and full of devotion for a man whose language is mere gibberish until he teaches her English using sand and his pointy finger.
Her ability to retain basic English syntax is pretty amazing, although she never warms up to the use of a knife and fork. (On the other had, his nighttime eyeballing of Tierney during a communal dance sequence, with vocal chanting, male grunting, and thumping drums punctuating lots of hip-swinging is surprising for its unsubtle eroticism during Hollywood's subjugation to the dominant Production Code. Still kitschy, but a punchy little sequence.)
Roddy McDowall (still being billed with the silly ‘Master' formalism) plays a young Ben Blake, and George Sanders steals every second from fellow actors by relishing his role of a disrespectful English shit out to destroy nephew Ben. Just as intriguing is the excellent casting of Frances Farmer as the sultry, yet sharp-willed first cousin Ben intends to marry (the whole romance seems to ignore any worries about spawning three-eyed blinkies), whose last completed film this proved to be before her mental breakdown, and incarceration in a mental institution (vividly depicted in the 1982 bio-drama Frances.)
Various character actors steal scenes from Power, including Elsa Lanchester as a helpful bar wench. One of the best performances in the film comes from John Carradine, playing Power's seafaring buddy who stays on the island paradise while Power returns to England to reclaim his family name and estate. (Carradine had already appeared with Power in the blazing Technicolor production Blood and Sand in 1941, and the superb bio-drama Brigham Young.)
Fox's transfer is very clean, and the sound mix is nicely balanced, showing off Alfred Newman's bouncy score (which occasionally evokes bits of Newman's own scores for Power's Captain from Castile and The Mark of Zorro).
Film music fans will be delighted that Newman's score has been isolated on a separate music track, and although the complete score exists on CD (see link below), the DVD retains some intro/exit studio chatter. Also of note are cues not used or dialed down in the final mix. Only qualms: unlike some of the old Fox laserdiscs that indexed their isolated score cues, there's nothing on the DVD or case insert to guide the listener, so there's a lot of dead space between cues. Pity some of the historians involved in the soundtrack CD booklet weren't engaged to add brief comments between cues.
The oddest aspect of the DVD's multiple audio tracks lies in the Spanish dub track, which often features no music in scenes where there's score in the French and English tracks and completely different cues elsewhere, making one believe that all elements had to be recreated for the Spanish print, relying on awfully sparse sound effects, Spanish dialogue recorded in a sterile environment, and stock music in place of Newman's original score.
Other decent bonuses on the DVD include a behind-the-scenes Still Gallery, Advertising Gallery, 4 postcard still/lobby card reproductions, and a short featurettes that briefly chronicles Tyrone Power's appearances in various swashbuckling actioners, with clips from a number of films extant on DVD, and a few likely on the horizon (like the CinemaScope epic King of the Kyber Rifles), plus comments from the son of director John Cromwell – actor James Cromwell (the benevolent father figure in Babe, and Jack Bauer's monster dad in Season 6 of Fox' TV series 24).
Son of Fury was remade (new names, new stars, same silliness) in 1953 as Treasure of the Golden Condor.
This title is available separately, and as part of the Tyrone Power Swashbuckler Collection, which includes Blood and Sand (1941), Son of Fury (1942), Captain from Castile (1947), Prince of Foxes (1949), and The Black Rose (1950).
© 2007 Mark R. Hasan