Sunday 27 January 2008

The Sea Hawk (1924)

As I only discovered yesterday that there's a location in Phoenix that shows regular silent features (regular unfortunately being only every couple of months), I missed out on today's True Heart Susie, a D W Griffith film with the immortal Lillian Gish. I'll certainly be at the next one, which looks like Wings, the winner of the first Academy Award for Best Picture and the most famous air story written by Fay Wray's husband, John Monk Saunders. I've been waiting a long while for that one!

So in the meantime, I have The Sea Hawk on my DVR. It's not the Errol Flynn vehicle from 1940, this is the 1924 version 'personally supervised and directed' by Frank Lloyd and starring Milton Sills. He was a former professor of psychology and philosophy who found a place in silent film as far more than a swashbuckler, exhibiting talent in a variety of roles. He was also one of the founders of the Academy. Here he's Sir Oliver Tressilian, a veteran of the wars with Spain who had helped sweep the Armada from the sea.

As we kick off, Sir Oliver is relaxing at Penarrow Hall in his Elizabethan ruff and doublet. He's waiting for Rosamund Godolphin to be his wife, something that upsets her brother because after all, Sir Oliver is a pirate. Relations between the two families become even more strained when Sir Oliver's half brother Lionel kills Peter but rumour puts the blame on Sir Oliver himself. Lionel wants Rosamund for his own so pays the unscrupulous Captain Jasper Leigh to kidnap him and sell him to the Moors. Leigh is the biggest name in the film, Wallace Beery, who had a habit of cropping up in all the great American silents as a supporting actor.

Of course nothing works out as intended. Leigh wants to milk Sir Oliver for enough to free him, but then they all get captured by the Spanish. After six months working the oars on a Spanish galleon, he's captured again, this time by the Moors and he through connections with a fellow prisoner, rises quickly to captain his own ship, becoming known as Sakr-el-Bahr, the Sea Hawk. All the while, of course, he wants to return to his love, the fair Rosamund, who is played by Enid Bennett, no relation to Constance, Joan and Barbara, instead an Australian actress sister to Marjorie and Catherine. Her key relation was her husband, Hollywood director Fred Niblo.

Bennett and her moon face are fine here, and she has a powerful gaze of indignation. Milton Sills is good too, though he's no Errol Flynn, let alone a Douglas Fairbanks. Wallace Beery shines though, cowardly at one turn, strutting in power the next, reminding of no less than Macho Man Randy Savage with maybe a little Peter Jackson thrown in for good measure. I hadn't realised that the Macho Man had taken most of his look from a 1924 silent movie, but here he is in Elizabethan garb. Then again, one of the musical themes here is straight out of Knight Rider, but that's not original music, naturally.

As to the film itself, it runs on nicely though there's to much melodrama and not even action for my liking, even though some of the battle scenes were stolen to splice into the 1940 version. This one apparently keeps far closer to Rafael Sabatini's original novel, but then I haven't read it yet so wouldn't have been able to tell. I just prefer it, truth be told. As much as I enjoyed this though, the best Sabatini adaptation thus far for me has to be the 1935 Michael Curtiz version of Captain Blood, which is one of the great swashbucklers, starring Errol Flynn, Basil Rathbone, Olivia de Havilland and others.


Unknown said...

How did this end up on your DVR and how can I get it onto mine??!?

Hal C. F. Astell said...

Hola J.

I believe I recorded this off TCM as part of their Silent Sunday Nights series.

I just checked their website and it's not currently scheduled, but they have made it available on DVD for $17.99. Hopefully this link works:|Title