The Sea Hawk (1940)


The Days of High Adventure: A Journey through Adventure Film

Director: Michael Curtiz

If Raiders of the Lost Ark represents the journey movie reborn, The Sea Hawk is its classical ancestor at zenith. Few director-star collaborations supplied extra pleasure, and but have resulted in surprisingly few encomiums of the type that, say, Hitchcock and Grant or Stewart, or Ford and Wayne, have earned over time, than that between Michael Curtiz and Errol Flynn. That might be, maybe, as a result of each males are feted for what they did clearly nicely, while remaining surprisingly under-regarded.

The Budapest-born, eruptive, malapropism-prone Curtiz, born Mano Kurtesz Kaminar, first rose to fame in European cinema earlier than he adopted a path to Hollywood that was well-worn, and but he rapidly put in himself as one of many city’s arch professionals, and one in all its most inimitable stylists, surviving and flourishing the place so many others sank or settled for much less.

Curtiz’s improvement of a muted however acutely animated form of expressionism proved a wonderfully adaptable fashion that loaned a veneer of intrinsic mythos to even essentially the most humdrum and sensible materials, blended with an eye fixed for quicksilver visible exposition and mise-en-scene, and a grasp on taking pictures and slicing collectively motion sequences that deserved comparability with Eisenstein and DeMille.

Curtiz’s fashion discovered its most good goal in a run of filmmaking from 1935 to 1945 that produced a number of of the works by which individuals nonetheless outline the very essence of Basic Hollywood, together with Angels With Soiled Faces (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938, which Curtiz took over directing when William Keighley was taking too lengthy), Casablanca (1942), and Mildred Pierce (1945).

Equally, Flynn, who tackled nearly each kind of lead position, is nonetheless a type of stars certain to be related eternally and ever with one particular form of film and half. His embodiment of the swashbuckler was right here at his absolute peak: he introduced his personal distinct mixture of romantic sensitivity and a sure ardent, intrinsic rebelliousness to the template first laid down by Douglas Fairbanks, of the grinning, devil-may-care, impudently charming, infinitely athletic man of motion.

The Sea Hawk each continues and barely distorts the system laid down by Curtiz and Flynn of their earlier collaborations, Captain Blood (1935), The Cost of the Gentle Brigade (1936), The Adventures of Robin Hood, and The Personal Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939), which additionally set Flynn’s character in high-contrast battle with the imperious Renaissance matriarchy of Elizabeth I.

Right here the phrases of reference have been nearer to the historic motion of the opposite entries. Flynn’s traditional object of romantic curiosity, Olivia de Havilland, is swapped for the under-used Brenda Marshall, a barely more durable, chillier character, albeit one who melts darn nicely, match for a barely more durable, chillier model of the style. If I’ve chosen to talk of The Sea Hawk quite than The Adventures of Robin Hood, maybe essentially the most good swashbuckler ever made, or Casablanca, a research within the chamber-piece journey film, to have fun this one, it’s partly as a result of The Sea Hawk fascinates me in how, while sustaining the harmless, ebullient traditions of the pre-WW2 swashbuckler, it may be seen assimilating a darker new actuality into its type, intuitively reshaping itself to match an oncoming period of whole conflict. On the cusp of the period that might spawn movie noir and see the journey movie sink largely to candy-coloured lampooning, The Sea Hawk seems to be at instances awfully like proto-noir within the least generically acquainted of contexts.

The Sea Hawk flaunts Warner Bros. manufacturing assets, not stretched to a restrict as Robin Hood did, however employed with an exacting sense of expertise employed for acceptable outcomes, crammed to the rafters with terrific character actors and technical wizards.

By the point The Sea Hawk was made, WW2 had begun in earnest, and while launched nonetheless within the time of the US’s official neutrality, this Warner Bros. manufacturing took an overt tilt at an historic parable of Hitlerian ambition by the prism of Elizabethan England’s battle with imperial Spain.

