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Patrick Schoenmaker

Indiana Jones' Influences
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Help Support Research Indy's Influences Classics Adventures The Sea Hawk
The Sea Hawk

Released by Warner Bros. - 1940

Directed by: Michael Curtiz
Story by: Rafael Sabatini (novel)
Screenplay by: Howard Koch & Seton Miller
Produced by: Henry Blanke, Hal B. Wallis

Errol Flynn .... Capt. Geoffrey Thorpe
Brenda Marshall .... Dona Maria de Cordoba
Claude Rains .... Don José Alvarez de Cordoba
Donald Crisp .... Sir John Burleson
Flora Robson .... Queen Elizabeth I
Alan Hale .... Carl Pitt


Douglas Fairbanks’ real life son became a skilled actor and starred in some great adventure movies (Gunga Din, The Prisoner of Zenda) and some not so great (Safari) but the cinematic descendent of Douglas Fairbanks was Errol Flynn, king swashbuckler of the late 1930’s.

Arrested Pirates.

Many film enthusiasts have said Errol Flynn was great. But to be fair to his legacy and more accurate in assessing the nature of his popularity it should be said that Errol Flynn was a great actor. His characters were larger-than-life men in tights and the films were costumed in extravagance with scores that became historic. But at the center of all the majestic accessories was a rare and talented actor.

Some of today’s stars who take on adventure roles would benefit from noticing that Flynn played his characters not only as brimming with confidence but also with moments of fear and vulnerability. This allows an audience to recognize their shared humanity and live more vicariously through the heroes and heroines on screen. Flynn’s awesome command of the screen is most apparent in his three greatest films, Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk.
Of course Flynn would not be Flynn if he didn’t charm every lady he shares a scene with. That’s just him. But in The Sea Hawk he explores a character prone to, of all things, heart-sickness. He sheds the broad smile and lusty laughter of Robin Hood and presents a hero fiercely driven by his noble heart. Flynn is very serious in this film and very sincere and it is these qualities that make this swashbuckler so endearing.

Crossing daggers.

The Sea Hawks, led by Captain Thorpe (Flynn), are a crew of British pirates fighting and looting in secret loyalty to the Queen. There are fears the all-conquering Spaniards have gone too far and have now set England in their ambitious sights.
The Spanish Ambassador, played by the great Claude Rains, has a niece, Maria (Brenda Marshall), who falls in love with Captain Thorpe. She is torn by her feelings for him and her loyalty to her uncle. Reinforcing her vacillating allegiance is the fact that she is half English and half Spanish.

Seton I. Miller and Howard Koch wrote the script. Koch, a Casablanca writer, was likely the one who came up with the film’s melodramatic centerpiece. Maria discovers that the Queen has sent Captain Thorpe on a secret mission. Deciding finally that she can’t be without him, she races alone to the dock wanting to go with him but reaches it just a little too late. Her tearful radiant face stares out over the ocean while the Sea Hawks’ ship sails. Little does she realize Captain Thorpe is at the ship’s stern staring longingly back at land thinking of her. It is a beautifully crafted piece of movie romance without a single line of dialogue.

Spanish Ambassador vs. Flynn's Captain Thorpe.

The anthropomorphisized monkey from Raiders of the Lost Ark is here offering the same token of levity amidst all the dangerous intrigue. Some of the cinematic language of Steven Spielberg is here as well. For example, there is a scene where characters shadows precede them into an establishment the way Indiana Jones’ shadow did when first visiting Marian Ravenwood at her bar.

Michael Curtiz directed The Sea Hawk, Captain Blood and The Adventures of Robin Hood. Many of the same faces can be found in these films. The movies have a lot in common but are also very different. Is it too severe a condemnation to wonder if these films could have been produced today? If Flynn and Curtiz were working in today’s Hollywood would Robin Hood have been made or would they have been forced to produce Captain Blood Part II? And would The Sea Hawk instead be Captain Blood Part III? Fortunately, these films were made in the 1930’s and early 1940’s and some of the more powerful filmmakers of today can at least look to them for inspiration. (Stephen Jared)


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