The Sea Hawk (1940)
The Sea Hawk (1940)

Genre: Adventure Running Time: 2 hrs. 7 min.

Release Date: July 1st, 1940 MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Director: Michael Curtiz Actors: Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains, Donald Crisp, Flora Robson, Alan Hale, Henry Daniell, Una O’Connor, Gilbert Roland




he riches of the new world are limitless.” In Spain, 1585, King Phillip II (Montagu Love) is determined to conquer every known territory, making the whole of Earth the empire of Spain. But pesky England, headed by Queen Elizabeth (Flora Robson), whose willing associations with fleets of pirates called Sea Hawks, has halted Phillip’s progress. While an armada is waiting to be completed, he sends Don Alvarez (Claude Rains) as an ambassador to reassure the Queen, so as not to rouse suspicions of his duplicitousness.

As Captain Lopez (Gilbert Roland), helming the ambassador’s ship, sails through the English Channel, the pervasive myths of pirate attackers take hold of the crew and the slaves chained to the oars below. Sure enough, the legends prove true, as none other than notorious English pirate Geoffrey Thorpe (Errol Flynn) aboard the Albatross charges toward them, unleashing cannon fire onto the Spanish vessel, causing considerable damage, despite being outmanned and outgunned. Thorpe’s skills in sea warfare are unmatched. It’s not long before he’s victorious, transferring prisoners and goods to the Albatross as Lopez’ ship lists and sinks. This bodes ill for Alvarez and his niece Maria (Brenda Marshall), though Thorpe is – of course – the most gentlemanly of all thieves and plunderers.

Expectedly, Errol Flynn’s brand of pirate is handsome, confident, athletic, immaculately groomed, and stands with exceptional posture. For contrast, all the supporting pirate characters are significantly more rugged, tattered, unkempt, and dirty. He’s tongue-tied around women, however, and Maria is a particularly strong-willed, prideful specimen; their stubbornness and feigned contempt toward one another contribute to a classic romance – an obvious match (virtually love at first sight) that must struggle to stay at odds. And toward the end, it allows for a momentous, tremendously satisfying reunion.

Overflowing with sword fights, secret missions, crafty spies, seamen swinging from rigging, explosive ship duels, shattered masts tumbling down upon sailors, ambushes on land, shootouts in the jungles of Panama, and even Una Merkel as a handmaid (playing her signature persona, an identical iteration from “The Adventures of Robin Hood” a couple of years earlier), “The Sea Hawk” checks all the boxes for a seafaring adventure epic. There’s also plenty of humor, primarily from political contentions, and villainy to match, provided most notably by Henry Daniell as Lord Wolfingham, who is reminiscent of Basil Rathbone in his early portrayals of conniving rogues (complete with an elaborate, action-packed, sword-wielding showdown). Alternately thunderous and romantic music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold further supplements this comprehensive yarn of warring nations, airs of diplomacy rife with backstabbing, privateering undertakings, and swashbuckling combat on the high seas.

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10