Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Fury At Smugglers' Bay (1961)

The 18th century. An area of the Cornish coast under the dominion of country squire Trevenyan (Peter Cushing) has been invaded by the band of shipwreckers of Black John (Bernard Lee), who are sending many a ship to its doom.

The local honest smugglers - your usual poor bastards trying to survive over-taxation by breaking the law - under the leadership of Francois Lejeune (George Coulouris) are quite disturbed by the development, chiefly because smuggling's one thing, but murdering people quite another one. Yet there's also a - quite correct - fear the 'wreckers' activities will provoke Trevenyan into an aggressive response against crime that'll hit the smugglers just as hard as the wreckers.

In fact, Trevenyan's response will only hit the wreckers, for Black John turns out to be a former servant of the man carrying around a bagful of documents to blackmail Trevenyan with. Trevenyan's son Christopher (John Fraser), also the lover of Lejeune's daughter Louise (Michele Mercier), is quite distraught by his father's curious concentration on the smugglers instead of Black John's gang, distraught enough to get into a bit of violence that ends with the death of one of Black John's men.

That's a good enough reason for the squire to send his boy away "for his own safety". And once the boy's away, it's a good time to round up a few of the smugglers (I'm sure Lejeune being among them has nothing at all to do with Trevenyan's obvious dislike for his son's love for the man's daughter; it's a classist thing) and sentence them to deportation.

Fortunately, Lejeune has a good friend in the local honourable highwayman only known as The Captain (William Franklyn) who will move heaven and earth to help his friend and get rid of the wreckers in the process, too. Perhaps with the help of a returning Christopher, or even a late repentant squire?

Hammer-regular John Gilling - later to be director of the excellent The Reptile and The Plague of the Zombies, among others - was working under his own production company's name when he was making Fury at Smugglers' Bay.

As is probably clear, this is an adventure movie/swashbuckler of that particular British sub-genre concerning the exploits of smugglers and pirates who never seem to actually leave the land. Curiously, films of this sub-genre (for which there should be a better descriptor than "landlocked pirate movies") tend to be among my favourite adventure movies. Fury will, unfortunately, not become part of that exclusive club, not because there's much that would be particularly wrong with the movie, but because there's too little that's particularly right with it.

Although the script has its interesting moments (there's for example a somewhat complicated - very typical of UK cinema - argument about class and the dangers of a classist society running through it), Gilling's direction is solid with moments of actual class, and the acting's perfectly alright, Fury suffers from a lack of playfulness and passion that would not necessarily be as much of a problem in a film of a different genre as it is in a swashbuckler, but that leaves a film is this genre feeling somewhat lifeless and slightly bland.

I think this lack of charm is all too well embodied by William Franklyn's character, who is supposed to be a charming rogue, but never feels all that charming or rogue-ish, going through all the motions of his job description, yet never actually convincing me of being more than a guy who grins a lot and knows how to rob people. Bland Franklyn's casting is quite typical for a film that's too professionally made to be bad, yet lacking in feeling and a sense of excitement, the things that actual make an adventure movie an adventure movie instead of a movie about people discussing the weather.

Fury at Smugglers' Cove suffers from taking characters and situations that should be (at least slightly) larger than life, but treats them as if it all were just visits to a tea party.


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