What happens when a woman determined to make a life of her own meets a man who is willing to take back what is his by any means necessary, even if it means murder? The British film Blanche Fury, made in 1948, features such a plot, and the results are deadly for all characters involved. The film stars Valerie Hobson, Stewart Granger, and Michael Gough, and is directed by Marc Allégret. It is based on a novel by Joseph Shearing.
The film opens with a gentleman on horseback rushing toward an isolated manor house. It is revealed that it’s the doctor, who has been summoned to care for the mistress of the house, who is in labor. The doctor gives her chloroform, and the dream sequence that follows tells the young woman’s story.
Blanche Fuller (Hobson), a young woman of a genteel upbringing, has held several jobs as a paid companion and governess after her parents died, and she is miserable in her current position. Blanche is utterly miserable and detests her current position, but a letter from a wealthy relative changes all of this. Blanche’s uncle, Simon Fury, invites his estranged niece to come and be a governess to his granddaughter. Blanche jumps at the chance for the new position, seeeing it as an opportunity to make a life of her own. Upon arrival at the house, she meets Philip Thorn (Granger), whom she first believes to be the master of the house, but who is really only a steward. Philip has an even deeper connection to the estate, as he is the illegitimate son of the previous owner and bears a striking resemblance to the portrait of his father. It’s clear that he resents the Fullers, who took on the name of the estate’s previous owners, the Fury family, after they inherited the property. Even though John was an illegtimate son of the previous owner and cannot inherit the property, he still feels entitled to it. This is a cause of much tension between Blanche’s uncle Simon and her cousin Laurence (Gough), who is the current heir.
Thorn also tells Blanche about the Fury family curse: The founder of the Fury family owned a pet Barbary ape who protected his body after he fell in battle. Since then, the ghost of the Barbary ape, which is shown in the family crest, has protected the family and punished those who have wronged the family.
As time passes, Blanche finds a place in the Fury home. She has developed a close bond with her young charge, Lavinia, and her cousin, Laurence, sees this. Laurence, who is a widower, proposes marriage to Blanche, emphasizing that his daughter needs a mother and that he would like more children, and that he can provide Blanche the status and financial security she desires. Laurence is a huge douchebag, and Blanche does not care for that at all. She soon becomes unhappy in the marriage, and soon the handsome, dashing Thorn catches her eye. The two begin an affair right under her husband’s nose, and go from that to conspiring to murder him and his father. Their idea is to blame the local Romany, who have stolen the Fury horses in the past. Simon and Laurence have used the law to make the Romany suffer terribly, so they would have the perfect motive to kill both men.
Laurence angrily dismisses Thorn from his post. Angry, he returns to the estate in disguise as one of the local Romany. When he is seen prowling about the property, Simon and Laurence reach for their guns to confront the would-be-robber. Thorn guns them both down, leaving behind a Romany earring and framing the local tribe. Thorn’s behavior becomes more possessive and erratic after the inquest, and this alarms Blanche, who sees him encouraging Lavinia to make a dangerous jump on horseback. Blanche goes to the police and informs them that Thorn committed the murders. He is arrested and tired for the murders. Blanche is forced to testify during Thorn’s trial, and though she admits that they were lovers and that she still holds much affecton for him, she still denies any involvement in the murders. Thorn is found guilty and hanged for the murders, and Blance, who is pregnant, returns home to see to her stepdaughter, who is now the remaining Fury heir.
But Fury’s ape isn’t done, and, on the day of Thorn’s execution, Lavinia tries to make the jump that Thorn had encouraged her to do. As Blanche runs after her, begging her to stop, Lavinia makes the jump and is thrown from her horse and killed instantly. Blanche carries the girl’s broken body back to the house.
The effects of the chloroform have now faded, and Blanche, her vision still blurry, is advised that she has given birth to a healthy baby boy. It is clear that the birth has weakened Blanche and that she will not live. With her dying breath, she names her son Philip Thorn Fury, after his father. After so much blood has been spilled, a true Fury now owns the estate that bears his name, and Philip Thorn’s obsession has come to pass.
Though the film is a melodrama, it speaks strongly about the dangerous nature of obsession. Philip Thorn wants his rightful inheritance as master of his family home, and he will do anything to achieve it. Blanche wishes to be mistress of her own fate and to have status and financial security, but because of the time’s societal constraints on women, she must make a choice between these things. There is also some debate about fate versus free will. Thorn speaks several times of his fate already having been mapped out for him, for he must regain his family’s property and the title that comes with it. Blanche speaks of free will and making her own way in life, and she is frightened when she hears Thorn speak this way. She begs him to run away with her so that they might be able to live their lives as they please, but Simon refuses, and Blanche chooses to join him in his plan so that she might be free of her husband yet still maintain her present position. This is something that she has always wanted, and her desire for these things drives her to conspire with Philip to kill her husband and father-in-law. Her assistance in planning the murders makes her just as culpable for them as Philip is, and in the end, she turns him in to preserve her freedom because she can’t bear to have him dominate her.
Blanche Fury is a gothic romance in the vein of Wuthering Heights and Dragonwyck. Much like these novels and films, it explores the darker parts of human nature and offers a cautionary tale of what happens to those who set on a path led by these.
Blanche Fury is currently available on Netflix Instant.