Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Sea Hawk (1940)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Sea Hawk (1940)

In director Michael Curtiz's exciting, expressionistic, and spirited pirate/swashbuckler adventure film set in the 16th century (with action-filled sequences of great swordplay duels and sea battles) - the escapist film was one of the best of its kind. It was adapted from the 1915 novel by Rafael Sabatini, and featured a tremendously rousing score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold. [Note: Sabatini was also the author of the 1921 novel Scaramouche which was made into an MGM film in 1952 with Stewart Granger).] This film solidified the image of star Errol Flynn as a dashing action character (after his appearance in Michael Curtiz' earlier film Captain Blood (1935), also from another Sabatini novel written in 1922). During WWII, the film functioned as a pro-British propagandistic effort to convince US audiences to back England's fight against Nazi Germany (represented by King Philip II of Spain) that was planning an invasion of Great Britain:

  • in Spain in the year 1585, the imperialistic, gray-bearded Spanish King Phillip II (Montagu Love) announced his intentions to rule the world: "The riches of the New World are limitless, and the New World is ours - with our ships carrying the Spanish flag on seven seas, our armies sweeping over Africa, the Near East, and the Far West; invincible everywhere but on our own doorstep. Only northern Europe holds out against us; why? Tell me, why?"; he complained about England as "a puny rock-bound island as barren and treacherous as her queen who secretly gives aid to our enemies while her pirates plunder our commerce"; he was impatient that his Armada was not ready to invade England and stop its plundering of Spanish wealth: ("The destiny of Spain cannot wait upon the fitness of time")
  • King Phillip II ordered his crafty ambassador to England - Satanic-looking Spanish Ambassador Don José Alvarez de Cordoba (Claude Rains) (accompanied by his beautiful niece Doña María (Brenda Marshall)); he was to proceed to England to speak to the Queen to "allay any suspicion in regards to our plans"; he boarded the Santa Eulalia headed by Captain Lopez (Gilbert Roland)

Spanish Ambassador with Captain Lopez (Gilbert Roland)

Don Jose Alvarez' Beautiful Aristocratic Niece Dona Maria (Brenda Marshall)

Captain Thorpe's Ship The Albatross On the Verge of an Attack
King Phillip's Spanish Ship Enroute to England
  • the King of Spain was covetous of conquering England as the final step toward world domination: "With England conquered, nothing can stand in our way. Northern Africa, Europe as far east as the Urals, then the New World, to the north, to the south, west to the Pacific, over the Pacific to China and the Indies will our empire spread. One day, before my death, we shall sit here and gaze at this map upon the wall. It will have ceased to be a map of the world. It will be Spain" - his dark shadow was cast upon a gigantic wall map as he spoke
  • the title character was introduced on his ship the Albatross, as it approached to attack the Spanish ship en route to England - he was the dashing, but gentlemanly swashbuckling privateer, British sea Captain Geoffrey Thorpe (Errol Flynn), "the Sea Hawk" (more accurately, a "Sea Dog") who was involved in the raiding of Spanish settlements on land, and ships on the high seas
  • in an exciting, action-packed battle sequence, he stealthily approached to attack and plunder the ship carrying King Phillip II's ambassador and niece; he dueled against Captain Lopez on the deck, took everyone prisoner, and confronted the Ambassador and his contemptuous niece, who boldly refused to be taken away on his ship: "I'll not go on your ship. I'd rather drown than accept your hospitality"; after sinking the Spanish vessel, Thorpe escorted the diplomat and his argumentative niece to England to meet with the Queen: ("This young lady, I hope, will change her mind. If she doesn't, change it for her and have her carried aboard")

