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The Sea Hawk (Blu-ray Review)

Warner Archive hits double duty in terms of specific classic cinematic wants for Blu-ray aficionados and old school films lovers. More old swash buckling adventures of Errol Flynn and more films from legendary Hollywood workman director Michael Curtiz. Luckily that can be you can hit two birds with one stone quite easy with these two film icons. For their tenth team-up, director Michael Curtiz and action star Errol Flynn served up a rapier sharp take on the pirate movie by flavoring it with a much-needed soupçon of war-time patriotism during the dark days of Britain under the blitz, creating the standard for sea-faring cinema for decades to come. Despite borrowing the title from Rafael Sabatini, The Sea Hawk’s scribes Howard Koch and Seton I. Miller came up with an original story inspired by the life and exploits of Sir Francis Drake. Using the Amazon link below, you can order yourself a copy to have on release day, December 18th. 

Film 

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.

Old Hollywood had a fascinating studio system during the Golden Age, working like a well oiled machine. While we look back at the careers and legendary epic films in the careers of director Michael Curtiz and Errol Flynn, one has to wonder if it ever felt special while making it. With the rigorous schedule and moving from set to set, was there a magical, powerful feeling when making a film like The Sea Hawk, or was it just Tuesday for them? As we celebrate films like The Sea Hawk as well as previous collaborations like Robin Hood and Captain Blood, its worth noting that this film was just one in a production line of 3-5 films they would make in any given year. In 1940, when they filmed The Sea Hawk, both men also made Virginia in the City and Santa Fe Trail together. Curtiz alone has 178 directorial credits to his name. While we highlight their triumphs, its been a curiosity to wonder (Mostly in the case of Curtiz) if he felt the same way at the time or realized as he went along.

The Sea Hawk was the Curtiz/Flynn collaboration’s spiritual sequel to Flynn’s breakout film, Captain Blood (Please come to Blu-ray next). Planned in 1936, the film wasn’t film and available for audience consumption until 1940. Upon today its an historic period piece meshed with a swashbuckling pirate-esque adventure. Under the modern lens, we view The Sea Hawk as a grand, epic, fun adventure film like any other Errol Flynn starred in. Surprisingly, the film was a made as a piece of British propaganda during World War II to help muster up British pride and sway American audiences on a pro-British appeal. They’ve woven (at the time) modern issues and conflicts with England and the Spanish Aramada. For me know and when I first saw the film at a younger age, I’ve still not taken much note of it, aside from the villain being a hint of Hitler-esque. Fortune has smiled on the film as with age, more on-the-nose references and recreations within a period piece feel less apparent to “ripped from the headlined” aspect and more in service of the overall story.

Curtiz crafts quite the spectacle in both large and small quarters in the film. Many of the action scenes prove impressive today. During the Albatross’ capture of the Spanish ambassador ship, the large scale shots of the ships and all the action feels humongous. When the Albatross closes in on its prey, the ambassador ship holds out all giant oars in attempt to push off the attacker. As we see it close in, they bend and snap and break. This sequence is on par with and even above a lot of the action we would see in a Pirates of the Caribbean film today. The direction of Curtiz throughout is a seamless weaving of distant scale and closing in for a personal sword duel. What comes off as most impressive is how “not shot on a soundstage” the majority of the film looks and feels. There are many rooms in the Queen’s palace that do look like you could should a grand musical there, but much of the ship interior, ship battles/sailing and Panama sequences you could swear were somewhat on location.

The Sea Hawk is a thrilling adventure fully fitting of the finest that the Curtiz/Flynn collaboration can offer. This one wants to usher in politics to go along with the nautical action pieces and elegantly choreographed fencing ballets. The only shortcoming the film seems to have is the love story which it almost could do entirely without. Stages are set, but it feels like a little more could be done. But, those are my modern eyes looking at it, the love story probably played fine and perfect in 1940 when story development was acceptable in being a lot simpler and taken at face value. In the end, its a classic adventure who’s action spectacle surprisingly holds up thanks to the master craftsmanship of Michael Curtiz direction and his crew’s execution.

