Though not a Hammer film per se, Fury at Smugglers Bay (1961) has all the earmarks of that studio's swashbucklers. Among other things, Peter Cushing is top-billed, and the picture was directed by John Gilling who, in addition to directing Cushing in the Hammer-esque The Flesh and the Fiends (1960), went on to make seven films for Hammer, including the somewhat similar Pirates of Blood River (1962). Fury at Smugglers Bay is an enjoyable quasi-pirate movie, perhaps Gilling's best work, an old-fashioned melodrama loaded with swordfights and shipwrecks and, for that matter, fury and smugglers.
Though Cushing is top-billed, his is really a supporting part. Indeed, one of the picture's more unusual aspects is that, probably unintentionally, there is no central character. The story is set in 1789, at a remote fishing village off the English coast. Merchant ships frequently crash and are sunk off its rocky coast, and this has led to a fight over the booty brought ashore. On one side are the "Wreckers,Ecutthroat mercenaries led by Black John (Bernard Lee); on the other is the comparatively honest fisher folk, lead by merchant François LeJeune (George Coulouris). Caught in the middle are Christopher Trevenyan (John Fraser), son of the local squire (Peter Cushing), and a Dick Turpin-like highwayman known only as The Captain (William Franklyn).
The film's story is thin and predictable, but its rich atmosphere and continuous action keep things moving. Most of the drama hinges on the nightly shoreline battles between the Wreckers (who light fires on the beach to draw ships into the rocks) and the fisher folk, and Squire Trevenyan's hard line condemnation of the latter when LeJeune and several others are caught red-handed. Complicating matters is LeJeune's daughter, Louise (Michèle Mercier), who is in love with Christopher, though the squire disapproves of his son socializing with the lower classes. The older Trevenyan's behavior is a mystery: Is he in collusion with Black John (who had been a servant to the squire years before) or is he simply an ineffectual snob?
Fury at Smugglers Bay was independently produced, a co-production between Regal Films International and John Gilling Enterprises. This may account for its relative obscurity and the confusion over its cast and their roles (the IMDB is a mess in this regard). Additionally, many sources incorrectly list this as a black and white film; presumably it was exhibited in America that way at some point, either theatrically or on television.
In any case, both the movie and the DVD are definitely in color Evivid color, in fact. Fury at Smugglers Bay was shot in an anamorphic process called Panascope, which apparently had the somewhat unusual aspect ratio of 2:1. Given the limitations of anamorphic lenses of the period, director of photography Harry Waxman (who also shot Swiss Family Robinson and The Day the Earth Caught Fire around this time) does a marvelous job sucking what life he can out of the process. Waxman consistently makes dramatic use of the rocky English coastline, of riders on horseback against the deep blue sky. The picture has a lot of day-for-night photography, and Waxman shoots this more effectively than most. The film's color is especially good -- soldiersEuniforms are vividly red, and in a scene with the Duke of Avon (Miles Malleson), Cushing is seen wearing a royal purple and violet colored jacket that nearly pops off the screen.
Cushing himself is fine, alternately snooty and charming, but he doesn't have much to do. The picture suggests a major dramatic scene where the squire learns (incorrectly, as it turns out) that his son has been killed. One would bet that this scene was scripted but either not shot or deleted prior to release. Whatever the case, its absence denies Cushing an obvious and dramatically-needed scene.
The real surprise, though, is Bernard Lee's Black John. Best remembered as "MEin the first 11 James Bond movies, Lee seems to relish his atypical role in Fury at Smugglers Bay. Sporting a long scar over and around his right eye, wearing a pirate's earring, and sporting a five-day beard, Lee quietly sneers through the role in an effectively ominous manner.
The picture's technical aspects are very good for what was presumably a low-budget film. There are a number of shots of a ship at sea, caught in a violent storm, which eventually crashes into the rocks. This footage is clearly lifted from another film, a black and white picture tinted blue for use here. The film seems rather old and converted to scope from standard 35mm. The filmmakers do such a good job doctoring the footage that their deception almost works, but not quite. John Victor-Smith edited the film, and his cutting of the big action scenes reminds one of the style of Peter Hunt. Victor-Smith and director Gilling over-crank many of the fight scenes, but this is overdone giving some shots the feel of a Keystone Kops short.
Video & Audio
Cinema Club's DVD is letterboxed and, happily, has been 16:9 enhanced for widescreen TVs. In addition to the great color, the transfer itself is good, putting the format in the best possible light. The mono sound is fine if unexceptional. No subtitles or closed captioning are offered. And there are no extras at all, not even a trailer.
Though hardly a masterpiece, Fury at Smugglers Bay, like its evocative title, is an atmospheric, old-fashioned swashbuckler, the kind of throwaway escapist film they just don't make anymore.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Los Angeles and Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes Monsters Are Attacking Tokyo! The Incredible World of Japanese Fantasy Films. He is presently writing a new book on Japanese cinema for Taschen.