Thorpe Confronting Ambassador Don Alvarez and Dona Maria

Dona Maria: "I'll not go on your ship. I'd rather drown than accept your hospitality"
  • meanwhile in England, Queen Elizabeth I's (Flora Robson) aide Sir John Burleson (Donald Crisp) advised her to prepare for England's defense by building a fleet of ships to repel the Spanish threat; the Queen had two objections: it was too expensive ("A large fleet is a luxury England can ill afford"), and she feared angering Spain: ("Should England attempt to vie in sea power, it may cost her the friendship of Spain")
  • one of the Queen's advisors-ministers was roguish Councilor Lord Wolfingham (Henry Daniell), a suspicious "fifth columnist" who was secretly collaborating with the Spanish; he expressed further opinions to downplay Spain's threat: ("The Armada's no threat to England unless, by provoking Phillip, we choose to make it so"); the Queen was more favorable to Burleson's view that the imperialistic-minded Spaniards were planning to spread their influence over the continent, and readying themselves to launch a naval attack in their quest for world domination
  • on the voyage to England, Thorpe attempted to exchange pleasantries with the strong-willed and stubborn Doña Maria but she was resistant to him; she began to change her mind about him when he graciously returned her confiscated prized jewels in a chest that had been stolen from the Aztec Indians, with a personal note: "Only a pirate would deprive you of these jewels"
  • although she couldn't publically acknowledge or approve, the Queen had secretly commissioned and sanctioned the activities of buccaneer pirates - such as Thorpe, to contribute plunder to the English Treasury's coffers; in her court where she politely greeted the Spanish ambassador and his niece after they had arrived, she also publically reprimanded Captain Thorpe for assaulting, plundering, and sinking the Ambassador's ship as well as for freeing all of its galley slaves: "Never again will you dare in my presence to condone your crimes under the mask of patriotism"; then she warned that "any unwarranted attack upon Spanish subjects or their property will cost the guilty party his head. His head, is that clear?"
  • however, in private, the Queen condoned Thorpe's "profitable" voyage as he presented her with an accounting of his entire Spanish take: "An inventory of the treasure, with the crown's share" - to be used for building a fleet of ships for England's defense; he also suggested that the best way to impede King Phillip was to steal from "the lifeblood of Spain" - its New World treasure, by attacking its "gold fleet" (with a year's plunder in gold) that would be leaving Panama bound for Spain within three months; Thorpe's attack would not be on the seas, but on land to completely surprise the Spanish: ("Attack them on land, as they robbed the Aztecs and the Incas. The treasure's stored in Panama, near the inland city of Ventacruz. From there it's taken by mule caravan to the coastal town of Nombre de Dios. A distance of 60 leagues"); she did not openly consent to the plan, but gave him her blessing to proceed: "If you undertook such a venture, you would do so without the approval of the Queen of England, but you would take with you the grateful affection of Elizabeth"
  • before leaving England on his mission to the Caribbean and the jungles of Central America at Ventacruz, Thorpe and Dona met again in the Queen's palace gardens and obviously were falling in love with each other; Thorpe noted to her: "I thought I saw something in your eyes," but she shyly denied it, although she was disappointed that he was going back to sea very soon; as he departed, he called her "the lady of the roses" - bringing tears to her eyes
Thorpe and Dona Maria - Beginnings of Secret Love Affair Between Them in the Queen's Gardens
  • Lord Wolfingham sent out a spy and also questioned a map/chart maker to learn about and trace Thorpe's destination on the Albatross after leaving Dover - they discovered his plan was to head for the Isthmus of Panama and land, to engage in a secret jungle raid upon Spain's treasure hunters along a Central American mule train gold route; this would help build up England's treasury so it could finance the building of a fleet of ships; the Spanish prepared an ambush
  • during Thorpe's mission (the Panamanian sequences were tinted in a sepia tone), he successfully held up the gold mule train in the steamy jungle, but then Thorpe and his crew were ambushed by Spanish soldiers; the few surviving members of Thorpe's forces were forced to retreat into the infested swamp to evade capture, and many of them died there
  • Thorpe and a small group of fellow crew members made it to the shore where their ship was docked, but after rowing out to their ship, they were captured by Spaniards led by Captain Lopez who was awaiting their return; Thorpe reluctantly conceded defeat: "Your prisoners, Captain"
  • the group was taken prisoner and brought to Spain and condemned during the Inquisition; Thorpe was accused of plundering 7 cities and 47 ships, but corrected the record - it was more accurately 9 cities and 54 vessels; the privateer and his men were sentenced for life as galley slaves aboard a Spanish galleon slave ship
Thorpe Sentenced During the Spanish Inquisition - Condemned to Serving For Life as a Galley Slave
  • meanwhile back in England, the presumptuous Ambassador Don Álvarez reported to the Queen about Thorpe's cruel fate; Dona Maria promptly fainted and was distraught; after learning the terrible news and being told that she was suspected of encouraging Thorpe's actions (that were interpreted as "an overt act of war" against Spain by King Phillip), the Queen was given an ultimatum - either disband her plans to build a fleet (and denounce the privateers), or face war with Spain; under pressure to back down to Spain, the Queen authorized the arrests of all English privateers and the confiscation of their ships as they arrived in the port; she also ordered that King Phillip's portrait be removed from her sight
  • the news of the plot of the Spanish to imminently attack with their newly-built Armada and aggressively invade England was passed to Thorpe; he discovered that secret documents about the Armada from King Phillip were being transferred and taken to London, to be delivered to Spain's traitorous spy Lord Wolfingham
  • Thorpe and his enslaved men planned to revolt together in their Spanish galleon slave ship headed by Captain Mendoza (Pedro de Cordoba) once they arrived at the harbor in Cadiz in SW Spain; the objective of their mutiny was to seize the secret dispatches from Phillip to Wolfingham as evidence that Spain's war plan was real
  • they freed themselves from their shackles and chains in order to alert the Queen to the Spanish threat; they overpowered the guards, and then commandeered the Madre de Dios after Thorpe engaged in a bare-fist fight against Captain Ortiz (Frank Lackteen) to seize the dispatches
  • back in England, Doña Maria and Don Alvarez had just traveled in their coach to Dover for his return trip to Spain - to sail on the same ship that Thorpe had just sailed into the port; Dona Maria, who was determined to stay behind ("I've made up my mind. I'm staying here...I'm as much English as Spanish. Maybe more"), was surprised to see Thorpe alive in her coach; she was extremely shocked by his sudden appearance and confessed her true love for him: "I love you. I've loved you ever since that day in the rose garden. Only I kept it to myself then because I was too proud. I'm not proud anymore. Only I can't believe I've found you again"; she promised him: "Nothing's ever going to separate us again. Not distance, and not pride" before they kissed
  • once back in London, Thorpe managed to sneak into the palace (with Dona Maria's aid) to inform the Queen of the attack, although he first had to bypass and sword-duel palace guards who were alerted to thwart his contact with the Queen; Thorpe also engaged in a climactic, swashbuckling sword duel to the death against the traitorous Lord Wolfingham (who taunted: "Have you nine lives, Capt. Thorpe? Surely by now most of them must be used up"); then, he delivered the dispatches to the Queen that divulged the entire Spanish plot of treachery against England with the Armada