Warner’s journey movies may need appeared the escapist flipside to the studio’s well-known run of social-realist and gangster movies, and but they internalised comparable values; Flynn’s heroes have been often patriotic, however in a style that demanded they battle corrupt oligarchs and tyrants home and overseas, usually even pushed to sacrifice or destroy themselves or commit an act of betrayal, if a larger trigger demanded a forbidden act.

The Sea Hawk tweaks the dynamic insofar because the Flynn’s usually outright rebellious perspective to authority, which regularly segued late within the story to a brand new loyalty because the corrupt fell and regimes modified, right here his relationship with Elizabeth relies on differing definitions of defensive patriotic motion. The Sea Hawk’s opening instantly establishes the agenda: Philip II (Montagu Love), characterised as an imposing egomaniac, gesticulates on the world map upon his wall, his shadow falling in basic Curtiz fashion upon the continents style like a stain, as Philip airily declares that quickly “it would not be a map of the world, however of Spain!” Philip’s wrath has been drawn by England’s recalcitrance, specifically its sponsoring of privateers, or “Sea Hawks” as they’re dubbed right here, to justify the movie’s title after tossing out the Rafael Sabatini supply novel.

Secretly planning to construct the Armada to swamp England’s resistance, Philip sends his ambassador, Don José Alvarez de Cordoba (Claude Rains) to browbeat Elizabeth (Flora Robson) into curbing the Sea Hawk raiders.

The galley taking Alvarez and niece Maria (Marshall) to England, beneath the captaincy of Lopez (Gilbert Roland) and pushed by slaves dedicated to the oars by the Inquisition, falls prey within the English Channel to essentially the most notorious of the Sea Hawks, Geoffrey Thorpe (Flynn), who swoops upon the Spaniards and pulverises their ship earlier than boarding.

The Sea Hawk thus actually kicks off with its greatest motion set-piece, signalling an intent to play with the standard narrative construction, and, as Flynn and a number of other of his acquainted firm like Alan Hale seem, intentionally evoking a sense of stepping in the place one of many earlier Flynn-Curtiz swashbucklers left off.

The motion that follows is near perfection in type and performance, and, just like the desert chase in Raiders, has a stable spot in my personal listing of all-time nice motion sequences. If all of the infrastructure of basic Hollywood was value something past placing attention-grabbing actors collectively in small rooms, it was to place collectively a little bit of filmmaking like this, an escalating sequence of visually thrilling, clever, but completely expedient pictures that stands at such a take away from the endemic gibberish of a lot fashionable motion filmmaking.

Even The Sea Hawk’s classiest twenty-first century offspring, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003), couldn’t come near it for managing each depth and readability on the similar time in depicting close-quarters carnage.

Curtiz and the manufacturing staff have been evidently attempting to match the finale of Captain Blood – a few pictures from which increase the sequence, together with snatches from the primary silent model of The Sea Hawk (1923) that movie itself interpolated – and to outdo it for movement and tactile element, a high quality of the movie as a complete that leaps out.

The everlasting assumption of the basic swashbuckler, that British sailors have been incontrovertibly higher pictures than anybody else, sees Thorpe’s crew cripple their lumbering, slave-driven foe and board it, albeit slightly sooner than Thorpe wished as a result of one in all his males, Eli Matson (J.M. Kerrigan), jumps earlier than he offers the order. The battle sequence proceeds with a micro-managerial sense of element outlay: the cannon balls of Thorpe’s ship, the Albatross, shattering the hull of the enemy; grappling hooks skewering enemy troopers; the galleon’s oars shattering as the 2 ships are pulled collectively; the frantic, multi-levelled, impossibly teeming pictures of the 2 crews battling; Thorpe getting his trusty lieutenant Pitt (Hale) to drive the Spanish trumpeter to sound give up, saving Lopez within the nick of time from Thorpe’s blade; Lopez requesting that Thorpe depart his ship so he may be the final man to desert the sinking vessel, the Spaniard lastly swinging over to a normal cheer.

