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The Sea Hawk (1940)

Approved | | Action, Adventure, History | 1 July 1940 (USA)
Geoffrey Thorpe, a buccaneer, is hired by Queen Elizabeth I to nag the Spanish Armada. The Armada is waiting for the attack on England and Thorpe surprises them with attacks on their galleons where he shows his skills on the sword.



(screen play), (screen play)

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Nominated for 4 Oscars. See more awards »



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Cast overview, first billed only:
Sir John Burleson
Lord Wolfingham
Miss Latham
Capt. Lopez
Danny Logan
Julien Mitchell ...
Oliver Scott
J.M. Kerrigan ...
Eli Matson
Martin Burke


Geoffrey Thorpe is an adventurous and dashing pirate, who feels that he should pirate the Spanish ships for the good of England. In one such battle, he overtakes a Spanish ship and when he comes aboard he finds Dona Maria, a beautiful Spanish royal. He is overwhelmed by her beauty, but she will have nothing to do with him because of his pirating ways (which include taking her prized jewels). To show his noble side, he suprises her by returning the jewels, and she begins to fall for him. When the ship reaches England, Queen Elizabeth is outraged at the actions of Thorpe and demands that he quit pirating. Because he cannot do this, Thorpe is sent on a mission and in the process becomes a prisoner of the Spaniards. Meanwhile, Dona Maria pines for Thorpe and when he escapes he returns to England to uncover some deadly secrets. Exciting duels follow as Thorpe must expose the evil and win Dona Maria's heart. Written by Julie Sherman <jsherma@hubcap.clemson.edu>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Dashing...romantic...Errol Flynn at his thrilling best! See more »


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Parents Guide:





Release Date:

1 July 1940 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Beggars of the Sea  »

Filming Locations:


Box Office


$1,700,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Production Co:

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


| (re-release)

Sound Mix:

(RCA Sound System)


| (Sepiatone) (Panama Sequences)

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


Contract writer Delmer Daves completed his screenplay in 1936, but by that point, the studio already had several other projects lined up for Errol Flynn, all adventure pictures. See more »


During the initial battle between the Albatross and the Spanish ambassador's ship, the Spanish captain orders the cannon to be double-shotted. That means to load two balls (shots) into each cannon. While such a tactic was used during battles, typically it was reserved for close-in battles when distance was not a concern - the object was to maximize damage. No wonder the Spanish broadside fell short. Also only one splash per gun can be seen - double-shots would have generated two splashes per gun and while they may have been close together, they would have been distinct. See more »


[first lines]
King Philip II: 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?
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Featured in Northern Pursuit (1943) See more »


Strike for the Shores of Dover
(1940) (uncredited)
Music by Erich Wolfgang Korngold
Lyrics by Jack Scholl and Howard Koch
Sung by the oarsmen when they take over the ship
Played also in the score
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Frequently Asked Questions

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User Reviews

A superb but slightly overlong swashbuckler contains an outstanding music score by Erich Wolfgang Korngold…
3 March 2008 | by (Petersburg, Vasaria) – See all my reviews

One of Errol Flynn's best films, THE SEA HAWK contains all the vital ingredients that make this sort of film work well: spectacular production values, an entertaining screenplay written by Seton I. Miller and Howard Koch (who also wrote the screenplay for Flynn's 1938 swashbuckler, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD), an excellent cast of British players (including the urbane Claude Rains and Henry Daniell), thrilling action scenes, and an outstanding Oscar-nominated music score by Warner Bros. contract composer Erich Wolfgang Korngold.

