The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Sea Hawk

A couple weeks ago I reviewed 1936's Charge of the Light Brigade and as I thought about it since realized I was probably more than a little harsh on star Errol Flynn. I wrote that "he probably didn't act a day in his life" because he seems to always play the ultra-suave, extremely cool hero that saves the day and gets the girl. It came off as more critical than I intended because one of my other favorites, John Wayne, made a career out of playing the same basic character repeatedly. Should we hold it against somebody because they found their niche and ran with it?

It's hard to be critical of Flynn as a movie star because for the most part his movies are so damn entertaining, straight popcorn flicks. But looking at the 1930s and 1940s, he is clearly one of Hollywood's biggest stars. Just look at the movies he made over a 10-year period. He made more classics or near-classics that many actors/actresses make in a career. And as I wrote, just about all those movies has him as a swash-buckling rogue of one sort or another (settings vary) who always ends up on top with a girl on his arm, like 1940's The Sea Hawk.

Flynn plays Geoffrey Thorpe, an English privateer in the late 1500s working for Queen Elizabeth as one of many 'sea hawks.' These English privateers -- or pirates to their enemies -- harass rival countries' ships and keep England flowing in money, gold and treasure. Thorpe's 'Albatross' one day attacks a Spanish galley brimming with treasure and two key passengers onboard, the new Spanish ambassador traveling to England, Don Jose Alvarez (Claude Rains) and his niece Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall). Thorpe delivers his prized catch to Queen Elizabeth (a great performance for Flora Robson) who promptly ignores Alvarez's demands he be put in chains.

Queen Elizabeth has bigger plans for Thorpe and the Albatross. Rumors are swirling that Spain's King Philip is assembling the powerful Spanish Armada with hopes of conquering England. Elizabeth does not have a navy to protect her country -- other than the Sea Hawks -- and no money with which to build a navy. She sends Thorpe on a dangerous mission to Central America; attack the gold convoy coming out of the Spanish mines at Vera Cruz and bring it back so she can assemble a navy in time. Off Thorpe goes, leaving Dona Maria behind. But the plan won't be so easy as Alvarez and the treacherous Wolfingham (Henry Daniell) are at work to make sure the plan fails.

Typecast as a swashbuckler early in his career, it's only fitting that Flynn was in fact very good at fencing having been trained in the art. The training obviously shows because in several of his movies, including The Sea Hawk, Flynn engages in several exciting, intricate-looking sword fights. At one point, Thorpe even takes on four English guards at once in the shadowy court of Queen Elizabeth. It is something so little that as an audience we take for granted sometimes with CGI and stunt doubles, but Flynn handling his own stunts helps make the movie more realistic and for me, much more enjoyable. It's cool to see one of Hollywood's biggest stars at the time going toe to toe like that.

The film opens with a bang as Thorpe's Albatross overwhelms Alvarez's Spanish galley, watch it HERE, with a pretty cool introduction for Flynn as we've heard about his character for most of 10 or 15 minutes. The action sequence does continue into Part 3 for those wanting to continue on. The attack is a great scene in itself, both epically grand as two huge ships duke it out and then on a smaller scale as the two crews engage in hand-to-hand combat to save their ships. The resolution to the fight is particularly unique as how to stop a conflict like that.

Playing Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, Flynn is at his coolest, a driven, patriotic man fighting for queen and country, and of course, the girl. Marshall made 20 movies in a short time and then left show business, and as she shows here as Dona Maria, she's not the greatest actress around but she has some potential. Rains is a worthy villain as always, and Donald Crisp makes the most of a smaller part as Sir John, one of Elizabeth's loyal court members. Often pairing with Flynn as a sidekick, the loyal right hand man, Alan Hale plays Mr. Pitt, the burly, brawling sailor. Robson is actually playing Queen Elizabeth for a second time and almost steals the movie away from Flynn and her co-stars as the outspoken ruler of England.

A movie that's a lot of fun with plenty of action, over-the-top dialogue and some cheesy romance. It's not my favorite Errol Flynn movie, but the swashbuckling actor was never one to disappoint with his action and adventure movies.

The Sea Hawk <----trailer (1940): ***/****

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