A stage of gentlemanly forbearance and basically anti-chauvinistic feeling is evoked in Thorpe’s makes an attempt to mollify the outraged Spaniards, giving them run of his decks and treating his unwilling friends to nice eating with captured Spanish silverware, and Maria’s maid (the obligatory, evergreen Una O’Connor) offers the English sailors a tongue-lashing for talking contemptuously of Spanish tradition.

However the underlying emotional kick is delivered when Thorpe is reunited with a former crewman, Tuttle (Clifford Brooke), one of many galley oarsmen who might recognise the English Channel purely by the shifting of the swell. Thorpe’s sense of justice and outright contempt for the draconian tyranny Philip is asserting throughout the globe is established in entrance of Alvarez and his daughter, planting a seed in her sensibility that proves inseparable from Thorpe.

Regardless of her makes an attempt to stay icy in direction of Thorpe for his freewheeling piracy and disrespect for worldwide diplomatic niceties, Maria slips quietly and rapidly beneath the spell of his attraction.

Hollywood within the late ‘30s prevented participating with up to date political realities with an oft-astonishing quantity of pussyfooting: when Confessions of Nazi Spy (1940) was launched one critic quipped that it was solely 5 years too late. Unusually, however with intuitive aptness, the historic remoteness and playfulness of the Warner Bros. swashbucklers mirrored the period’s undercurrents with the best concision, rising in drive all through the Curtiz-Flynn movies, with the air of oncoming fascism in Captain Blood and the ethnic repression in Robin Hood, as Flynn’s characterisation turned more and more revolutionary: “You communicate treason!” “Fluently!” because the basic line in Robin Hood goes.

The cheery pseudo-socialism that usually bobbed up in these movies resurges, right here with a cheeky tilt at imperialistic plunder. When Maria furiously spurns Thorpe over his acts of piracy, Thorpe, asks, oh so innocently, whether or not she considers a thief to be solely “an Englishman who steals.” “It’s anyone who steals!” she retorts, just for Thorpe to query, then, simply how the Spaniards obtained the Aztec gold she has in her jewel assortment.

Sport, set, match. The Sea Hawk sees Thorpe, consistently warning Elizabeth in regards to the risks represented by Philip’s ambition and overtly breaking the principles to be able to battle the risk earlier than a correctly sanctioned conflict has began between England and Spain, trying just like the archetypal untimely anti-fascist, and an equal of a world volunteer within the Spanish Civil Warfare, contrasting Elizabeth, who tries Chamberlain-esque peacekeeping, till she’s pushed too far and unleashes Churchillian rhetorical drive.

It’s made clear proper at first of the movie that Philip’s intentions are completely malevolent, planning to brush away the only bulwark in opposition to his spreading affect, so the viewers is aware of that Thorpe’s assumptions are appropriate whereas Elizabeth has to work purely by intuition, protocol, and expedience.

The movie’s most insidious villain, Lord Wolfingham (Henry Daniell) is characterised as a Halifax or Quisling kind, arguing from the midst of Elizabeth’s royal council for mollification of Spain while secretly plotting with Alvarez to weaken England as a lot as attainable, together with destroying the credibility and effectiveness of the Sea Hawks, to be able to guarantee the convenience of the Armada’s eventual victory, and hoping to be put in himself as a puppet king. Re-armament is the chief plot stake: Philip’s arms build-up, in setting up the Armada, and diplomatic bullying, is, like Hitler’s earlier than the conflict, postpone onto the calls for and rights of a sovereign nation, whatever the logical targets and apparent intent.

Thorpe, in flip, prods Elizabeth to construct a fleet to fulfill any risk, however she staves off the mandatory second in not eager to empty the nationwide coffers, so Thorpe hatches an formidable plan to step up his plundering, and assault Spanish gold shipments in Panama.

Elizabeth approves the plan, however Alvarez and Wolfingham, hoping to get the leap on Thorpe’s subsequent enterprise, attempt to spy on his actions, however truly uncover his intention by intelligent deductions: Thorpe’s efforts to take care of secrecy prolong to having charts ready with out place names, however Alvarez and Wolfingham handle to steal a look on the charts while beneath preparation and are in a position, due to an astronomer (Halliwell Hobbes), to find out the situation purely by the form of the land and an unexpectedly revealing ornamental motif. Such a deftly intelligent little plot pivot is one more reason I like The Sea Hawk, because it factors to the style’s counterbalance of bodily motion with a requirement for wiliness and intelligence in each heroes and villains.