Video 

Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1

Layers: BD-50

Clarity/Detail: The Sea Hawk comes to Blu-ray from a new 2018 HD master, which we could probably assume was a 2K transfer. And it looks as lovely as you could imagine any Criterion  or Casablanca-esque black and white (With a segment in sepia tone) release of a beloved Michael Curtiz film would look. The image is pretty sharp, full of as much detail as the stock is going to allow. The crisp image really helps to bolster the overall feeling of scale from this film while sitting on your couch. There are a few rougher, grainier moments present in this print. It should be noted that they all occur during scenes including a fade or wipe transition from one shot to another or turning to another scene. This is something that always seems present in classic films from yesteryear so aficionados are likely to expect this going in and won’t find any bother. The image looks terrific and I have no real complaints.

Depth: Depth of field is very impressive here during any given moment in the film. The sight and feeling of such wide open and spacious areas comes out as free and deep. In the close quartered ship interiors, the push back on the background can make sequences, like the rowing levels look so lengthy with the end so far away. Movement is smooth and cinematic with no real concerning motion issues to report.

Black Levels: Blacks are deep and help to define, craft and sharpen the image throughout. Shadows definitely find a romantic looking approach to them, especially in the Queen’s castle. There is a segment of the film that takes on a Sepia toned coloring and it comes across as equally marvelous. No crushing witnessed.

Color Reproduction: N/A

Flesh Tones: Skin tones are pretty much the consistent white/gray throughout the film. Facial features and texture come across better in close ups, but also can shine in particular medium shots. Flynn’s facial scar looks impressively detailed in many of the scenes in the film.

Noise/Artifacts: Clean

Audio 

Audio Format(s): English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD MA

Subtitles: English SDH

Dynamics: The Sea Hawk see a rock solid 2.0 mono track to deliver the swashbuckling goods. As far as the mix, the score, vocals and effects all sound well layered with good crisp depth and delivering as modern clean a sound as it could. Where it does lack a bit is in the low frequency department, but that can be expected from a film of its time. Overall, this one will do the trick while sounding revived and new, also carrying a pure touch of its own time.

Height: N/A

Low Frequency Extension: N/A

Surround Sound Presentation: N/A

Dialogue Reproduction: Vocals are very clear, crisp and plenty audible at every turn, packing an impressive amount of freshness to them.

Extras 

Leonard Malton Hosts Warner Night At The Movies – Malton gives an introduction of what it would be like going to see The Sea Hawk at the theater on its release. What follows is everything that would play leading up to the film in 1940.

  • Intro by Leonard Malton (SD, 4:04)
  • Virginia City Theatrical Trailer (SD, 2:01)
  • Newsreel (SD, 1:50)
  • Short: Alice In Movieland (SD, 21:42)
  • Cartoon: Porky’s Poor Fish (SD, 6:50)
  • The Sea Hawk – Plays the film.

Featurette: The Sea Hawk: Flynn in Action (SD, 17:34) – Film historians and the like, including the late Robert Osborne, discuss the making of the film and go over how big set pieces and action moments were done.

Theatrical Trailer (HD, 2:16) 

Summary 

The Sea Hawk is yet another fine Errol Flynn adventure guided by the old school expert craftsmanship of Michael Curtiz. As such, Warner Archive Collection has brought together a wonderful Blu-ray for it with the most caring touches done on the video transfer and porting over the already perfectly complimentary supplemental material for the film. Since everyone involved with production is most likely deceased, this release really does provide about everything you could want from it. A top notch pick up for collectors and old Hollywood fans.

Disclaimer: The images used in this review are not from the Warner Archive Collection release of The Sea Hawk. At this time, Warner Archive Collection has not provided screen captures for press use. In addition, my laptop recently died and I had to replace it quickly and most cost-effectively. Because of this and it being the holiday season, I currently do not have a Blu-ray drive to use for screen capturing on my reviews. My previous laptop had the drive built in, this one does not. I’m not going to post cell phone pictures of my television for my reviews. Once images are either provided or I am able to capture myself again, they will be replaced. If this bothers you to some extreme form of keyboard fury, and because I’m not made of money, you are more than welcome to send me a new portable USB Blu-ray drive or donate money to the quest for me to have a new one. You can contact me, brandon@whysoblu.com and we can work something out if this factor is deeply troubling to you. As always, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your continued reading and ridiculing. 

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Writer/Reviewer, lifelong obsessive film nerd. As eager to educate in the world of film as I am to learn. An avid lover of horror, schlock and trash, Brandon hosts the Cult Cinema Cavalcade podcast on the Creative Zombie Studios Network (www.cultcinemacavalcade.com) You can also find more essays on his blog Naptown Nerd (naptownnerd.blogspot.com).

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