Sea Hawk


In the 1580s, the Sea Hawks -- the name given to the bold privateers who prowl the oceans taking ships and treasure on behalf the British crown -- are the most dedicated defenders of British interests in the face of the expanding power of Philip of Spain.

And Captain Geoffrey Thorpe (Errol Flynn) is the boldest of the Sea Hawks, responsible for capturing and destroying more than 50 Spanish ships and ten Spanish cities. His capture of a Spanish galleon, however, leads to more than he bargained for, in a romance with the ambassador's niece (Brenda Marshall) and the first whiff of a plan to put Spanish spies into the court of Elizabeth I (Flora Robson).

Thorpe's boldness leads him to a daring raid on a treasure caravan in Panama which, thanks to treachery within Elizabeth's court, gets him captured and, with his crew, sentenced to the life of a slave aboard a Spanish ship. Meanwhile, Philip of Spain decides to wipe the threat posed by Elizabeth's independence from the sea by conquering the island nation with his armada. Thorpe, though chained to an oar, knows who the traitor at court is and plans to expose him and Philip's plans, but can he and his men break their bonds and get back to England alive in time to thwart the plans for conquest?

The Sea Hawk was the last and most mature of Flynn's swashbuckling adventure films, played with brilliant stylistic flourishes by the star at his most charismatic, and most serious and studied when working with Flora Robson, whom he apparently genuinely respected. Boasting the handsomest, most opulent production values of a Warner Bros. period film to date, The Sea Hawk was made possible in part by a huge new floodable soundstage. Another highlight was the best adventure film score ever written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; and the script's seriousness was nailed down by various not-so-veiled references not to 16th century Spain but 20th century Nazi Germany.

The movie was cut by over 20 minutes for a reissue with The Sea Wolf, and the complete version was lost until a preservation-quality source was found at the British Film Institute. Since then, that 128-minute version -- which actually contains a one-minute patriotic speech by Robson as Elizabeth that was originally left out of U.S. prints, as well as amber tinting in all of the Panamanian sequences -- has become standard. ~ Bruce Eder, All Movie Guide

Review
Michael Curtiz and Errol Flynn, who had previously teamed up in Captain Blood (1935) and the The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), join forces once again in this full-rigged adventure, one of the best of the swashbuckler genre. Based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini, the film follows the exploits of privateer Sir Geoffrey Thorpe (Errol Flynn), aka the Sea Hawk, as he raids Spanish ships to swell the coffers of England, under orders from Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson).

At 1.7 million dollars, one of the most expensive films to date, this lavish production has just about everything one could ask of a seafaring adventure: swordplay, romance, a dashing hero, a dastardly villain (Claude Rains), beautifully choreographed sea battles, and two nations on the brink of war. Flynn, who could not have been more perfectly cast, is at the peak of his powers as the resourceful, insouciant pirate.

He's aided by a huge supporting cast with many of the best character actors of the time, including Donald Crisp, Alan Hale, Gilbert Roland, Henry Daniell, and J.M. Kerrigan. But aside from Flynn, the film's key component is the lustrous score of Erich Korngold, who (along with Bernard Herrmann) was perhaps the finest film composer of the period. ~ Michael Costello, All Movie Guide

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