Alvarez and Wolfingham are splendidly easy, aristocratic unhealthy guys, though Alvarez is much less a villain than a person doing his nationwide obligation, and who will get his comeuppance not on a sword however when, in delivering grim information about Thorpe’s enterprise to Panama, he tries to needle Elizabeth, just for his personal daughter to faint in a heap in despair: “Your arrow hit the fallacious mark,” Elizabeth chides him drolly.

Thorpe’s ill-fated Panamanian enterprise sees him stumble right into a well-laid entice, seeming to seize the across-land gold caravan, solely to then be nearly caught in an ambush: Thorpe and his males flee into the jungle, cueing one of many all-time nice examples of the much-satirised “stumble by the swamp” sequence, full with random, separated members of the crew lurching by the parboiling, mosquito-infested marshes, going mad and dying one after the other: “It’s too bloomin’ scorching!” one screams as he claws at his personal flesh earlier than collapsing.

What’s left of Thorpe’s crew fights its approach by to the coast in sight of the Albatross. However the Albatross proves mysteriously abandoned as they row again to it, in a sublimely eerie sequence that builds to the inevitable realisation that the crew of the ship has been slaughtered, with corpses hanging within the rigging, and Spanish troops, beneath Captain Lopez, ready for what’s left of the would-be raiders.

No gentlemanly courtesies for these prisoners: Thorpe and firm are quickly dedicated in a present trial earlier than the Inquisition and sentenced to die on the oars of the galleys. All of a sudden The Sea Hawk’s reversed construction turns into coherent, because the movie intentionally destroys the Merry Males crew and reduces Thorpe to the abject slave he was set upon releasing at first, bringing a brand new fringe of risk and struggling to the scene, and homoerotic S&M fantasy blends weirdly with perfervid focus camp parallel, with anticipations of Ben-Hur (1959). Thorpe, his final remaining fellows, and the potential new crew of English prisoners should concoct a plan to flee.

Throughout the extra sensible confines of Hollywood cinema, Curtiz’s visuals in The Sea Hawk each replicate the lingering affect of the art-moderne touches that permeated the gnarled dream-state historicism of Fritz Lang’s Die Nibelungen (1923) and the futurism of Metropolis (1926), while additionally anticipating the overall stylisation of Eisenstein’s Ivan The Terrible: Part One (1944), in utilising the geometric precision of Anton Grot’s units, which largely reject the twisted contours of Expressionism that had been the acquainted affect on such settings in favour of a form of historic wonderland by the use of Bauhaus, to create Elizabeth’s royal court docket.

An overt, deeply stylised distinction then is constructed between the tangled, busy environs of the ships, the open sea, and the fetid jungle, the place energy is a matter of guts and muscle, with areas that specific energy by voluminous reaches, lowering the gamers to twisting figures organized like chess items within the political gamesmanship. Curtiz’s love of fastidiously formed compositions infuses even essentially the most purposeful and throwaway pictures.

The opening battle is a whirl of pictures balanced geometrically or on strains of Renaissance perspective portray, conjoined by the newer arts of montage, weaving all into an natural mass. Sol Polito’s digital camera glides with gossamer grace at low angles as Elizabeth and her cohort of ladies-in-waiting, like petticoated paladins, sweep by the ranks of armoured warriors and plumed, hose-clad courtiers, investing the female not merely with magnificence however energy by its spectacular distinction with the surrounds, and the reversal of the hierarchy.

Robson’s marvellous Elizabeth, not the grouchy spinster Bette Davis performed nor the masochistic self-made idol Cate Blanchett espoused, is a warrior in frilly collars extensive sufficient to function radar dishes, strutting about in costumes that comprise her homely options inside declarations of monarchic energy and wealth.

