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This tale of shipwreckers in rural Cornwall was inspired by the real
area. The brutal tradition of shipwrecking has been covered in a number
films and is truly worthwhile subject for dramatization. One would have
that with a director like John Gilling and a star like Peter Cushing that
done tragic story would result.
Peter Cushing plays Squire Trevenyan. The Squire is the sole judge and jury for the area and is periodically backed up by soldiers. His efforts succeed in nabbing a group of smugglers/wreckers, but only provokes more violence. Soon, his beloved son is the target of a kidnapping plot aimed at obtaining freedom for the captured criminals.
This is truly a well crafted film. It seems to have the makings of an excellent film: strong cast, excellent shooting locations, good cinematography, and strong production values. Unfortunately, the story just didn't grab me. The result was tepid. In fact, "dull" is closer to the mark. Nevertheless, die hard fans of Peter Cushing, John Gilling, or the genre should probably still give it a chance. Perhaps others will see something in it that I missed. I really wanted to like this film, I really did.
The title tells all in this second-rate but enjoyable adventure on a
popular subject; star Peter Cushing gives it his all, as ever, and he's
matched by a larger-than-life performance by Bernard Lee as the chief
villain. Still, Cushing's previous collaboration with writer/director
Gilling THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1959) had proved a lot more
substantial (despite being shot in black-and-white).
Anyway, the remaining cast includes veteran George Coulouris, playing a French merchant convicted by squire Cushing as a wrecker, while John Fraser (in the role of the latter's son) and Michele Mercier (as the Frenchman's daughter) comprise the requisite love interest. Other notable characters to figure in the plot are a mysterious highwayman known only as "The Captain" and a young boy who goes by the name of Juma (also the name of the actor!), both of whom start off by being in cahoots with Lee and his gang but gradually change loyalties to emerge heroic by the film's conclusion. The widescreen print I watched (culled from the Region 2 DVD) displays some color fading but is otherwise pretty decent.
In the end, when compared to the similar but superior CAPTAIN CLEGG (1962; with Peter Cushing in the title role) which being a Hammer production is, unsurprisingly, a more horror-oriented venture this is unassuming family fare; two more films in the same vein I'd love to catch up with (both, incidentally, Hammer titles co-starring Christopher Lee) but which have never turned up in my neck of the woods are PIRATES OF BLOOD RIVER (1962; also directed by Gilling) and THE DEVIL-SHIP PIRATES (1964)...
1960's "Fury at Smugglers' Bay" was among eight consecutive non horror roles essayed by Peter Cushing in the early 60s, but despite his top billing gets upstaged rather easily by several combative co-stars. Squire Trevenyan (Cushing) rules over a small seaside community in 1789 Cornwall (filmed near Fishguard Wales), seeking to discourage his son's romance with the pretty daughter of law abiding smuggler Francois Lejeune (George Coulouris), while ineffectually dealing with the treacherous Black John (Bernard Lee) and his band of pirate wreckers, luring passing ships to destruction before looting the goods for evil profit. Added to the mix is a rogue highwayman known only as 'The Captain' (William Franklyn), who seems to be in cahoots with Black John, but does what he can to help the persecuted Lejeune. Bernard Lee, recently a heroic pilot opposite Cushing in "Cone of Silence," relishes being cast against type, while the always welcome presence of Hollywood veteran George Coulouris demonstrates how the citizens tried to fight back against the King's malign taxation. Michele Mercier is well known to horror fans for her starring efforts in two Italian titles, 1963's "Black Sabbath" and 1970's "Web of the Spider," with Hammer veteran Miles Malleson granted only one short scene as the Duke of Avon. Peter Cushing enjoyed making this exciting 'British Western,' but his character's strained relationships with both of his children keeps the puzzled audience at a distance, whereas his next Hammer, "Night Creatures" aka "Captain Clegg" would offer him a far more challenging, and thus rewarding, swashbuckling adventure, played with more gusto and a twinkle in the eye. In the future, he would again work with both Bernard Lee ("Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell") and William Franklyn ("The Satanic Rites of Dracula").
Writer/producer/director John Gilling's story is set in 17th-century
Cornwall when fishermen were hit by heavy taxes and turned to smuggling
in order to supplement their income. Here, the village squire Trevenyan
(Peter Cushing) puts together an army in order to wipe out smuggling
from his community. However, the town is terrorised by a group of
cut-throats lead by Black John (Bernard Lee) who force ships to land at
Smugglers Bay and then ruthlessly murders their crews for the sake of
their cargo. Unfortunately, Black John has a hold over Trevenyan and as
a result, poor fisherman Francois Lejeune (George Coulouris) is charged
for the shipwrecking as well as the smuggling he has done and is to be
deported to a foreign colony. The squire's son Christopher (John
Fraser) is in love with Lejeune's daughter Louise (Michele Mercier) and
teams up with local highwayman known simply as the Captain (William
Franklyn) in order to run Black John out of town and to prevent
All in all, FURY AT SMUGGLERS' BAY, is well enough done and entertaining enough while its on. I mean who could resist a film with such interesting credits. Bernard Lee as Black John who was soon to become famous as "M" in the Bond series, Peter Cushing as Squire Trevenyan and William Franklyn as the Captain. In addition, there's one of Britain's best known cameramen Harry Waxman behind the camera and John Gilling (an interesting British director who made such classics as THE PLAGUE OF THE ZOMBIES and THE VOICE OF MERRILL) is on hand to direct. Yet somehow after one's seen the film, the next morning there's nothing to remember.
