Saturday, May 5, 2007

SON OF FURY (20th Century-Fox 1942) Fox Home Video

Director John Cromwell’s Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake (1942) is a magnificent South Seas island adventure yarn based on the novel by Edison Marshall. It stars Fox’s resident heartthrob, Tyrone Power as Ben Blake – the bastard son of an English lord whose uncle, Sir Arthur (George Sanders) commands the wealth, power and prestige of the family name and lavish estate. 

Sir Arthur’s daughter, Isabel (Frances Farmer) is in love with the roguishly handsome Ben, whom Arthur has bonded in servitude to the house as his stable boy. At a lavish costume ball, Ben attempts to seduce Isabel – a move that incurs his uncle’s wrath. He is whipped and beaten unconscious, restored to health by Arthur’s compassionate wife, Helena (Kay Johnson), and hidden from view by the lowly bar wench, Bristol Isabel (Elsa Lanchester) after Ben’s uncle has sworn out a warrant for his arrest. 

Escaping to the South Sea as a stowaway, Ben is discovered and put to work on the vessel. There, he befriends Caleb Green (John Carradine), a man whose intent it is to jump ship and mine the island for its pearls. However, somewhere along the way, Green gets other ideas. He decides that the simple life of the native population suits him best and retires to that palmed pastoral oasis, leaving Ben to return to England and avenge his good name. 

In this course of action, Ben is greatly aided by barrister, Bartholomew Pratt (Dudley Digges – in a superb bit of character acting).The matter of Ben’s rightful place in England however, is further complicated by the fact that he has fallen in love with island innocent, Eve (the impossibly gorgeous, Gene Tierney – in her first film).

Sumptuously photographed by Arthur C. Miller in glorious B&W, with a magnificent and haunting score and stellar performances throughout, Son of Fury: The Story of Benjamin Blake is a potent adventure film that continues to hold up remarkably well by today’s standards.  It is a huge story, built on an impossible lavish scale with superb art direction by James Basevi and Richard Day, and with an emotionally uplifting score composed by Fox's resident, Alfred Newman.

Tyrone Power is at the height of his matinee idol good looks and virile charisma that made him such an enduring heartthrob among adoring female fans. George Sanders is a treat as the brutish villain who delights in the malicious torture of his nephew. Also, notable in the cast is a young Roddy McDowell, playing Ben as a willful child, briefly glimpsed during the opening scenes.

Fox Home Video’s DVD transfer is quite stunning, though not without its flaws. The B&W elements are in reasonably good shape. The gray scale is nicely contrasted. Blacks are deep, velvety and solid. Whites are, on the whole, quite clean. However, occasionally contrast levels appear a bit low. There’s also a considerable amount of film grain in certain shots, age related artifacts riddled throughout, and a slight patina of digital grit that tends to make the image appear less than entirely smooth. On the whole, the picture elements will satisfy – but they are not pristine.

The audio has been rechanneled to stereo. The original mono is also included. The revelation on this disc is in the isolated score track – which features a true stereo mix of the original recordings; remarkably crisp and spatially superior in their fidelity. There’s also a brief featurette, billed as ‘behind the scenes’ that is actually a wasted opportunity; generalizing and glossing over every film in the Tyrone Power Collection without saying much about any of the films specifically. Highly recommended!

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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