This Elizabeth’s lack of fine seems to be is initially the game of males’s speak (“They are saying Elizabeth surrounds herself with magnificence within the hope it might be contagious,” Lopez quips), however her flirtatious relationship with Thorpe is a dance of patriotic and erotic fascination, crystallising Thorpe’s similarity to Walter Raleigh – I like the massive, hearty, happy breath Robson takes in after assembly with Thorpe, his descriptions of gallant motion and explanations of daring plans, blended with flattery, leaves her with orgasmic pleasure. Such liaisons replicate The Sea Hawk’s place in a style that was at all times outlined by a playfully anarchic tackle sexual mores, so usually performed out within the dance of fascination and repulsion between mischievous, swarthy, legal, often lower-class males and women truthful, dying to be ravished at the same time as they spit within the rogues’ faces.

The Sea Hawk nevertheless sustains the courtly, restrained tackle this important aspect of the swashbuckler that Flynn’s movies supplied, holding the star’s overflow of randy vitality on a good leash, compared to the out-and-out kink in Henry King’s deployment of Tyrone Energy and Maureen O’Hara within the reflexive self-satire The Black Swan two years later.

Right here Marshall’s Maria, like De Havilland’s women from Captain Blood and Robin Hood, is the daughter of the oppressive regime gained over by the untamed however innately good male, however whereas in these earlier movies the ultimate kiss of hero and damsel set the seal on a reconciliation of social spheres – lessons, races, and genders – right here Maria is left behind by her father and compelled to select a facet within the upcoming conflict, selecting her mate’s facet quite than her sire’s in a matter of ethical in addition to sexual gravity.

Curtiz pulls off a marvellous visible coup in a sequence by which Thorpe visits an more and more smitten Maria, who features an nearly non secular solemnity in concerning the person she now loves while holding an armful of roses: “That’s how I’ll at all times consider you to any extent further,” Thorpe says to her, likening her to a spiritual icon he as soon as say in South America, “As Our Girl of the Flowers.” Concurrently, the picture of the 2 standing within the backyard, beneath the palatial sprawl, in a symmetrically balanced shot, offers true visible decision to the notion of the movie’s driving oppositions, the masculine and the female, the pure and the civilised, the warlike and the civil, assembly in good concord within the English nation backyard.

Later, in a ripely iconic scene that hovers on the sting of a semi-mystical gulf of longing, simply because the final scenes of Casablanca supply, Maria’s try to warn Thorpe earlier than he leaves that her father has unlocked his intentions, sees her gazing tragically at his just-sailed ship from a foggy wharf, and Thorpe, not figuring out he’s simply missed her, nonetheless gazing again to land clearly pondering of her, from the strict of his boat.

After all, despite its modernist touches and the weather that replicate a sub-genre coming into a state of flux, The Sea Hawk nonetheless usually embraces and defines the massive, unabashedly fanciful, theatrical, barely campy high quality that outlined the basic swashbuckler, in moments just like the prolonged, rivetingly structured escape sequence that resolves within the liberated crew burst into singing, in good concord, together with Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s music.

Korngold’s music, like Max Steiner’s, though arguably in a extra subtle method, maintained direct hyperlinks between Hollywood scoring and the Vienna music faculties, capital-R Romanticism, and the legacies of Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler, each of whom had praised the prodigious younger Korngold. Korngold’s lush fashion ultimately fell approach out of favour earlier than turning into, within the late ‘70s, the mannequin once more for anybody who needed to make an journey movie and wanted the sweeping emotional thunder Korngold’s work supplied. Right here his work, notably the main heroic theme and its fixed accomplice, the central romantic theme which ebbs and soars to the rhythm of ships upon the waves, is indelible and arguably even higher than his nice work on The Adventures of Robin Hood.

The impact of that fade-out upon the boisterously singing crew is exactly the glory of movies like this, even when it’s a contact embarrassing, particularly in the way it caps off the escape, the end result of the regular, musically intricate construct from lethal, intense silence to frantic, liberating motion.

