Tuesday, January 01, 2019

Tonight's Movie: The Sea Hawk (1940) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

I began the New Year in style watching the stunning new Warner Archive Blu-ray release of THE SEA HAWK (1940).

Truth to tell, in the past I've been a bit tepid about THE SEA HAWK (1940). Oh, I've liked it all right and seen it multiple times over the years, but I've found it overlong, clocking in at 127 minutes, and third-best behind Flynn's CAPTAIN BLOOD (1935) and THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD (1938), the latter of which is surely on the list of my all-time favorite movies.

I think in years past I particularly felt let down that Flynn's leading lady in this film was the subdued Brenda Marshall rather than his perfect match, the lively Olivia de Havilland. However, over the years I've rather come to like Marshall; she rarely distinguished herself as an actress, yet she was so beautiful I've come to enjoy simply looking at her black hair and porcelain features, and I've now seen a majority of her films.

What really got me interested in revisiting THE SEA HAWK was a recent CineSavant review by Glenn Erickson, which was so filled with love and enthusiasm for the film that I knew I had to give it a fresh look. I'm so glad I did, as I have never enjoyed the movie more. It truly represents classic era studio craftsmanship at its finest.

THE SEA HAWK was energetically directed by Michael Curtiz -- did he ever direct in any other fashion? I think not -- and filmed in black and white by Sol Polito. The film also boasts a justly famous, stirring score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

The film tells the story of Geoffrey Thorpe (Flynn), a buccaneer who has the secret approval of Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) to harass the Spanish Armada, while she publicly maintains diplomatic relations with Spain. Thorpe has successes and also at one point is taken prisoner, before escaping and returning to the Queen with critical secrets. When he's not busy pirating, he's romancing Spanish lovely Dona Maria (Marshall).

Beyond those bare outlines of the story, there is much excitement, whether it's ship-to-ship battles or a jungle adventure in Panama, shot in sepia. Erickson's piece mentions that Warner Bros. built a tank big enough for two full-sized ships, but the effects are so good throughout that I wasn't even thinking about things like tanks and miniatures. Likewise, the photography is exquisite, making great use of shadows, particularly during the climatic sword fight between Flynn and Henry Daniell.

I feel I also had a deeper appreciation of the film simply because I've seen hundreds more films since my last viewing and thus come to have an even deeper appreciation of the cast. When the camera first closes in on Alan Hale (Sr.) standing on the deck of the pirate ship a huge smile broke across my face; I thought how great it must be to be Alan Hale, always where the action is in a Flynn movie like this!

There's Gilbert Roland as the Spanish sea captain, insisting on being the last to leave his sinking ship even though he's surrendered to Flynn, who gallantly agrees; there's young William Lundigan doing his captain's bidding; and there's Edgar Buchanan amidst the crew as well. A bunch of Spanish soldiers ride by, and there's Jack LaRue in the lead.

And so it goes. Donald Crisp, Montagu Love, Una O'Connor, James Stephenson, David Bruce, Ian Keith, Francis McDonald, J.M. Kerrigan, Halliwell Hobbes, Robert Warwick, Jay Silverheels, Nestor Paiva, John Sutton, Gerald Mohr, even Mary Anderson in the background as one of the Queen's ladies. This is the kind of remarkable, recognizable talent pool seen in so many films of its era, which perhaps more than anything makes these movies unlike any films released today. Goodness, I just realized I haven't even mentioned Claude Rains, who plays the Spanish king's emissary to England! Talk about a film jam-packed with talent.

The rousing ending, roughly 18 months before Pearl Harbor, was in part intended to stir audiences against Hitler; it's obvious, but it also adds an interesting depth to the film, imagining seeing it at the time it was released. When the final notes of the score sounded as the film ended, I confess to a tear in my eye -- pure thrills and joy here.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray is a marvel of visual beauty and excellent sound. I felt as though the booming cannons, clanging swords, and Korngold's rousing score were pinging off the walls of the room, the sound was so dynamic. While muffled dialogue is occasionally an issue with Warner Archive DVDs, the clarity of the dialogue here was terrific as well. This Blu-ray surely ranks with the best Blu-ray releases I've enjoyed over the years, and I highly recommend it.

The Blu-ray ports over the "Warner Night at the Movies" extras from the original DVD release, withe Leonard Maltin hosting a presentation which includes trailers, a short, a cartoon, and a featurette on Errol Flynn.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop or from any online retailers where DVDs and Blu-rays are sold.


Blogger Jerry Entract said...

Sounds to me as though I need to consider getting this particular BluRay. Your description of the sheer vividness of picture and sound here is stirring, Laura!

"THE SEA HAWK" is a special favourite of mine, probably my favourite Flynn swashbuckler among several great films, the edge being that wonderful score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold - his finest among many wonderful film scores.
Henry Daniell is a worthy opponent but perhaps I really miss the great Basil Rathbone in that role this time, the finest swordsman Flynn was ever up against.

One of THE great Hollywood classics.

12:08 AM  
Blogger Margot Shelby said...

Nice review of a movie that I too couldn't really get into. My problem is definitively the tepid and lukewarm chemistry of Flynn and Brenda Marshall. This is Marshall's fault. As you say she's beautiful but doesn't seem to have a spark of life in her. I've seen her in other movies and had the same reaction to her.

I'll give it another try soon. Hope my appreciation of the film will grow.

11:11 AM  
Blogger Caftan Woman said...

You have me aching to see this BluRay release.

I was, like you, tepid on The Sea Hawk once upon a time and then a late night viewing just because it was on TCM completely turned me around.

I'm sharing my piece on the movie so you can from the comments that we are not alone.

11:31 AM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

I haven't seen this yet, but I'm pretty sure I have it in a Flynn collection. Jay Silverheels is in it? That alone bumps it up my to-watch list a lot of notches.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Jerry, if you get it I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Just beautiful. Loved reading your thoughts. I agree, Daniell is good but it sure wouldn't have hurt the movie to have Rathbone in that part to duel with Flynn. :)

Margot, I'd be interested to know if you find the movie growing on you as it did for me! It's taken a long time to get to that point -- but experiences like this encourage me to keep re-watching movies, as reactions can change over time.

Caftan Woman, thank you so very much for sharing the link, I enjoyed your take! I'm rather fascinated that this film hasn't immediately "clicked" for a few of us here.

Hamlette, Silverheels' role is small, but he's recognizable -- look for him in the sepia-toned "New World" section of the film. (There are some exquisitely "choreographed" bits with the pirates hiding in the jungle there I loved...)

Best wishes,

7:06 PM  

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