Captain Fury

Captain Fury is a 1939 American adventure film, also categorised as an Australian Western by virtue of its setting in colonial Australia and other characteristics,[2] directed by Hal Roach. It was one of Hollywood's few attempts to depict Australian history.

Captain Fury
Film poster
Directed byHal Roach
Produced byHal Roach
Written byGrover Jones
Jack Jevne
William C. deMille
StarringBrian Aherne
Music byMarvin Hatley
CinematographyNorbert Brodine
Edited byWilliam H. Ziegler
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
  • May 26, 1939 (1939-05-26)
Running time
92 minutes
CountryUnited States


In the 1840s, Captain Michael Fury (Brian Aherne) is an Irish patriot transported to New South Wales for his political involvement. He is farmed out as an servant to Arnold Trist, a cruel land owner who uses whipping to keep discipline. He is accompanied by fellow convicts Blackie, Coughy and Bertie.

Fury escapes from prison and meets Jeannette Dupre, the daughter of strict Mennonite Francois Dupre. Fury discovers that Trist is trying to drive settlers from the area to take over their land.

Fury organises the settlers to take action against Trist. He returns to prison to recruit convicts to help settlers. Trist's men attack the Bailey ranch. Fury, helped by Blackie, Coughy and Bertie, oppose them.

Jeanette begins to fall in love with Fury. Her father forbids her to see him, so she runs away. Dupre then tells Trist where Fury can be found. Trist double crosses Dupre and imprisons him. Fury and his men narrowly escape an ambush from Trist's men.

Dupre's house is burnt down and a charred body is discovered in the ruins. Fury is arrested for Dupre's murder and sentenced to hang. However Blackie hears Dupre calling from his cell, rescues him and presents him to the Governor.

Trist is exposed. He attempts to escape but is shot by a dying Coughy. The Governor grants Fury a pardon and places Blackie and Bertie in his custody.[3]



In June 1938 it was announced that Roach would make a film of the novel Robbery Under Arms, about the bushranger Captain Starlight, starring Brian Aherne and Margaret Sullavan. Release was to be through United Artists.[4] Aherne made the film as the second in a two-picture deal with Roach the first being Merrily We Live.[5]

(Aherne later wrote in his memoirs that the novel Roach wanted to adapt was For the Term of His Natural Life.[5])

In July 1938 it was announced Roach had abandoned plans to make Robbery Under Arms and would instead be filming Captain Midnight with Aherne and Sullavan, directed by John G. Blystone. Geza Herczig and Jack Jevne were writing a script, reports stating "the title role is a variation of Captain Starlight in the original."[6][7][8] Plans to make Robbery Under Arms had been dropped apparently out of fear of offending Australians.[9][10] There also may have been an issue with the rights to the novel, which were held by Cinesound Productions. The eventual script was not based on any particular bushranger.[11]

In October, Roach announced that Norman McLeod would direct and Francine Bourdeaux would play the female lead instead of Sullavan.[12] Bourdeaux was eventually replaced by June Lang and Roach would direct himself.[13]

Joseph Calleia was meant to play Coughy; he dropped out and was replaced by John Carradine who was borrowed from 20th Century Fox. W.P. Lipscomb was reported as working on the script.[14]

Australian politician Sir Earle Page visited Hal Roach studios in August 1938 and promised to assist the movie by sending over some koalas and eucalyptus trees.[15]


Filming was delayed because June Lang had an infected throat.[16] It took place near Malibu Beach. Four kookaburras were hired from Catalina Island Bird Park but refused to laugh during filming.[17] Some location work was done on Santa Cruz Island.[18]

Both Brian Aherne and Victor McLaglen had toured Australia with stage shows and were anxious for the film to be as accurate as possible. Frank Baker, brother of Snowy Baker, acted as technical adviser. A few Australians were in the cast, including Billy Bevan and Frank Hagney.[19]


Box office

Aherne later wrote that "Captain Fury seemed like such a farrago of nonsense to me that I was very happy to know that Juarez would rescue me by coming out at about the same time. Well, Juarez turned out to be a highly respected box-office flop while Captain Fury cleaned up and went on playing all over the world for many years with countless television runs."[5]


The Los Angeles Times said the film would "amuse and entertain audiences in first rate fashion."[20] A later review from the same paper criticised Roach's direction saying "he has learned nothing and forgotten nothing since earliest slapstick days" and that "the plot is a cartoon of Captain Blood, the only novelty being that Australia instead of the West Indies is the background."[21]

The New York Times called it "an amusingly old-fashioned Western melodrama."[22]