Thorpe Dueling Palace Guards

Thorpe Killing Lord Wolfingham During Sword Duel

Death of Lord Wolfingham
  • as the film concluded after England was saved, Thorpe was rewarded by being recognized by the Queen as a Knight of the Realm on board the Albatross; he was also reunited with Dona Maria after winning her heart; the Queen vowed to her subjects and nation that she would rebuild England's fleet to defend the nation: "...we shall now make ready to meet the great Armada that Phillip sends against us. To this end, I pledge you ships - ships worthy of our seamen - a mighty fleet, hewn out of the forests of England; a navy foremost in the world - not only in our time, but for generations to come"

King Phillip II of Spain (Montagu Love) Announcing His Quest For World Domination

King Phillip II

Spanish Ambassador Don José Alvarez de Cordoba (Claude Rains)

Swashbuckling, "Sea Hawk" Privateer and Pirate Captain Geoffrey Thorpe (Errol Flynn)

The Albatross' Attack on the Spanish vessel

England's Queen Elizabeth I (Flora Robson)

Sir John Burleson (Donald Crisp)

The Queen's Traitorous Advisor Lord Wolfingham (Henry Daniell)

Thorpe's Note With Returned Jewels to Dona Maria

The Beautiful Dona Maria in the Queen's Presence

Thorpe's Proposed Plan to Queen Elizabeth to Steal from Spain's New World Treasure - on Land

Thorpe With His Men in Panamanian Jungle During Raid on the Spanish's Mule Train with Gold

Thorpe Ambushed in Jungle by Spanish Soldiers

Thorpe Captured Aboard His Own Ship by Captain Lopez - Thorpe Conceded: "Your prisoners, Captain"

Thorpe Leading the Freed Galley Slaves During Their Mutiny Aboard Spanish Ship

Thorpe Surprising Dona Maria in her Coach at Dover

The Knighting of Thorpe by the Queen

The Queen's Closing Pledge to Her Nation


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