The Sea Hawk
And indeed it was! They went all out on this one and built a soundstage with two full scale ships afloat therein. This was the largest indoor stage in Hollywood at the time, with a budget to match. It was decided that in order to incorporate footage from previous pirate films, THE SEA HAWK would be shot in Black + White.
The studio's natural choice for leading lady was of course Olivia de Havilland. However, de Havilland was not available, and so they brought in a recent addition to the Warner family: Broadway star Brenda Marshall. Round out popular Flynn sidekick (and offscreen buddy) Alan Hale, perpetual chaperone Una O'Connor, and Claude Rains once again on the side of the bad guys. For Queen Elizabeth, they cast English actress Flora Robson to shoot her sequences prior to a theatrical engagement in New York.
The film is about the Privateers, seafaring vigilantes. Their objective: to thwart Spain's plans for world domination. This premise was of course a metaphor for Europe's problems at the time with Hitler, and during the film's epilogue the Queen delivers a rousing speech alerting her subjects to those circumstances "...when the ruthless ambitions of a man threaten to engulf the world...".
The plot focuses on Captain Geoffrey Thorpe and his faithful crew of Sea Hawks. They raid a Spanish galleass on an official mission to Queen Elizabeth and free many English slaves in the process. Doña María, the niece of liaison Don Alvarez (Claude Rains) is to be presented to Her Majesty's court as a gesture of good will - and to promote a false sense of security while Spain makes plans to conquer Britain with the aid of a spy in the court.
As with real-life Drake, Thorpe confides in the Queen of his plans to plunder Spain's resources in Panama and thwart their progress so that England can build their defenses against the inevitable. The plan goes awry and the surviving members of the crew become galley slaves.
At the Inquisition: Lineup includes David Bruce (left), Alan Hale (3rd from left),
silent film veteran J.M. Kerrigan (to the right of Hale), w/Flynn in the foreground
The Hawks orchestrate an escape from the galley one night and obtain evidence to expose the plans of an armada being built to be sent against England. They set sail for home at once. After a brief but passionate reunion with Doña María - who has decided to remain in London rather than return to Spain with her uncle - Thorpe confronts Lord Wolfingham for one of cinema's more engaging duels.
This is Flynn at his peak. The boyish personage from CAPTAIN BLOOD has matured into a commanding presence; Thorpe is a man of confidence and control (and a touch of cynicism at times). The battles are breathtaking on video - lord knows what they must be like with the clarity of film! There is some banal dialogue between Marshall and Flynn during a romantic interlude in the palace garden, but not banal enough as to upstage Korngold's score and the beautiful photography. And there are many memorable shots which linger in memory: That of the camera pulling back as Thorpe looks on at María in the garden, another when the Sea Hawks make it out of the Panamanian jungle and wade into the tide as if to pay homage to the sea. This film is a masterpiece. As for Robson as Queen Bess, I feel she does a more believable - and NATURAL - job of it than Bette Davis had the year before. Dame Robson was no stranger to the role, having played Her Majesty in another film as well as on the stage.
Thorpe & Lord Wolfingham (Henry Daniell) in the climactic duel
THE SEA HAWK is available on video from MGM/UA in two versions: colourised, and B+W with sepia tone for the New World sequences (the latter is how THE SEA HAWK was originally released), and if you have never seen it, at least rent it - you'll be glad you did!
All original contents (writing, graphics) ęD.David
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