Filmink magazine later wrote "The Australian setting is not really emphasised, it’s just the usual immigrant settlers and evil land baron that you’d see in the old West, which is why I classify this as a meat pie Western rather than a bushranging film. The cast... is cool. It’s awkwardly directed but interesting." [23]


The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Art Direction by Charles D. Hall.[24]


  1. "Hollywood makes.... Film of Australia." The Australian Women's Weekly 15 Jul 1939: 32 Supplement: The Movie World accessed. December 28, 2011
  2. Hamilton, Emma (2017). "Such Is Western: An Overview of the Australian Western via Ned Kelly Films". Contemporary Transnational Westerns: Themes and Variations. Studia Filmoznawcze ("Film Studies") (38): 35. doi:10.19195/0860-116X.38.3. ISSN 0860-116X. Retrieved May 24, 2019.
  3. "A FILM CRITIC'S DIARY". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. March 22, 1939. p. 15. Retrieved December 5, 2013.
  4. NEW FILMS LISTED BY UNITED ARTISTS: Program of 30 Features-and 12 Color Shorts Planned for 1938-39 Season KORDA PICTURES INCLUDED Goldwyn, Selznick, Roach and Wanger Among the Other Producers on Schedule Two Gary Cooper Films Walter Wanger's Plans New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] June 13, 1938: 15
  5. Captain Fury at Turner Classic Movies
  6. NEWS OF THE SCREEN: Warners to Revise the Script on 'Women in the Wind'--RKO to Start Second of 'Saint' Series Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] July 16, 1938: 7.
  7. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: RKO Will Release 54 Pictures on 1938-39 Schedule--40 Will Be Made by Studio THE TEXANS' OPENS TODAY Joan Bennett, Randolph Scott and May Robson Have Leads in Picture at Paramount Of Local Origin Coast Scripts Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] July 27, 1938: 14.
  8. "HOLLYWOOD CABLE Australian Story For Hollywood." The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) 9 Jul 1938: 13 accessed December 28, 2011
  9. "CAPTAIN FURY RIDES AGAIN." The Sydney Morning Herald 13 Mar 1939: 7 Supplement: Women's Supplement accessed December 28, 2011
  10. "£5,000 To Please Us." The Mail (Adelaide, SA) 22 Apr 1939: 4 Supplement: THE MAIL Magazine accessed December 28, 2011
  11. "HOLLYWOOD BRIGHTENS UP OUR BUSHRANGERS". The Courier-Mail. Brisbane: National Library of Australia. March 30, 1939. p. 10. Retrieved December 18, 2013.
  12. Brilliant Cast Chosen for 'Captain Midnight Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] October 22, 1938: A7.
  13. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: New Shaw Play, 'Newton,' Goes on List of Those That Will Be Filmed by Pascal CHRISTMAS CAROL' TODAY Picture Version of Dickens Story to Be at Radio City'Sweethearts' to Open Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES.. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] December 22, 1938: 25.
  14. SCREEN NEWS HERE AND IN HOLLYWOOD: Warners Combining Yarns of Two Earlier Films to Make Ann Sheridan Vehicle CARRADINE IN 'CAPT. FURY' Midnight Shows to Be Rule in First Run and Neighborhood Houses Here Tonight Of Local Origin Special to THE NEW YORK TIMES. New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] December 31, 1938: 7.
  15. "AMERICAN FILM ON AUSTRALIA." The Canberra Times 1 Dec 1938: 4 accessed December 28, 2011
  16. "HOLLYWOOD CABLE JANET GAYNOR TO MARRY." The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) 21 Jan 1939: 13 accessed December 28, 2011
  17. "Laughing Jacks Who Won't Laugh Have Laugh On Hollywood." The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) 14 Feb 1939: 15 accessed December 28, 2011
  18. Town Called Hollywood Scheuer, Philip K. Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] January 15, 1939: C2.
  19. "Hollywood Films Australian Story." The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) 18 Mar 1939: 13 accessed December 28, 2011
  20. CAPTAIN FURY' AGREEABLE MIXTURE OF DRAMA, COMEDY Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] May 3, 1939: A10.
  21. New York Critics Find Much to Razz in Cinema Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File) [Los Angeles, Calif] June 5, 1939: A14.
  22. THE SCREEN: 'Captain Fury,' Australian Horse Opera, Arrives at the Music Hall--'Bridal Suite' at the Capitol New York Times (1923-Current file) [New York, N.Y] May 26, 1939: 27.
  23. Vagg, Stephen (July 24, 2019). "50 Meat Pie Westerns". Filmink.
  24. "NY Times: Captain Fury". NY Times. Retrieved December 10, 2008.
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