Few actors are as synonymous with the swashbuckler than Errol Flynn was during the 1930’s and 1940’s. After a smashing debut with Captain Blood (1935), The Sea Hawk was to be the follow up, but ended up getting pushed back a few years while Errol went on to greater heights, especially with The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938); when it finally came out, it further cemented his status as a legend in the genre. Previously released on DVD by Warner Bros., it finally makes it long awaited Blu-ray debut as part of the Warner Archive.
The Production: 4.5/5
Captain Geoffrey Thorpe (Errol Flynn) is the most notorious privateer of late 16th Century England, raiding Spanish ships for “reparations” during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson). However, King Philip II of Spain is building an armada of ships for an invasion of England, and has sent Don Alvarez (Claude Rains) to convince her that the armada is not for nefarious purposes. What Don Alvarez didn’t count on was Thorpe falling in love with his niece (Brenda Marshall), or that he will uncover the plans as well as flushing out a traitor within the Queen’s ministers; all this plays out with the fate of England hanging in the balance…
In the half-decade since Captain Blood (1935), Errol Flynn established himself as a bona fide movie star and The Sea Hawk stands out as one of his greatest adventures on the big screen. In what would be his tenth of eleven collaborations with Flynn, director Michael Curtiz fashions a masterful blend of costume drama and swashbuckler all while bearing topical relevance to modern events (WWII was already underway and the movie was meant to be a morale booster for our friends in the UK). While the film was loosely based off of the real life exploits of Sir Francis Drake, the movie deviates from the original Rafael Sabatini novel it was originally intended to be based on (and filmed previously in 1924); the adventure seen here was penned by Howard “Hawk” Koch and Seton I. Miller and obviously tailored to Flynn’s strengths. All of this plays out on lavish sets by Anton Grot, including an impressive recreation of two Spanish galleons for swordplay, as well as a sweeping and operatic Erich Wolfgang Korngold score propelling the film along the way, further illustrating why Flynn was the king of swashbucklers.
Adding to his already impressive resume of heroic performances, Errol Flynn turns in one of his greatest performances as Captain Thorpe; this role, along with the aforementioned The Adventures of Robin Hood and Captain Blood helped make him an icon of the swashbuckler genre not only of his day, but – quite arguably – the greatest in cinema history in that field. In the role of Doña Maria – which originally had Olivia de Havilland alongside Errol yet again – Brenda Marshall acquits herself quite well as Captain Thorpe’s romantic interest; it would be the most notable role of her brief career – she had a few more roles, but largely left Hollywood behind following her marriage to William Holden. Claude Rains adds yet another suavely villainous performance to his resume as the treacherous Don Alvarez, while Flora Robson makes for a equally cunning and charming Queen Elizabeth I (she had already portrayed Elizabeth in a previous movie about the Spanish Armada, 1937’s Fire Over England). Among the many notable performers include longtime Flynn sidekick Alan Hale, Donald Crisp as one of the Queen’s trusted advisers, Henry Daniell as a two-faced royal adviser, Gilbert Roland as Don Alvarez’s sea captain, Una O’Connor as Doña Maria’s duenna, Montagu Love as King Philip II in the opening sequence, James Stephenson as an enslaved Englishman who Thorpe encounters when in captivity, and character actors Jack La Rue, Robert Warwick, Harry Cording, Ian Keith, and Halliwell Hobbes in bit parts.
3D Rating: NA
The original 127-minute release of the movie, complete with sepia tinted sequences, is preserved in this HD transfer. Film grain is sturdy with minor instances of age related artifacts, which are noticeable in sequences that were restored from the cut version; fine details are rendered faithfully with a consistent gray scale and rich sepia tone in the South America sequences. A very solid job by Warner Bros. in giving the movie its best incarnation on home video.
The original mono soundtrack is preserved on a DTS-HD Master Audio track. Dialogue is strong and clear, along with sound effects, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s magnificent score is given great fidelity and clarity with nary an instance of age related artifacts. It’s by far the best the movie has ever sounded on home video.
Special Features: 3.5/5
Warner Night at the Movies 1940: Carried over from the Warner DVD, this program recreates the old school movie going experience. All features here – including the movie – can be viewed separately or as a whole: Introduction by Leonard Maltin (4:04), Movietone Newsreel (The Battle of Britain) (1:49), the short Alice in Movieland (21:42), Looney Tunes cartoon Porky’s Poor Fish (6:50), and a trailer for Virginia City (2:01)
The Sea Hawk: Flynn in Action (17:34) – Carried over from the Warner DVD, this short featurette goes over the production of The Sea Hawk; those interviewed include historians Lincoln D. Hurst, Rudy Behlmer, Robert Osborne, and conductor John Mauceri.
Theatrical Trailer (2:16)
The Sea Hawk is undeniably a great adventure and a jewel in the crown of both Errol Flynn’s career and the Warner Bros. studio. Warner Archive has done a great job in bringing the movie to Blu-ray with great picture and sound as well as carrying over the special features from the previous DVD. Absolutely get a copy for your collection if you’re a classic film fan or an Errol Flynn aficionado.
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