Made at a time when Great Britain fought against Nazi Germany on the seas and in the skies, THE SEA HAWK is set weeks before the 1588 Spanish Armada. King Phillip II of Spain, played by Montagu Love in only one scene, is presented here as a 16th Century Adolf Hitler who desires to conquer Elizabethan England and then some. Queen Elizabeth I, perfectly cast by a mighty Dame Flora Robson, tries by all means in her power to preserve the peace between the two countries. However, the heroic Captain Geoffrey Thorpe of Her Majesty's navy (a dashing Errol Flynn in a sincere performance) frequently plunders the Spanish and matters get complicated. Soon there is a traitor present within Her Majesty's court…

Despite its excellence, THE SEA HAWK is not without flaws. At 127 minutes, the film is somewhat overlong compared to the 102-minute THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and some plot devices could have been trimmed. The film's spectacular settings cry out for glorious Technicolor, which would've increased the film's then-massive budget of $1,700,000. Instead the film contains superb black-and-white cinematography by Sol Polito, using marvelous light-and-shadow shots for maximum effect. Fans of the original Rafael Sabatini novel will be disappointed: the screenplay has nothing to do whatsoever with the original novel. Worst of all, Olivia de Havilland—Errol Flynn's most famous female co-star—was fed up with swashbucklers at the time and rejected the role of Thorpe's Spanish love interest, Doña Maria. Instead Brenda Marshall was cast in the role. Despite her pretty brunette looks, Marshall is bland and lifeless in this rather thankless role.

And now a word about the music score: Erich Wolfgang Korngold contributed greatly to the art of film music, and THE SEA HAWK is one of his finest works. Although some comments here criticize Korngold's music to be over-the-top, I strongly disagree: Korngold was a composer of operas and symphonic poems in Austria before he became a film composer, so it's not uncommon that his film scores would contain highly dramatic passages and vocal passages. I have five versions of the score on CD: KORNGOLD: THE SEA HAWK performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Andre Previn, ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD: THE WARNER BROS. YEARS, CAPTAIN BLOOD: CLASSIC FILM SCORES FOR ERROL FLYNN performed by the National Philharmonic Orchestra and conducted by Charles Gerhardt, THE SEA HAWK performed by the Utah Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Varujan Kojian, and THE SEA HAWK; DECEPTION by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and conducted by William T. Stromberg. All the recordings have their strengths and weaknesses. KORNGOLD: THE SEA HAWK is the worst of the bunch—the London Symphony Orchestra plods along at a painfully slow tempo and lacks the excitement and majesty that was a staple of Korngold's musical style. Andre Previn seems to have no appreciation for Erich's music and poor Erich must've tossed and turned in his grave when the Previn version was released. The only redeeming feature of the CD is the competent performance of THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER, composed by Erich in 1937. ERICH WOLFGANG KORNGOLD: THE WARNER BROS. YEARS contains the original monophonic studio recordings but this CD presents only brief excerpts of the score. CAPTAIN BLOOD: CLASSIC FILM SCORES FOR ERROL FLYNN contains a marvelous eight-minute suite of the score (The Albatross/Throne Room/The Jungle/Duel/"Happy Sailing") which makes the listener desire for more music. However, the uplifting "Happy Sailing" has never sounded better due to the wonderful performance by the Ambrosian Singers. The Utah Symphony Orchestra's version of THE SEA HAWK is superb but contains only an abridged 44-minute suite. THE SEA HAWK; DECEPTION, released in 2007, is a two-disc set that contains the complete score followed by Korngold's obscure 1946 score to DECEPTION. The orchestral performance is excellent but the vocal cues, performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra Chorus, could have been much better. The two main vocal cues, "Doña Maria's Song" and "Happy Sailing," are hardly audible due to the poor handling of singing in English. In this recording, "Happy Sailing" sounds like a mass of under-rehearsed Russian men who had one vodka too many during lunch break! However, the performance to the complete score of DECEPTION is lush and Korngold's cello concerto from the film has never sounded better. If you want to own a recording of the score to THE SEA HAWK, I suggest you get all the CDs except KORNGOLD: THE SEA HAWK. All these CDs are available on amazon.com. Hopefully, a definitive recording of this marvelous score will be released on CD someday soon.

All in all, this a very good film and one of the best swashbucklers ever made...even more so for its outstanding and memorable music score.

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