10 August 2018

The Sea Hawk (1940) Reviewed

Original Review

It is the dawn of the golden age of piracy, when Spain was claiming dominion over the oceans and plundering the wealth of the New World — and England was plundering Spanish treasure ships. The Sea Hawk served a dual purpose in 1940 as both a rollicking, swashbuckling adventure starring the most popular swashbuckler of his time, Errol Flynn (as privateer Geoffrey Thorpe), and as a thoughtful allegory of the most pressing concern of the time, England's resistance to Germany's ambitions of global domination. As a testament to how seriously it was taken, thespian Flora Robson was enlisted to play the part of Queen Elizabeth and reportedly inspired Flynn to unprecedented heights of professional behavior out of his admiration for her (Robson).

The Sea Hawk was a considerable improvement over its nautical forebearer, Captain Blood. The sea battles were more convincing (and made at far greater expense), the plot was more cohesive, the performances had more solidity, and the fight choreography was much more carefully planned. The climactic duel between Errol Flynn's Captain Thorpe and Henry Daniell's Lord Wolfingham (although a stunt double stood in for Daniell) remains a fine example of swordplay in the genre.

It has been claimed that The Sea Hawk was the logical next step in the path that began with Captain Blood and was followed by The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex in terms of what the public wanted and what the studio had readily available in sets and costumes, but it is more than that. There is far greater unity in the quality of the script, acting, and directing than in its predecessors. Whether it is the result of a convergence of talent tempered by experience, or the greater devotion that was dedicated to the project by virtue of its message, The Sea Hawk is one of the best adventure films of its kind.

Writing: Good
Directing: Great
Acting: Great
Cinematography: Great
Stunts: Good
Swordplay: Great
Panache: Great

Overall Rating: Great
Swashbuckling Rank: Great

[Originally posted in Cuparius.com on 14 April 2010.]

Extended Review

The music of The Sea Hawk was composed by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, and it plays as important a part in the film as the cinematography in conveying the scope and spirit of the story. It is bold without being overbearing, heartfelt without being sentimental, and ultimately patriotic without being nationalistic. It is fittingly iconic of the genre, and as I listen to it, I think hear its influence in some of the best adventure films that followed it decades later.

Written by: Howard Koch and Seton I. Miller
Based on the Novel by: Rafael Sabatini
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Performed by: Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains, Flora Robson, Alan Hale, Donald Crisp, Henry Daniell, et al.

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