Sunday, January 23, 2011

Canon Movie Review: The Sea Hawk

So earlier today, Turner Classic Movies was playing the 1940 movie The Sea Hawk, and since there was nothing else on, I decided to watch the film and see if it's as good as Alec Baldwin said it was at the beginning of the movie. The Sea Hawk is a flim directed by Michael Curitz (Casablanca) and stars the legendary Errol Flynn as the English pirate Geoffrey Thorpe. The movie also starts Claude Rains, Brenda Marshall, Alan Hale, Henry Daniell, and Flora Robson as Queen Elizabeth. In The Sea Hawk, Thorpe and his band of troubadours are sailing on his ship the Albatross when they come across a Spanish ship that just happens to be carrying the ambassador of Spain Alvarez (Rains) and his niece Dona Maria (Marshall). Thorpe captures the ship, frees the slaves in the galley and ends up transporting Alvarez and his party to England. On his return to England, Thorpe and Dona Maria start to hit it off despite a tumultuous beginning, and despite the protests of the Queen's council Lord Wolfington (Daniell), Thorpe and his men get unofficial permission from the Queen to embark on a mission designed to take a lot of gold from Spanish hands. However, Wolfington has his own agenda, and he and Alvarez work behind the queen's back in the name of Spain. A few notes about this film, and there will probably be SPOILERS, so read with caution.

- The Sea Hawk is a rather extravagant production for its, and well, any other time. The scene where The Albatross does battle with the Spanish army ship is masterfully done, full of action and suspense and showcasing the excellent fencing skills of Flynn as he does battle with the Spanish captain. Even though there's a lot going on in the scene, the direction is such that you are always aware of what exactly is happening at the time, who's on each side of the fight, and the scene also has a sense of real peril. Also, the final scene and the sequence where Thorpe and his men are ambushed in Mexico are also well done scenes that are full of suspense and excitement.

- Make no mistake about it, The Sea Hawk is a film designed to showcase Errol Flynn, as he's nearly in every scene and is portrayed as a heroic pirate serving under the queen who has few flaws, the utmost respect of his men, and a pet monkey to boot. There's nothing wrong with building a film around a single person if they can pull it off, and by golly Flynn is able to excel in this role as the dashing Thorpe. Heck, I have a hard time imaging anybody else taking that role and excelling the way Flynn did in this film. The Sea Hawk is a prime example of Flynn at his gallant best, the perfect marriage of actor and role.

- However, Flynn wasn't alone in deserving praise for their acting skills. Claude Rains was very good in his role as Alvarez, making him seem sympathetic despite the fact that he's basically the enemy in this film. Alan Hale deserved praise for his job as Pitt, Thorpe's rough-and-ready right hand man, and Henry Daniell is very believable in his role as the villain in the film, Lord Wolfington. Props are also due to Robson's portrayal of Queen Elizabeth, as she nearly manages the impossible and steals the movie from Flynn. Over the years, a lot of women have played the role of Queen Elizabeth I, and I'd put Robson's Queen right up there among the top portrayals of that role.

- If I have one complaint about the acting, it would be Brenda Marshall's portrayal as Thorpe's love interest Dona Maria. To me, she just seemed a little too steely and cold, even when she was supposed to feel grief for Thorpe's fate. I just had a hard time buying the chemistry between Thorpe and Dona Maria, and it didn't help matters that the writers wrote her character so one-dimensional, as we hardly get any idea of what type of person she is other than the fact that she likes English roses and stolen Aztec jewelry. However, if that was her singing in the film, then I must say that Marshall has a very nice voice.

- Speaking of music, the film features an excellent score from composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold, although I felt that there were a couple of times that the music was just too overpowering and distracted from the scene instead of enhanced it. Even so, Korngold's score was top-notch, and one of the first things many people mention when remembering the film. Also of high quality was the cinematography of Sol Polito, and Michael Curitz is excellent as the director of the film, even if he and Flynn didn't like each other at the time. The script is decent enough, I suppose, with some flaws but those flaws are more than made up for by the excellent performances of the actors and the talent of Korngold, Polito, and Curitz.

- This film was rather pro-England, I will say, and is ever so subtetly an anti-Nazi propaganda film as well. Themes of the Sea Hawk include stopping a ruler who will stop at nothing to conquer the entire world (Spain's King Phillip in the film, Hitler in 1940 England) and for England to be the nation that stands up for freedom (i.e. the Spanish Inquistion in the film, the Holocaust in 1940 England), and a call to a ruler that will stand proud and fight a war that they don't want to fight, but must be done to protect England and ultimately the world (i.e. Queen Elizabeth and Winston Churchill).

Overall, The Sea Hawk is a classic film that is both a fun adventure and a politically charged movie. Flynn is at the top of his game here and so is the director Curitz and Robson does an excellent job as the Queen. Overall, I'd give The Sea Hawk an 8.25 out of 10. Well, thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts about this or other posts, or ideas for future posts, than let me know about them either by leaving a comment or by sending me an e-mail at

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