The escape from the galley is simply nearly as good a bit of filmmaking because the opening battle in a subtler style. Once more, there’s a ferocious sense of sensible element and storytelling rhythm because the galley slaves, dirty, sweaty, bushy, quietly and thoroughly work their plan to flee, selecting away on the embedded hooks that maintain them chained to their oars, sliding the chains out from their shackles, in feverish, determined, ingenious labour.

The English then slowly, remorselessly work their approach up by ship as an embodiment of the resurging repressed, strangling their captors and infiltrating the neighbouring ship the place the plans that affirm the Armada’s goal are within the fingers of Spanish officers, and Thorpe has to wrestle with one as he tries to get rid of them over the facet. Doubtlessly Spielberg was eager about this scene for the opening of Amistad (1997), and it appears like a draft for generations of jail escape motion pictures and heist motion pictures – as in Rififi (1955), the escape sees the lads making an attempt to interrupt their bonds in as near-complete a silence as attainable – and different entries in additional familiarly sensible genres.

The finale shifts gears into one other proto-genre, the spy film, as Thorpe has to sneak again into the queen’s palace the place now he’s a proscribed outlaw and Wolfingham’s cadre has lower off entry to Elizabeth, to deliver her information of Philip’s plans. This calls for utilizing the quilt of Maria’s carriage: she’s by the way on the wharf as her uncle plans to depart on the Spanish ship that Thorpe and his followers now possess, solely to seek out the mysterious stranger in her cab is her misplaced lover. Thorpe then has to make a touch by the cordons of spies and guards, and Flynn will get to chop free as a swordsman, ticking off the now-iconic moments of any good swashbuckler, together with taking over three enemies directly in a whirlwind of bodily genius, till Thorpe tries to elude his pursuers solely to lock himself right into a room with Wolfingham.

The important, ritually demanded climactic duel promptly erupts, for a 3rd and last piece of bravura cinema, with the witty contact of Thorpe being the one clad in a Spanish uniform, which Wolfingham airily broadcasts he ought to be sporting.

Curtiz enlarges a number of the thrives of Robin Hood’s last battle because the duellists leap and tumble, crash over furnishings and thru home windows, and dance throughout the cavernous areas, shadows projected like titans in opposition to the fortress partitions. Daniell, although a terrific actor, clearly wasn’t as athletic an opponent for Flynn as Basil Rathbone, and the duel is augmented with extra stunt doubling due to this fact than Rathbone wanted on Captain Blood, Robin Hood, or The Mark of Zorro (1940), and thus the near-lethal sense of bodily unity these duels present is barely despoiled by deft edits. And but you’d should be paying the closest form of consideration to essentially discover earlier than the 20th viewing.

By this level, the Kafka-esque high quality of the settings, the grand halls of the palace now shadow-flooded and oppressive, and the attendant temper of oncoming tyranny, has develop into dominant. Thorpe bests Wolfingham however, not like different Flynn heroes, he’s lastly pushed right into a nook and on the level of being skewered by Wolfingham’s guards when Elizabeth, fetched by Maria, arrives to avoid wasting his neck.

The fade out leaves the viewers not with the sense of missions fulfilled and last romantic clinches, however battle solely simply begun, as Elizabeth offers a rousing speech upon launching the primary of her new fleet to tackle the Armada with apparent morale-raising goal. In film phrases and in actual life, an extended battle was solely simply beginning.

The good outdated swashbucklers appeared to have sadly quick lives, with Fairbanks useless at 56, Energy at 45, and Flynn had solely one other 19 years of life forward of him, albeit years he full of expertise and indulgence far past most and which accorded surprisingly with the aura he gave off on display of mercurial manhood. He died with an terrible swan track, Cuban Insurgent Ladies (1959), simply after he’d gained new appreciation as an actor with The Solar Additionally Rises (1957) and Too A lot Too Quickly (1958), the place he exhibited the harsher classes of rising outdated with a fearlessness equal to his heroic picture.

And but, so long as the cinema continues to exist, I believe, the picture of Flynn in his prime will proceed to reign over cinema’s fantasies like his Sea Hawk dominated the oceans.

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