The Sea Hawk (1940)

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Released 13-Apr-2007

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Adventure Featurette-The Sea Hawk: Flynn in Action
Featurette-Warner Night at the Movies: Alice in Movieland
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1940
Running Time 122:30
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (82:17) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By Michael Curtiz

Warner Home Video
Starring Errol Flynn
Brenda Marshall
Claude Rains
Donald Crisp
Flora Robson
Alan Hale
Henry Daniell
Una O'Connor
James Stephenson
Gilbert Roland
William Lundigan
Julien Mitchell
Montagu Love
Case ?
RPI $14.95 Music Erich Wolfgang Korngold

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Unknown English Dolby Digital 1.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.37:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    In 1935 Errol Flynn shot to stardom in Captain Blood; a film directed by Michael Curtiz, scored by Erich Wolfgang Korngold based on a book by Rafael Sabatini. In 1940 Flynn re-teamed with the same director and composer for The Sea Hawk, also based on a Sabatini novel although this time the only thing taken from the book was the title!

     In The Sea Hawk Flynn is Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, an English privateer in the time of Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson) preying on Spanish treasure ships returning from the Americas. In the English Channel Thorpe captures a galley taking the Spanish Ambassador Don Jose (Claude Rains) and his niece Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall) to England together with considerable treasure. Maria is initially hostile to Thorpe but an attraction between them does start to grow. In England, not wishing to provoke King Phillip of Spain, Queen Elizabeth publicly rebukes Thorpe while secretly supporting his next venture; an attack on a Spanish mule train carrying gold across the Isthmus of Panama. The proceeds of the attack are intended to be used to build ships with which to oppose the impending Spanish Armada.

     Queen Elizabeth’s senior advisor Lord Wolfingham (Henry Daniell) is secretly in league with Spain and he persuades Elizabeth that Spain has no intention of attacking England. When he and Don Jose find out Thorpe’s plans they lay a trap and in Panama Thorpe and his crew are captured, taken to Spain and condemned to life imprisonment as galley slaves. When they get word that the Spanish Armada is secretly about to sail to attack England, Thorpe and his men must escape captivity, obtain evidence of Wolfingham’s treachery, get to the Queen and save England.

     The Sea Hawk is rousing, swashbuckling adventure of the highest order. There are ship to ship fights (with two full size ships built in a tank on a sound stage in Hollywood), political intrigue, double crosses and an exhilarating one on one sword fight at the end, using all director Curtiz’s tricks with light and shadows. The sets and costumes, reused from The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (another Flynn, Curtiz and Korngold collaboration from the previous year) are magnificent. All this is supported by a soaring score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold and the incomparable Errol Flynn at his absolute prime. Whether swinging on a rope from ship to ship, rowing as a galley slave, sword fighting with the enemies of England or romancing the girl Flynn is simply superb; energetic, athletic, cheeky, knowing and wildly romantic; he is charisma itself. He is ably supported by an excellent cast, with Alan Hale, Flora Robson and Henry Daniell all wonderful. And if Brenda Marshall does not have the same chemistry with Flynn as Olivia de Havilland, that is not really her fault and she does look suitably beautiful.

     The Sea Hawk from 1940 is GOLDEN Hollywood. With a charismatic star at the top of his game, a brilliant studio director, a rousing score, majestic sailing ships, pirates and action galore, perhaps the only thing missing is Flynn’s usual leading lady Olivia de Havilland. The Sea Hawk is superb entertainment. If you have only seen pirate movies such as The Pirates of the Caribbean series take a look at The Sea Hawk and see just what could be done in the days before CGI. Orlando Bloom also based his character of Will Turner on Errol Flynn – have a look at The Sea Hawk and see the original.

     The Sea Hawk is great value as an individual purchase but it is also available in a fantastic 5 disc set Errol Flynn The Signature Collection that includes as well Captain Blood (1935), Dodge City (1939), The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) and They Died With Their Boots On (1942). The collection adds an insightful and entertaining 82 minute look at the life and pictures of Flynn entitled The Adventures of Errol Flynn making it a must have for movie buffs and Flynn fans alike.

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Transfer Quality


     The Sea Hawk is presented in 1.33:1, close to its original ratio of 1.37:1. It is obviously not 16x9 enhanced. We have here a 70 year old print that looks a lot better than I had expected. There are constant small dirt marks and scratches (the most prominent a white scratch at 61:18-21, and a black scratch at 83:14-19) and grain that is sometimes evident (such as 23:58). However, none of this is enough to be annoying or to spoil the enjoyment of this fine film.

     The black and white is sometimes very good, with solid blacks and reasonably shadow detail however it does vary quite considerably and other scenes are quite murky and indistinct. There is also an interesting variation. For the scenes in Panama (62:19 – 79:55) Warners tried out a sepia tint that gives a yellow / brown look to the entire sequence, intended to represent the heat of Panama.

     There are English subtitles available that, from the sample I saw, accurately reflect the dialogue. Lip Synchronisation is perfect. The layer change created a slight pause on my equipment at 82:17.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Audio is an English Dolby Digital 1.0 at 192 Kbps that probably sounds as it did 70 years ago. Dialogue is clear and understandable, the cannons rumble and the score swells. What else does one need.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


Short – Alice in Movieland (21:40)

    A Warner Bros short film from 1947 staring Joan Leslie, Nana Bryant, Clara Blandick and Clarence Muse. A small town beauty queen wins a contest to go to Hollywood. On the train she dreams of the difficulties and ultimate success. The film ends when she arrives in Los Angeles. Some cameo appearances by Warner contract performers, such as Ronald Reagan, Jane Wyman and Alan Hale. Frequent dirt marks and scratches, lacks sharpness but is by no means unwatchable. Curiosity piece only, nothing to do with The Sea Hawk unless you count Alan Hale’s cameo!

The Sea Hawk: Flynn in Action (17:32)

    An extremely interesting discussion of the making of The Sea Hawk with clips from the film, behind the scenes photographs and talking heads. The talking heads include Rudy Behlmer and Robert Osborne (film historians), Lincoln D. Hurst (academic), John Mauceri (composer) and Tim Weske (sword master). Covered is the historical context – in 1940 Britain was again standing alone against a European power - the casting of Flynn, the building of two full size ships, conflict between Jack Warner and Flynn and the contribution of various cast members, including Alan Hale and Flora Robson. Also covered is why Olivia de Havilland didn’t appear! A excellent extra, well worth watching.

Theatrical Trailer (2:16)

     Lots of scratches and dirt marks.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

     The Region 1 release has the two featurettes, the theatrical trailer and adds an Introduction by Leonard Maltin (4:02), a newsreel (1:50), cartoon (6:48) and a trailer for another Flynn film. The Errol Flynn The Signature Collection box set is also available in Region 1. A draw, but really no reason to go past our Region 4 release.


     With a charismatic star at the top of his game, a brilliant studio director, a rousing score, majestic sailing ships, pirates and action galore, The Sea Hawk from 1940 is GOLDEN Hollywood. It is presented on a disc with acceptable video and audio for a 70 year old film, and includes one quality featurette among the extras. The Sea Hawk is, quite simply, superb entertainment.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Ray Nyland (the bio is the thing)
Friday, March 12, 2010
Review Equipment
DVDSony BDP-S350, using HDMI output
DisplayLG 42inch Hi-Def LCD. This display device has not been calibrated. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderNAD T737. This audio decoder/receiver has not been calibrated.
AmplificationNAD T737
SpeakersStudio Acoustics 5.1

Other Reviews NONE
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The Sea Hawk - Quality of image - Phillip