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Warner Home Video presents
The Sea Hawk (1940)

"It would be just like that Spaniard to surrender and spoil all our fun."
- Mr. Pitt (Alan Hale)

Review By: Jeff Wilson  
Published: April 18, 2005

Stars: Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains, Henry Daniell
Other Stars: Flora Robson, Alan Hale, Donald Crisp, Una O'Connor
Director: Michael Curtiz

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for Not rated (violence)
Run Time: 02:07:33
Release Date: April 19, 2005
UPC: 012569704022
Genre: historical adventure

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Errol Flynn has always been associated, at least to me, with the swashbuckler genre. I know he made films in various other genres. but to me he'll always be best with a sword in hand. He was rarely better than in The Sea Hawk, based not on the Rafael Sabatini novel of the same name, but as the accompanying featurette informs us, on an unrelated script called Beggars of the Sea. The film remains a decidedly unsubtle allegory for the situation in Europe in the early stages of World War II, but it also remains a superior entertainment.

The Sea Hawk is set in 1585, as King Philip of Spain is preparing to attack England with his armada. His secret ally in the English court, Lord Wolfingham (Henry Daniell), works to persuade Queen Elizabeth (Flora Robson) against marshalling her forces for defense, despite the pleas of her other ministers. Geoffrey Thorpe (Flyyn), captain of the Albatross, and a privateer with a history of ransacking Spanish ships and ports (with the implicit approval of his queen), stokes the flames when he plunders and sinks a Spanish ship carrying the Spanish ambassador, Don Jose Alvarez (Claude Rains) and his niece, Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall).

Maria is angered by the attack, but slowly cools toward Thorpe's awkward attentions. In the meantime, Thorpe has persuaded Elizabeth to allow him to make a dangerous, secret raid on Spanish gold supplies in Central America. Alvarez and Wolfingham know very well something is going on, and work to set up a trap.

The film has its fill of action sequences, including the lengthy opening sequence with the initial attack on Alvarez's ship, which fills the first half hour of the film. Flynn makes Thorpe a level-headed, responsible captain, without the excessive hamminess of his performance as Robin Hood. Marshall doesn't have a great deal to do as Maria, but does it well enough. Claude Rains is thankfully a villain not in the sneeringly evil mode, demonstrating some remorse for the pain he causes his niece when she hears about the trap laid for Thorpe. Flora Robson gives perhaps the best performance as Elizabeth, the second time she had played the role (the first being in Fire Over England). Her Elizabeth is by turns jocular, cunning, and easily angered, keeping those around her emotionally at arm's length in order to better rule.

As noted above, the film, written by Howard Koch and Seton I. Miller, is a World War II allegory, with all the subtlety of a boot to the skull. Elizabeth wants to deal with the Spanish threat via diplomatic means, but as her advisers try to tell her, Spain will understand nothing but force (paging Neville Chamberlain). In the meantime, Spain uses Elizabeth's weakness to continue their preparations for war. To further underscore the message, Elizabeth, having learned her lesson by the end of the film, delivers a speech underlining the necessity of standing up for freedom at all costs, to rousing cheers from her loyal subjects. In the end, though, all that can be ignored if one so chooses, and the film remains highly satisfying as the adventure film it is.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The film has not been subjected to the restoration efforts given some of Warner's crown jewels, but it looks quite good for the most part, with decent detail and good contrast. However, some 21 minutes of footage cut from the film after release has been re-instated, but from inferior elements, and the difference is rather noticable. The restored footage is often fairly dingy looking, with blurry detail and some print damage. It isn't so poor as to ruin one's enjoyment, but it is there. In any event, you can second guess the studio and decide if the cuts were wise or not.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The soundtrack comes through quite well, with Erich Wolfgang Korngold's stirring, if occasionally wearying, score coming through loud and clear. No complaints here.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 34 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Virginia City
1 Documentaries
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01:33:20

Extra Extras:
  1. Warner Night at the Movies: Hosted by Leonard Martin; includes Newsreel, Alice in Movieland, Porky's Poor Fish, and trailer for Virginia City
Extras Review: As with several of Warner's vintage releases, we get the "Warner Night at the Movies," this time for 1940. It's a clever idea, and the material here includes: a trailer for Flynn's Virginia City, a newsreel (at 1m:50s, a brief look at the Battle of Britain), the short Alice in Movieland (21m:39s), which presents an amusing look at a young woman's move to Hollywood to try and make it in pictures. Errol Flynn gets a mention and Alan Hale is glimpsed, providing some tiny connection to the main attraction. Last up is the Looney Tunes entry, Porky's Poor Fish (6:48).

A short documentary, titled The Sea Hawk: Flynn in Action, covers the development and making of the film. There is some good information here if you're unacquainted with the film's background, as I was, though some of the comments assessing the film tend toward hyperbole. The clips of The Sea Hawk used as examples come from a vastly inferior print to what is seen in the actual film, looking very beat up and lacking detail. Still, it provides a nice background to the film.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

As critic Rudy Belmer notes in the featurette, they don't make them like this anymore. If you want a taste of the grand old traditional swashbuckler, you can't pick a much better one than this.


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