Combustible Celluloid
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With: Errol Flynn, Brenda Marshall, Claude Rains, Donald Crisp, Alan Hale, Flora Robson, Henry Daniell, Gilbert Roland, James Stephenson, Una O'Connor
Written by: Howard Koch
Directed by: Michael Curtiz
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 128
Date: 07/01/1940

The Sea Hawk (1940)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

In Like Flynn

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

A huge star in his day, Errol Flynn (1909-1959) would almost havedisappeared from the public consciousness, but for the fact that heplayed the screen's most enduring Robin Hood in 1938's The Adventures ofRobin Hood. That most people could not name another Flynn movie couldpartly be due to the fact that Flynn died young, but still lived longenough to see his career flicker out.

Warner Home Video has made a huge step in righting this wrong and rekindling Flynn's fire. Their new Errol Flynn Signature Collection contains five feature films from Flynn's heyday, plus a new documentary on his life and work.

The set includes Flynn's first swashbuckler, and the film that made him a star, Captain Blood (1935), as well as Raoul Walsh's classic, They Died with Their Boots On (1941).

There is also the costumer The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex(1939), which cast Flynn opposite Bette Davis, and Dodge City (1940) abeautiful, full-color Western, with Flynn looking slightly uncomfortableas a cowboy. But the highlight is undoubtedly Michael Curtiz's The SeaHawk (1940).

The Sea Hawk is perhaps best known for its awesome, thundering score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold, but it's also Flynn's most sophisticated and startling film. It features an astonishing level of artistry, boasting incredibly detailed set design and deep-focus photography that wouldn't really be celebrated until Citizen Kane the following year.

Flynn plays Captain Geoffrey Thorpe, a kind of pirate for Queen Elizabeth's England who plans a surprise attack against the domineering Spain. Thanks to interference from the conniving Claude Rains, Thorpe fails and must endure capture and slavery, rowing in the bowels of the enemy ship. Can he escape in time to warn England about Spain's imminent attack? Blessed with a huge budget, Curtiz was able to build full-sized ships for his film, and to set the Panama surprise attack in realistic-looking jungles, as well as tinting that sequence for dramatic effect. The Sea Hawk moves at a decent clip with enough battles and swordfights to keep even today's audiences entertained. The only drawback is that Flynn's usual co-star, Olivia de Havilland, was not on hand for this picture and he must make do with the pretty but tame Brenda Marshall. Warner's transfer is far from flawless -- it looks like it comes from several sources of varying quality -- but it's still an exciting and beautiful picture.

Finally, the Errol Flynn Box comes with a new, 87-minute documentary by David Heeley, The Adventures of Errol Flynn. It plays like the usual show-biz job with plenty of movie clips, photographs and interviews with surviving friends and family as well as experts. Fortunately, Heeley is brave enough to delve into Flynn's dark side, exploring his life's pitfalls as well as its triumphs. We learn that Flynn was easily bored and was prepared to walk away from the movie biz in search of new adventures; his lust for life got him into trouble quite often. Most heartbreaking is the story of an aborted independent film Flynn embarked upon near the end of his career that led to near financial ruin.

The best part about watching this documentary, however, was that it told a story that I did not already know, as do the rest of the films in this collection.

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