The Sea Hawk (1940)
February 7, 2023 3:18 PM - Subscribe

Geoffrey Thorpe, a buccaneer, is hired by Queen Elizabeth I to nag the Spanish Armada. The Armada is waiting for the attack on England and Thorpe surprises them with attacks on their galleons where he shows his skills on the sword.

As Spain prepares an armada to invade England, British privateer Geoffrey Thorpe (Errol Flynn) embarks on a mission to loot Spanish ships. When he captures the vessel carrying ambassador Don Jose Alvarez de Cordoba (Claude Rains), the dashing captain falls for his niece, the beautiful Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall), who settles comfortably in England. Dedicated to protecting British interests, Thorpe heads out to sea on a dangerous expedition that may determine the country's fate.

Bosley Crowther: Aloft there! Clear away on your miz'n braces! Charge your cannon and stand ready to prepare for an attack! For Errol Flynn and his raffish crew of loyal Elizabethan buccaneers are coming about on the starboard quarter in Warners' "The Sea Hawk," at the Strand, and woe to the proud Spanish galleon—or to the finical movie-goer, too—who refuses to strike his colors and surrender in the name of good Queen Bess. He'll be swarmed all over and slashed to ribbons by as bloodthirsty a boarding party of cutthroats as was ever signed on from the yeomen of Warners stock list and the sweepings of Central Casting. Yessir, mates, the Burbank Brothers are really giving us some action this time—one of those old-style sea epics

Kay Reynolds: By the time it was filmed, Flynn had become a big star, and the only thing kept from the book was its title. Writers Howard Koch (“Casablanca”) and Seton I. Miller (“The Adventures of Robin Hood”) played to Flynn’s strengths, which included plenty of swashbuckling action and a modicum of romance. Flynn and co-star Henry Daniell as the traitorous English Lord Wolfingham deliver a dynamic sword fight near the end, similar to the duel between Flynn and Basil Rathbone in “Robin Hood.” A rock-solid action adventure, “The Sea Hawk” is as good as any “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel – and better than most.

Belinda O: Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) gave an inspiring and rousing speech that had a very contemporary message for audiences in 1940—that all free men have a duty to defend liberty, and the world does not belong to any one man, but to all men. Designed to inspire British audiences, it very well may have had an impact on American viewers as well, many of whom were sharply divided in their beliefs about America’s role in the war in Europe. Sir Winston Churchill was said to have been moved by the movie as a whole, which was released at a time when the British were facing grave danger from Hitler.

No doubt one of Flynn’s greatest adventure films, The Sea Hawk delivers more than standard pirate fare. It is a look into an emerging world view at the time of the film’s release and the fears of many. Flynn is, as always, striking as the privateer and romantic lead; his popularity over the years is clearly understood.

posted by Carillon (5 comments total)
This is so good. When I was a child I missed the whole WWII message, though as an adult it's pretty blindingly obvious. Just really good in a lot of ways. One of my favorite of Flynn's, and it's a tie between this and Robin Hood which one I watched more of growing up.
posted by Carillon at 3:20 PM on February 7, 2023 [1 favorite]

Parenthetically, the film isn't even remotely based on Rafael Sabatini's book of the same name. That Sea Hawk is centered around the Barbary pirates and an English gentleman's adventures among the Moors.
posted by SPrintF at 3:54 PM on February 7, 2023

Unlike a lot of old swashbuckler movies which I caught as a kid on TV, I didn't see this until I was an adult in my early twenties. That's fine. It was a wonderful new experience for me and now it has now become one of those movies that I'll stop and watch whenever I come across it.
posted by sardonyx at 5:18 PM on February 7, 2023

Sorry, brain slippage. I meant to type early thirties, but the basic point remains. You can come to this movie as an adult and still appreciate it.
posted by sardonyx at 8:22 PM on February 7, 2023

I need to rewatch this. I too saw it as an adult and I just found the wartime propaganda side ("Brave England against the aggressive world conquering empire") so heavy handed, but I also think maybe I was disappointed it wasn't as exciting as Robin Hood--which is an unfair bar, given I saw Robin Hood when I was a seven year old boy.
posted by mark k at 3:30 PM on February 9, 2023

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