Although primarily known for their horror output, Hammer Studios did a
handful of pirate/smuggling/swashbuckling movies back in the early
'60s, and this is one of the most well-known. Unfortunately, it's an
exceedingly dull affair, that never really becomes exciting even
during some acceptable fencing and sword-fighting bouts. Why is the
film so dull? Well, it's a mystery, not least because John Gilling is
the man who bought us the excellent and atmospheric PLAGUE OF THE
FURY AT SMUGGLERS' BAY retains the same kind of rugged, wild settings on the Cornish coastline, so at least the scenery is very easy on the eye. And another plus is the casting Hammer have amassed a bunch of dependable, believable actors for all the parts, top-lined of course by Cushing's indomitable Squire Trevenyan. Although Cushing is a good guy this time around, he's just as cold and ruthless as Baron Frankenstein, even more so in some instances! Cushing is ably supported by Bernard Lee, chewing the scenery as the wrecker, Black John. Lee would, of course, go on to great fame as 'M' in the James Bond films, and he's just as good here.
The young, dashing, romantic males are played well by John Fraser and William Franklyn, who both bring charisma to their parts, and they in turn are supported by some engaging love interests especially Michele Mercier (AVENGER OF THE SEVEN SEAS), who has got to be one of the finest French women in existence! Liz Fraser is thoroughly alluring as the buxom blonde waitress. There are lots of familiar faces lower down in the cast list, including Miles Malleson in yet another amusing cameo (after Dracula), Maitland Moss, and George Coulouris. For my money, though, all these guys have their thunder stolen by two ethnic actors the first is Christopher Carlos, whose hulking pirate is a real brute, the second is a young Indian lad known only as 'Juma', who's pretty handy with a knife.
The film's storyline is a little convoluted, but bolstered by plenty of action, from shoot-outs to fist-fights, to fencing bouts. There are some twists and turns that are quite engaging and the music is, as always for a Hammer film, spot on. Nevertheless, the entire movie seems devoid of excitement, even during the climax; it just seems routine rather than engaging.
Fury at Smugglers' Bay is directed, produced and written by John
Gilling. It stars Peter Cushing, Bernard Lee, John Fraser, Michèle
Mercier, William Franklyn and George Coulouris. Out of Regal Films
International with music scored by Harold Geller and Eastman
Color/Panascope photography by Harry Waxman.
18th century England on the Cornish coast and a fearsome band of Wreckers are luring ships on to the rocks so as to plunder the cargo.
There was a mini pirate/smuggler/swashbuckler based film revival in early 60s Britain, John Gilling was a key player in that revival. Sadly this, one of the first to show its face, is a mundane and schizophrenic piece. The story is safe enough, where a village indulges in "light" smuggling but come under threat by "big boy baddies" who prefer to cause carnage as well. Into the mix comes hidden secrets, forbidden passions and kidnap. It should be a recipe for good period costume malarkey, but Gilling, who was capable of excellent work (see The Flesh & the Fiends/The Reptile), provides a poor script and unimaginative direction. It's also sad to see the great Peter Cushing turn in a half hearted performance, but again much of that can be attributed to the script that fails to give his character any meaty purpose, with the big "secret" at the core of plotting about as weak as it gets.
Irritation is further compounded by the look and sound of the picture. For interiors we do get good period flavours, with the costumes (Phyllis Dalton) and colour lensing feeling authentic, but once the picture goes outside, which is for most of the run time, it loses the feel. The day for night blueness for night sequences dulls the viewing and Waxman's photography around the locale, which is not Cornwall but Abereiddy in Wales, sadly looks like it's 1960 and not 1789. Waxman (Twisted Nerve/The Wicker Man) was a very good cinematographer, but his work here represents a big fail. The editing (John Victor-Smith) is off, where characters sort of mill about in the narrative without achieving anything, and Geller doesn't know if he is scoring a comedy or a period drama!
There's some value in watching a pre-James Bond franchise Bernard Lee belching and brooding, while the finale is certainly rousing enough. Yet it looks and plays cheap, something that the similar genre films out of Hammer Productions didn't suffer from, this in spite of the same budget restrictions. It's noted that the original cut of the film was around 92 minutes, where now it runs at just 82. The missing 10 minutes may have helped the flow of the story, but it's highly doubtful it would improve the film as a whole. 5/10
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