Fury at Smugger's Bay (1961)

Peter Cushing stars in John Gilling's not-so-swashbuckling period smuggler film. Cinema Club UK R2 DVD.

The Film

John Gilling was one of the big names in British cinema between the 50s and 70s, working first for Hammer, then independently, then again for Hammer; he wrote, directed and even produced a variety of films, many of them still regarded today, particularly Flesh and the Fiends  (1959) based on the exploits of real life Edinburgh grave robbers Burke and Hare. After this film's sucess, Gilling elected to make his own film - he wrote, directed and produced Fury at Smuggler's Bay, and was shortly after re-employed by Hammer films to write and direct several period action/adventure pieces.

The film opens in a small English coastal town, it is the late 18th Century, and most of the local community are involved in harmless smuggling; but a band of vicious wreckers under Black John (Bernard Lee) is deliberately luring merchant ships onto the rocks to loot them of their cargo. The local squire (Peter Cushing) sends for troops from the Duke of Avon (Miles Malleson) to track down the smugglers and the wreckers - on the journey, his stage is held up by an honorable local highwayman known as The Captain. The troops capture a group of the local smugglers, and with Black John as the chief witness, the Squire (acting very suspiciously) sentences them to deportation. The Squire's son, Christopher is in love with the daughter of one of the men; she confers with The Captain and they come up with a plan to rescue the men before they are deported, and to stop Black John's reign of terror. But they face problems while the truth behind the Squire's actions come to light...

Written and directed by John Gilling, Fury at Smuggler's Bay suffers from a poor script and unimpressive direction. Although the basic plot and idea of the film is solid, the details don't make a lot of sense. The Captain is an enigmatic Robin-Hood type figure, who suddenly appears as the film's hero about half-way through the picture, his raison d'Ítre is never actually outlined, he just lives in a camp in the hills. The blackmail that the squire is being held under hardly seems worthy for him to consider sacrificing his son. The number of times someone is saved from being shot, beaten up etc. by someone else who 'just happens' to have turned up, is quite ridiculous by the film's end. Ultimately, the pacing is acceptable, and the film at least boasts a decent climax.

Gilling's direction is decent, but his use of heavily blue tinted day-for-night photography for the nighttime scenes is very obvious and annoying, it is often very hard to make out what is going on. Although the film's obviously limited budget means that we never actually see any wrecking, and the shots on the ships are all-too-brief - on the plus side, the sets and costumes look good, as do the locations - quite authentic. The music is a standard Hammer-like score and backs the film well except in one scene - an ambush by The Captain's men on Black John's is accompanied by a 'comedy' soundtrack that makes the sequence play like a spoof scene, and destroys the serious atmosphere that most of the picture has.

Peter Cushing gives a very limited performance as the Squire, although the character is mostly limited to some defensive speeches and dialogue, not giving Cushing much chance to act; his screen-time, compared to his Hammer horror films, is distinctly minimal. Bernard Lee looks suitably villanous, but William Franklyn doesn't look dashing enough as The Captain. John Fraser is unimpressive as the squire's son. Watch out for Miles Malleson in a typcially eccentric role as the Duke of Avon.

Pre-dating Hammer's pirate films, Fury at Smuggler's Bay is similarly afflicted by its budget induced lack of ship action. Although boasting an interesting central concept, it is poorly executed onscreen, the direction is flat, and even Peter Cushing is unable to save the film. Not a recommended watch, worth a rental/TV viewing for Cushing fans perhaps.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Peter Cushing - Hammer Horror mainstay and star of their similar but superior Captain Clegg (1962).
Bernard Lee - Soon to become famous as M in the early James Bond films.
Directed by anyone interesting? John Gilling - writer and director of factually based Flesh and the Fiends (1959) and Hammer's adventure films The Scarlet Blade (1963) and Pirates of Blood River (1962).
Any gore? None.
Any sex? None.
Who is it for?
Not recommended, only for Peter Cushing or British cinema completists.
Good soundtrack? Standard Hammer-like orchestral score, although marred by a 'comedy' soundtrack in some scenes.


The DVD

Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 2.35:1 widescreen. Anamorphically enhanced. Colour.
The disc is average visually, good colours (although the blue day-for-night scenes are very dark) minimal print damage is evident but there is a lot of grain and the image is slightly soft.
Note: The cheap widescreen lenses used on this film mean that the edges of the picture are slightly distorted throughout, this dates from the original print and is not a problem with the disc.
Audio English language mono sound.
No real problems with the audio.
Subtitles None
Run-time Feature: 1hr 22m 12s
Extras None.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? None.
Cuts? In 1961, the film was submitted to the BBFC with a run-time of 98 minutes, the status of these missing scenes is unknown.

Summary

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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 26th March 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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