The Sea Hawk
Errol Flynn handily commands the screen and the high seas as Elizabethan privateer Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, of the loyal Sea Hawks, leading a secret mission into the Caribbean for queen and country. There he and his hearty men (including Alan Hale again as Flynn's reliable sidekick) aim to plunder a Spanish fleet carrying New World gold funding the Spanish armada that's gunning for Old Blighty. This lavish apex of the swashbuckler era combines elements from Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood, adorned with costumes and sets left over from The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex. The Sea Hawk's spy-thriller story (scripted by Howard Koch and Seton I. Miller) involves a wartime conspiracy leading to the heart of Her Majesty's government, a familiar enough plot during World War II. Flynn was by now Warner's top box-office attraction, and is perfectly on cue as the heroic rogue who is brave, dashing, big-hearted, lick-the-screen handsome, and bashful as a schoolboy when near beautiful Brenda Marshall. She's not Olivia de Havilland, unfortunately, but she's still a lovely Spanish aristo whose heart melts under genteel Captain Thorpe's English gallantry. Claude Rains as her uncle, the Spanish ambassador, effortlessly trots out his always-enjoyable silky villainy.
The Sea Hawk's impressive sea battles give us cannons blazing, tall rigging collapsing, and oars splintering when a broadside attack gets too close for an enemy ship's comfort. Warner Brothers' ace in the hole, Michael Curtiz, directed with his usual fluid panache, and the cast fills out with Una O'Connor, Henry Daniell, Donald Crisp, J.M. Kerrigan, and other stalwarts from Warner's repertory players. But as much as Flynn himself, what pulls together the grand action set-pieces of swordplay, galley slaves, chases, escapes, and gushing romance is the music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. It's Hollywood's greatest swashbuckling symphony and one of the all-time favorite movie scores.
Times being what they were in 1940, we have no problem seeing in this picture more than just a rousing escapist adventure. Through the flashing cutlasses, thrilling fight scenes, a New World jungle commando raid, cannons and grappling hooks, The Sea Hawk also gave its audiences an allegory for their World War era, with Churchill and Hitler thinly disguised as Queen Bess (Flora Robson, stealing her every scene) and Spain's dastardly King Phillip. When Thorpe states that "Spain is at war with the world," there's no doubt who the film is really talking about, jawohl. Witnessing Elizabeth's proud valedictory against "the ruthless ambition of a man" who "threatens to engulf the world," 1940 audiences rallied to her stout call to action aimed squarely at contemporary patriotism, with "the solemn obligation of all free men" including the so-far uninvolved U.S.
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Part of the "Errol Flynn Signature Collection," this Warner Home Video DVD delivers another superior release from a studio loved by aficionados for its attentive releases of classic favorites. The gorgeous black-and-white cinematography by Sol Polito looks great, albeit without the sheen of restoration perfection. This print includes footage snipped from previous TV editions. Although that footage came from a source print that's slightly softer or more dupey than the rest, its insertion is still a welcome bonus and the film clocks in at its original luxurious 127 minutes. Also robust is the DD 1.0 audio.
New among the extras is The Sea Hawk: Flynn in Action (17 mins.), which thumbnails the film's production with Lincoln D. Hurst, Rudy Behlmer, Robert Osborne, sword master Tom Weske, and Korngold expert John Mauceri. Korngold in particular gets the lauding that is his due, and the production details behind the seafaring battles still impress us with their magnitude.
Leonard Maltin hosts Warner Night at the Movies, which kicks off with the trailer for Flynn's 1940 Western, Virginia City. The Movietone News reel features dramatic footage from the Battle of Britain with voice-over by Lowell Thomas. The short subject, "Alice in Movieland" (21 mins.) written by pre-TV Ed Sullivan, is a kitschy Hollywood fairy-tale starring 15-year-old Joan Leslie. And the Looney Tunes treat is Robert Clampett's musical "Porky's Poor Fish." Finishing up the disc is The Sea Hawk's re-release trailer. Keep-case.