As historians Rudy Behlmer and Dr. Lincoln D. Hurst explain in the DVD's all-too-brief featurette, "The Sea Hawk" was a sly mix of ideas baked into a perfect swashbuckling adventure epic: the title comes from Rafael Sabatini's novel (faithfully filmed in 1924 by First National, starring hefty Wallace Beery); the screenplay fuses Seton I. Miller's story of a British privateer with Howard Koch's Elizabethan England retrofit, plus not-too subtle WWII references; and the casting reunites many actors from Flynn's popular Warner Bros. films, using the studio's grand olde England sets.
Put another way, watch it as a sequel to "The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Esssex," in which Elizabeth I (now played by actress Flora Robson) enlists the aid of privateer Geoffrey Thorpe (a roguish, spittin' image of Essex) to protect England against a bullying Spanish diplomat (a conniving, spittin' image of Prince John, from "The Adventures of Robin Hood"). While Thorpe depends on the aid of his loyal first mate, Pitt (a spittin' image of Little John, from "Robin Hood"), Elizabeth's trust is given to loyal Sir John Burleson (spittin' image of loyal aid Sir Francis Bacon, from "Elizabeth and Essex"), while Miss Martha Latham (spittin' image of Maid Marian's aide, Bess, from "Robin Hood") keeps the romance between Thorpe babe Dona Maria a secret, even though evil Lord Wolfingham (spittin' image of Sir Robert Cecil, from "Elizabeth and Essex") colludes with the King of Spain to invade England, and dethrone Elizabeth.
"The Sea Hawk" was reissued years later at a much shorter 103 version - an unthinkable length, given the film's finely crafted screenplay - but it was restored to its original 127 minute length in the Eighties, including Elizabeth's 'mobilization' speech to wartime British audiences, which alludes to Hitler's global domination scheme. Warner Bros.' print is first-rate, and contains the original (and stunningly photographed) sepia-toned section, as Thorpe trudges through Panama in search of Spanish Inca gold. The original mono mix bristles with a superb array of sound effects, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold's most memorable score - a robust, rousing, and romantic mini-opera. Historians Behlmer and Hurst rightly cite the studio's dominance in pioneering and perfecting the swashbuckling epic, and though Twentieth Century-Fox ' own efforts were quite admirable, there's no substitute for an Errol Flynn actioner; particularly when supported by such an outstanding cast of character actors.
As with prior Flynn DVDs, this one contains some notable extras. The Movietone newsreel highlights the Battle of Britain raid - itself giving a good backdrop to the tense climate during the film's production - and a beautifully animated, black & white Porky Pig cartoon, set in a lively fish store ("under new mis-management").
The best bonus, however, is one of director Jean Negulesco's early directorial works - a zippy little movie called "Alice in Movieland." Before his classic film noirs and CinemaScope puff pastries, Negulesco learned his craft in the short film department. The script may have deliberate tongue-in-cheek references to Hollywood's dog-eat-dog atmosphere, but Negulesco's camera plays the story of screen test winner Alice Purdee (get it? get it?) as twisted satire. MGM treated The Star as a sacrosanct entity, but Warner Bros.' was less starchy (perhaps due to the tolerant climate of the anarchistic animation unit), and knew a sense of fun was better than the maudlin practice of having young starlets like Judy Garland crooning to an 8x10 of Clark Gable (although contract players Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman, Craig Stevens, and Alan Hale have eye-blink cameos in the short).
In terms of the extras, the making-of featurette is a bit too short on heavier production history, but this is a well-produced disc that should be in the collection of every Flynn fan.
This Warner Bros title is available as part of the “Errol Flynn Signature Collection” that includes “Captain Blood,” “The Sea Hawk,” “They Died With Their Boots On,” “The Private Lives Of Elizabeth And Essex,” and “Dodge City” and a bonus documentary disc “The Adventures Of Errol Flynn.”
© 2005 Mark R. Hasan