Friday, July 3, 2020

Eighty Years Ago ...

Note: What follows is about a live-action flick...

Always useful to open your movie with a bang...

On this day 8 decades back, The Sea Hawk is released.

A blockbuster silent film called The Sea Hawk was produced in 1924, starring the long-forgotten Milton Sills. The flick was based on a Rafael Sabatini novel of the same name and Warners scooped up the rights. Writer (later director) Delmer Daves was put to work writing a new adaptation for Errol Flynn.

But then along came writer Seton (The Adventures of Robin Hood) Miller with an original script called Beggars of the Sea, and Warner production head Hal Wallis thought "Ah HA!" The studio bought Miller's screenplay, and, as often happens in Hollywoodland, Wallis directed staff writer Howard Koch (later to win the "Best Screenplay" Oscar for "Casablanca") to rewrite the epic. Koch turned the story into an allegory for the war in Europe: King Philip's Spain standing in for Hitler's Germany and Elizabeth's England repping Britain under Churchill. (Not for nothing was this film one of Winston's favorite flicks.)

A huge new soundstage -- complete with water tanks -- was constructed to house the sea battle that opens the film, and production commenced on January 31, 1940. The film had the usual problems with its star: Flynn came in late, Flynn left early, Flynn didn't know his lines. Director Michael Curtiz tore out his hair and Hal Wallis fired off brusque memos: "Why don't you do something about this? ... Why don't you at least let me in on it so that I can? ..." (etc.) And there were other complications. When they were shooting the film's climax, it became obvious that the villain, played by Henry Danielle, could fence. The movie’s unit manager detailed the problems in a February 19, 1940 production memo:

To: T.C. Wright

From: Frank Mattinson

Subject: The Sea Hawk

Saturday … the company … made 16 set-ups … of the duel. … This duel has turned into a matter of a walk. Mr. [Henry] Daniell is absolutely helpless and his closeup in the duel will be mostly from the elbows up.

Mr. Curtiz was greatly discouraged with his results on Saturday, as well as Friday, but there is nothing we can do as it will be impossible to go back and change to someone else in this part. …

The Casting Office and everyone connected with the picture were duly warned of Mr. Daniell’s inability to fence long before the picture started, and we knew of him being taken out of a part in Romeo and Juliet [1936] because he could not handle a sword. Nevertheless he is playing the part and it is going to take two more full days to finish the duel at the rate we worked on it Saturday and last Thursday.

Frank Mattinson

After navigating the duel problem in February, the stupendous sea battle was shot in March, and production finally wrapped in April. TSH went on to become one of Warners' top grossers of the year (which maybe explains why Errol Flynn could come in late and go home early?) Released again in 1947, it was a big earner once more.

And wrap things up by killing the bad guy.

No comments:

Post a Comment