SON OF FURY: The Story Of Benjamin Blake delivers entertaining, old-school, studio-fashioned adventure calories, with four Golden Era stars shown off to please fans in 1942. Tyrone Power, George Sanders, Gene Tierney and Frances Farmer headlining ought to be enough reason to secure popcorn and put aside 98 minutes. *
England, the time of King George III. Young lad ‘Benjamin Blake’, though the rightful heir to his late fathers estate, is forced to work as stable boy for his cruel uncle, who’s usurped his brother. Grown to manhood, Ben woos his uncle’s daughter, endures beatings, escapes to sea, jumps ship to live on a tropical isle, falls for a native beauty, harvests wealth in pearls, returns to England, seeks what is rightfully his.
13-year-old Roddy McDowall becomes 27-year-old Tyrone Power (file under ‘You Wish’), who gets to make out with both ravishing Polynesian vision Gene Tierney, 20, and alluring aristocrat cousin Frances Farmer, 28. Somewhat senior Sanders, 35 and in full-sneer-mode, provides nasty nemesis duty. Backing them up is a choice supporting cast that includes neat turns from John Carradine (a good guy for once–he’d plugged Tyrone’s Jesse James in the back three years earlier) and the charming Elsa Lanchester as a kind-hearted waterfront doxie. Good work from all concerned.
Well-produced by Darryl F. Zanuck, directed by John Cromwell, who orchestrated a couple of pretty nasty fight scenes as well as some slick kissing business. Philip Dunne wrote the witty screenplay, taken from a 443-page bestseller published a year earlier by Edison Marshall, who wrote 28 adventure novels from 1920 to 1964. Marshall once told a magazine, appropriately named Grit, that “I went after the two big prizes, fame and fortune, and I got them both.”
A neat thing about Benjamin Blake is that he’s no swashbuckler superman; he makes some costly choices and takes more than his share of licks—yet, gifted with decency as well as determination, he doesn’t give up. Power’s heroes usually had some flaw or other. Tierney’s hula maiden (she does a fairly sensual dance number) is of course dolled up in the manner of flicks-gone-by, and ‘Eve’ learns some fairly erudite English too handily for reality, but it just makes it more retro-charming, almost like a fairy tale. Honking P.C. activists will tsk-tsk over the simplistic portraits of the natives, but we benighted trogs can manage to struggle on regardless of their finger waves. Farmer’s intelligence comes through in her performance; it’s a pleasure to watch her, if also sad, given what lay ahead for her.
Cogerson lists it #55 at the boxoffice for the year, one that also gave Power hits with the fun Technicolor romp The Black Swan (#12) and the wartime drama This Above All (#22). With Kay Johnson, Harry Davenport, Dudley Digges and Halliwell Hobbes.
* 1942 was George Sanders busiest year ever on camera, with 9 movies including The Black Swan, the interesting The Moon and Sixpence and three ‘Falcon‘ mysteries. It was a much less happy time for Frances Farmer: this was her last film before her legal and personal wrangles multiplied, ruining her career and leading to her tragic institutionalization (see Frances). She’d appeared in 12 pictures since 1936. After this she would not do another until 1958, a piece of teen exploitation goop called The Party Crashers, 4th-billed under Connie Stevens. No more followed.