Twentieth Century-Fox’s Son of Fury plays as a 98 minute epic tale of redemption--it opens with a fight, leads to an escape, turns into a brief tale at sea, then an island romance and adventure, a return for vengeance, even a spectacle of a courtroom trial, before, of course, culminating in yet another big fight with the passage of time leading to a different outcome.
Tyrone Power leads a strong cast in the title role of Benjamin Blake, or to those at Breetham Castle, just Ben, a bonded servant soon accused of escape and attempted murder of his master (and uncle), Sir Arthur Blake, a typically brilliant George Sanders cad. But despite Sir Arthur’s insistence to the contrary, everyone at Breetham is fully aware of Ben’s background. And most, including Sir Arthur’s own wife (Kay Johnson) believe that Benjamin Blake is rightfully entitled to Sir Arthur’s title and estate.
Son of Fury opens in the time of King George, and for the first 13-plus minutes Benjamin Blake is not yet Tyrone Power, but played by young Roddy McDowall.
Young Ben is apprentice to his gunsmith grandfather, Amos Kidder, played by Harry Davenport, always a nice guy if not a bit weak. Sir Arthur bursts into Kidder’s shop to claim Ben as a Blake—Kidder tells him that Ben is his own child, though at his age that’s a little ridiculous, so he quickly confesses that Ben is the son of Sir Arthur’s late older brother and his own deceased daughter. If the legality of his parents’ marriage were not in question Ben Blake would have all belonging to Sir Arthur instead of a life of toil in his grandfather’s dingy shop.
But Sanders’ Sir Arthur takes even that away from him. He brings Ben back to Breetham after promising his grandfather the boy would lead a life of luxury, and instead immediately puts Ben to work in the stables where he’s to stay for the next ten years as he grows up into Tyrone Power. Sir Arthur’s only interest in the boy is keeping him in his place and away from the title and riches which may rightfully be his.
Besides Sir Arthur’s wife (Johnson), a nice woman who we learn settled for her own marriage after losing out to Ben’s mother in courting his father, Ben also has the sympathies of their daughter, Isabel, played by Frances Farmer, who is in love with Ben and plans to marry him after he reclaims his title from her father.
While Farmer’s part is relatively small, and she doesn’t do a lot to distinguish herself, her character of Isabel is intriguing in that despite her love of Ben she has more than a streak of her father’s temperament bottled up inside her. In an early scene inside the stables she attempts to use her position and status to subjugate Ben, but he’ll have none of it, lashing out at her verbally and even physically. This is a bit startling because we're not yet aware of their relationship, but Isabel knows exactly what she’s doing and that’s getting a rise out of Ben so he'll turn her attempts at domination right back on her. Isabel later becomes the most flawed piece of Ben’s overall flawed quest for vengeance.
There are basically four parts to Son of Fury with most of what I've written above comprising the first of these. Next, Power as the adult Ben will finally break free of Sir Arthur after Sanders gives him a harsh beating that culminates with a fierce strap whipping. Besides his usual cutting tongue Sanders is also a physical menace in Son of Fury as an expert bare knuckles fighter.
Ben, armed with genuine advice from Sir Arthur's own wife, botches an attempt on Sir Arthur's life and is forced to escape Breetham. He's aided by Elsa Lanchester, excellent as always as poor Isabel, a prostitute in the bad part of town, during which time his grandfather is arrested after distracting Sir Arthur's guards from Ben's trail. Note that Lanchester's prostitute has the same name as Power's love-interest played by Farmer, certainly no accident.
The next portion of Son of Fury takes Ben from Britain altogether putting him first as a stowaway on the Tropic Star. The ship has a heavy handed captain and first mate, but also on board is rail-thin John Carradine as Caleb, who explains that hunger is responsible for his skinniness this time around. Caleb shows off a "D" for debtor branded across his temple. He plans redemption by going overboard to gather pearls in the South Seas and making himself rich enough to forget his debtor's mark. Ben immediately decides to join him in order to raise the funds to return to Breetham, free his grandfather and reclaim his estate.
There's another hitch here however as the island is captivated by natives who have had a bad taste left in their mouth by previous exploration undertaken by the Spanish.
After the native ruler shows off the scars on a young boy's back as evidence against the white man, and presumably evidence which will spell the end of Ben and Caleb's quest, Ben instead earns their trust by raising his shirt to show the brutal matching marks of Sir Arthur's past whippings across his own back. The men immediately set about diving for pearls and director John Cromwell gets to inject a whole lot of sex appeal into his tale by having bare-chested Power diving in his swimsuit and emerging from the water to meet an absolutely gorgeous, ahem, native girl, played by a 21 year old Gene Tierney.
