The Sea Hawk [DVD] [1940]

Kudos must go to Warner Home Video for the transfer they've given to Michael Curtiz's The Sea Hawk (1940); it was one of the handsomest laserdiscs ever issued by MGM/UA back in the late '80s, but this DVD literally runs circles around that set, in terms of clarity, crispness, and brightness, so much so that the laserdisc transfer resembles a worn 16 mm when stacked up against the 2005 digital disc release -- various shots in the opening sea battle are so crisp that they look almost 3-D. The producers have used the slightly extended British edition of the movie, which actually runs 127 and a half minutes and contains the short extension of Flora Robson's final speech, which was only originally seen in the U.K. prints of the film. The transfer, in full-frame (1.33:1), captures the luster of the original release and, also, all of the richness of Erich Wolfgang Korngold's score -- the 34 chapters are well selected and downright generous in breaking down the plot. The disc comes with an uneven array of supplements. Leonard Maltin hosts "Warner Night at The Movies 1940," explaining, in notably unsubtle fashion, how The Sea Hawk would have been presented in theaters in the 1940s. That's a lead in to the Errol Flynn Western Virginia City, a newsreel about World War II and the Battle of Britain, the short Alice in Movieland and the punning cartoon Porky's Poor Fish. Much more impressive among the extras is the featurette "The Sea Hawk: Flynn in Action." Historians Lincoln D. Hurst, Rudy Behlmer, and Robert Osborne discuss the making of the movie and the personalities behind it, most notably Flynn's. Evidently, Flynn was so impressed with Flora Robson and the idea of working with her that he was better prepared for their scenes together than he had been in almost anything he ever did onscreen; Henry Daniell, by contrast, was a superb actor and a great villain, but was totally unable to handle a sword for the climactic fight, which had to be put together using doubles and lots of shadow images. The Sea Hawk trailer is actually derived from the reissue of the film -- in tandem with The Sea Wolf -- for which the original movie was edited down by over 20 minutes. The disc opens automatically to a multi-layered menu that's well-labeled and easy to maneuver around. Overall, it isn't as impressive as the special edition done on The Adventures of Robin Hood, but given the quality of the movie itself, this title is just as essential for one's collection.
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Special Features

  • Leonard Maltin hosts Warner Night at the Movies 1940 with: Newsreel, short "Alice in Movieland," cartoon "Porky's Poor Fish," and theatrical trailers
  • New featurette "The Sea Hawk: Flynn in Action"


The Sea Hawk
In the 1580s, the Sea Hawks -- the name given to the bold privateers who prowl the oceans taking ships and treasure on behalf the British crown -- are the most dedicated defenders of British interests in the face of the expanding power of Philip of Spain. And Captain Geoffrey Thorpe (Errol Flynn) is the boldest of the Sea Hawks, responsible for capturing and destroying more than 50 Spanish ships and ten Spanish cities. His capture of a Spanish galleon, however, leads to more than he bargained for, in a romance with the ambassador's niece (Brenda Marshall) and the first whiff of a plan to put Spanish spies into the court of Elizabeth I (Flora Robson). Thorpe's boldness leads him to a daring raid on a treasure caravan in Panama which, thanks to treachery within Elizabeth's court, gets him captured and, with his crew, sentenced to the life of a slave aboard a Spanish ship. Meanwhile, Philip of Spain decides to wipe the threat posed by Elizabeth's independence from the sea by conquering the island nation with his armada. Thorpe, though chained to an oar, knows who the traitor at court is and plans to expose him and Philip's plans, but can he and his men break their bonds and get back to England alive in time to thwart the plans for conquest? The Sea Hawk was the last and most mature of Flynn's swashbuckling adventure films, played with brilliant stylistic flourishes by the star at his most charismatic, and most serious and studied when working with Flora Robson, whom he apparently genuinely respected. Boasting the handsomest, most opulent production values of a Warner Bros. period film to date, The Sea Hawk was made possible in part by a huge new floodable soundstage. Another highlight was the best adventure film score ever written by Erich Wolfgang Korngold; and the script's seriousness was nailed down by various not-so-veiled references not to 16th century Spain but 20th century Nazi Germany. The movie was cut by over 20 minutes for a reissue with The Sea Wolf, and the complete version was lost until a preservation-quality source was found at the British Film Institute. Since then, that 128-minute version -- which actually contains a one-minute patriotic speech by Robson as Elizabeth that was originally left out of U.S. prints, as well as amber tinting in all of the Panamanian sequences -- has become standard. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi

Cast & Crew

  • Errol Flynn
    Errol Flynn - Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe
  • Brenda Marshall
    Brenda Marshall - Donna Maria Alvarez de Cordoba
  • Claude Rains
    Claude Rains - Don Jose Alvarez de Cordoba
  • Flora Robson
    Flora Robson - Elizabeth I
  • Donald Crisp
    Donald Crisp - Sir John Burleson

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