THE SEA HAWK is fondly recalled by those who saw it as kids, and it consistently gets high marks from critics. Shiver me timbers, but I was a bit crestfallen when rewatching it to notice how many bits of its big action scene were spliced in from Captain Blood, star Errol Flynn’s first swashbuckler classic made five years earlier.* There are also some noticeable shots from the first version of this Rafael Sabatini story, a silent biggie in 1924 that featured real ships blasting away at each other.
At any rate, re-used footage, models, and new full-size mockups (165 and 135 feet long) in a specially built studio pool all pull together in a furious melee when Flynn’s hearty crew (‘hearty’ basically a polite way of saying ‘happily murderous’, given the gleeful nature of the slaughterfests in this sort of action caper) takes on Gilbert Roland’s vessel, one of the dastardly Spanish fleet that dares to share the same oceans as decent-to-the-core England (cue rousing music).
It was a bomber-darkened 1940 when Warner’s splashed $1,701,000 on this story set in the late 1580s, and, along with being a common-sense moneymaking costume gig with their wildly popular star, the wet & wooly epic is essentially a 127-minute propaganda flick for our British cousins under attack from Hitler. Thusly the script (let’s say ‘less than faithful’ to history) uses decrepit old Spain (Montagu Love’s ‘King Philip II’ played as an obvious planet-hog) as a substitute ogre for American audiences to hiss at. “The riches of the New World are limitless, and the New World is ours – with our ships carrying the Spanish flag on seven seas, our armies sweeping over Africa, the Near East, and the Far West; invincible everywhere… but on our own doorstep. Only northern Europe holds out against us; why? Tell me, why?”
Lavish sets, a famous Erich Wolfgang Korngold music score, a dandy swordfight between Errol and the ever-snide Henry Daniell, lusty crewmen (Alan Hale, Edgar Buchanan), noble servants of the Queen (Donald Crisp), the nobler Queen herself, good old ‘Elizabeth’ (done haughty yet humorous by Flora Robson—could they load her down with more jewels?), sneaky Spanish courtier ‘Don Jose Alvarez de Cordoba’ (Claude Rains), a damsel (Brenda Marshall replacing the “not-this-time, Jack” Olivia de Havilland)–and a pet ship’s monkey in suitable attire.
Plus, a swamp trek across Panama, galley slaves, intrigue, treachery, manly rigging-swinging, flintlock guns that would not be made until two hundred years later—all a kid needed for a matinee. Oscar nominations went to the Score, Art Direction, Special Effects and Sound. Tills rang with enough doubloons to make it the years 10th biggest hit, Flynn’s 9th job with explosive, malaprop-spewing, actor-enraging director Michael Curtiz. Here, have a bonus Curtiz quote : “The next time I want an idiot to do this, I’ll do it myself!”
With Una O’Connor, William Lundigan, J. M. Kerrigan, Whit Bissell (debut—yes, he was once a young man!), Gerald Mohr, Jay Silverheels.
- *I didn’t notice the obvious lifts from Captain Blood until I recently viewed the two in quick succession. Back there, in the Dawn Of Time, before video, movies were basically one-off events, with maybe an occasional re-issue years later. Smartaleck fans couldn’t tiresomely micropick every stunt, cue and facial expression to digital death and arrogantly snipe about how these innovative technician-artists should have done it. Heave to, thou poxed knave, if it’s a fight you’ll be spoilin’ for….