Friday, July 11, 2014

The Sea Hawk (1924)

Who's in it: Milton Sills (The Sea Tiger, The Sea Wolf), Enid Bennett (1922 Robin Hood), Lloyd Hughes (1925 The Lost World), and Wallace Beery (1922 Robin Hood, 1925 The Lost World)

What's it about: A former English privateer (Sills) is framed for murder and sold into slavery at sea, but rises to become a captain in the Barbary corsairs.

How it is: I haven't read Rafael Sabatini's novel yet, but I'm familiar with other work of his and this feels like a faithful adaptation of something he would write. The heroic Sir Oliver Tressilian tries to do the right thing by his half-brother (the ridiculously good-looking Hughes) who makes the mistake of killing a man in a duel without witnesses. But Sir Oliver is rewarded for his trouble by being suspected of the murder himself and the cowardly brother not only lets Sir Oliver take the fall; he also sells Sir Oliver to an unscrupulous captain (Beery) and starts making time with Sir Oliver's girl (Bennett).

I don't usually describe women as "somebody's girl," but Lady Rosamund Godolphin doesn't have enough will or personality to be her own person. She's completely wishy-washy, has no faith in Sir Oliver, and is really nothing more than a plot device for various characters to scheme and fight over. It's unbelievable that Sir Oliver goes to such effort to win her back.

But he does, and through a series of events at sea, he finds himself freed by Muslim corsairs and made a captain. True to Sabatini, lots of characters come and go, bringing sub-plots and intrigue with them. That gives The Sea Hawk an epic feel, which also reminds me of Sabatini.

There's much more good about the film than bad. The actors are quite convincing, even Bennett, considering what she's got to work with. I quite liked the complicated relationship between the brothers, too. Young Lionel doesn't start off evil, but he's driven to evil deeds by circumstances and weakness of character. All the antagonists in The Sea Hawk have believable motives. And I especially enjoy Wallace Beery's Captain Jasper Leigh, a scoundrel who quickly finds himself in a plot over his head and clings to Sir Oliver for dear life.

Using corsairs as the pirates is a good move too. I usually enjoy the liberty and style of Western pirates more than the structure and uniformity of the Barbary corsairs as presented here, but so many pirate films focus on the Caribbean that The Sea Hawk is a nice change of pace.

Rating: Four out of five English dogs.

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