Tierney, christened "Eve" by Power's Ben, dives alongside Ben, presumably scouting out the oysters with the biggest pearls. She speaks a strange yet irresistible baby talk native dialect, though is soon taught basic English by Ben. And she really shakes it up as the centerpiece of a suggestive dance that somehow made it past the censor's scissors, while Ben lustfully studies her from afar.
Perhaps the censors found themselves distracted by the surprisingly catchy "native" beat and nonsense song being chanted during Tierney's shimmying. Only one thing could result from that dance, and so, the next morning skinny Caleb is moving out of Ben's hut and curvy Eve has moved in and is already redecorating. But despite the unconditional love of this beautiful and innocent island girl, Ben still waits for a ship so he can return to Britain, cash out his pearls, and seek vengeance.
We're led to believe Eve understands how deeply Ben wishes to return home as she even threatens to throw herself into the sea if he doesn't go when the opportunity comes. Still, Ben's character is indelibly flawed when he does go. He has really carved out a perfect life on the Island, he doesn't wish to leave because it's foreign to him or because he misses Britain. No, the only reason Ben leaves happiness behind is quest for vengeance.
By contrast, when a ship finally does come it's Carradine's Caleb who hands Ben his own share of the booty, wishes him luck and tells him he's going to stay on the island. If any man had more reason than Ben to make a triumphant return to their old home it is Caleb, whose marks of humiliation aren't hid by shirt or psyche like Ben's, but instead plainly displayed for all to see in that "D" on his face. But Caleb is satisfied by what they have, he has no need for vengeance. In the space of maybe a second Ben appears to consider this alternative, but he's never changed his mind, the Blake temperament has always dictated what had to be done.
In the final act of Son of Fury bearded Ben returns to Britain stopping first at the offices of Bartholomew Pratt, an influential attorney, who as played by Dudley Digges steals every second of the movie that he inhabits.
It's Digges' Dickensian Pratt who first of all reminds us that this tale is set in the late 18th century and that it is 18th century Britain. It's only Digges, so perfectly embodying Bartholomew Pratt, who makes you think back and wonder where Ben's accent went when he grew up from Roddy McDowall into Tyrone Power. And it's Dudley Digges, who overcomes the strong physical presence of Tyrone Power and takes the room over for all but five glorious minutes where he manages to make his Pratt likable enough that we believe he's going to do his best to help Ben, yet so confident and yes, full of himself, that you can't help but to think he's humoring the kid and just going to take Ben's pearls and hang him out to dry afterwards.
No doubt, Pratt is a personality, and so when he asks his clerk to tell him who's waiting to see him in the office that day, our own interest perks up once his does. The clerk tells him it's all of the usual suspects plus "a common seafaring man who claims he has a tale to interest you." Pratt waves this off, and his assistant says he did the same, but the man laughed at him and gave him pearls to deliver to Pratt to intrigue him--and so they do. "It's an interesting calling card," Pratt says of the pearls. He hears out Ben, his impossible tale and his impossible circumstance, and though Pratt does see possibilities in Ben, or at least in the pearls, we're more much more impressed by Pratt himself by the end of the scene.
The case hinges on proving that Ben's parents legally married prior to Ben's birth. Ben is not aware of any such proof existing. Thus, as Pratt tells him, there really is no case. Still, Pratt takes the job. When Ben goes to collect the pearls before leaving, Pratt tells him he'd better leave them with him. Ben hesitates causing Pratt to say, "You don't trust me," but Ben is overwhelmed by this behemoth personality as well, and withdraws saying "It seems I have no choice."
While Pratt has one further moment of glory, Power is allowed to reclaim Son of Fury before it's end with a final physical showdown with Sanders' Sir Arthur right on the heels of Isabel revealing her true self to both her father and Ben. I wonder if thrashing Sir Arthur alone would have been enough for Ben to remain at Breetham had not this real Isabel been uncovered by him, but we're not asked to explore this question and instead loose ends are quickly tied up. Son of Fury ends tidily with Ben and Eve reunited, beautiful people on a beautiful island.
Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake is from Twentieth Century Fox, so you're probably more likely to catch it airing on Fox Movie Channel than Turner Classic Movies, but to be sure to catch it get it like I did--in the 5 Movie Tyrone Power Collection.