Starring: Milton Sills, Wallace Beery
Plot: The adventures of Oliver Tressilian, who goes from English gentry to galley slave to captain of a Moorish fighting ship, all the while trying to regain his lady love. Follows the Rafael Sabatini novel, unlike the 1940 movie of the same name.
“The Sea Hawk” had audiences coming back for multiple viewings, and was a big hit for First National; it also moved director Frank Lloyd further into the small circle of epic filmmakers. The film boasts big – and big-looking, thanks to Lloyd’s incredible use of the picture frame – production values; and, it is beautifully paced. Watch how well Lloyd fills the screen during the “interrupted wedding” between Hughes and Bennett. Much of the seafaring footage was plundered to insert in later Warner Bros. films – and, it’s likely not all of the stolen scenes were returned to the original.
Critically acclaimed, as well as popular, “The Sea Hawk” was cited as the year’s “Best Picture” by “Motion Picture” magazine. “Photoplay” declared “The Dramatic Life of Abraham Lincoln” the winner, while “Film Daily” had “The Thief of Bagdad” edging out “The Sea Hawk” by one vote. Moreover, the later two immediately began placing high on “all-time” greatest film lists. The heroic Sills may be uncommonly staid; but, in hindsight, this is preferable to the usual overplaying. Hughes performed exceptionally; he rose to #6 in a “Motion Picture” star poll, with Sills behind at #13. Bennett has relatively little to do, but Mr. Berry certainly makes a good impression; soon, he would become the biggest star from the cast, which has a dozen notable actors.