Monday, February 6, 2012

Sunday at the Movies

I spent Sunday afternoon taking apart a futon and clearing out our computer desk as we prepare to move our desktop computer from the spare bedroom - slated to become my son's room in a few months - into the master bedroom. Fortunately it turned out to be a good day for Errol Flynn movies - no, I don't watch the Super Bowl - with The Adventures of Robin Hood and The Sea Hawk on TCM.

Among gamers of a certain age, The Adventures of Robin Hood is akin to a sort of sacrament. It was Errol Flynn and Basil Rathbone battling in Nottingham Castle that Gary Gygax wanted to emulate with the hit point rules in OD&D, to capture the back-and-forth of the duelists on the castle steps.

The Sea Hawk is less well-known. Peripherally drawn from the Rafael Sabatini novel of the same name, Errol Flynn plays Captain Thorpe, one of Queen Elizabeth's "Sea Hawks" and a thorn in the side of the Spanish. Thorpe believes the Spanish are preparing to attack England with a great Armada and sets out to expose and foil their plans. The movie concludes with a dramatically-lit duel in the throne room of Winchester Palace.

The Sea Hawk is a fun movie, but it's an even more fascinating book. Mr Sabatini's novel takes place after the Armada and features the exploits of an English sailor and an Algerian pirate. It's an engrossing portrait of the lives of the Barbary corsairs at the turn of the 17th century, of slaves captured in England and held in the banios of Algiers, of renegadoes - Europeans who engaged in piracy under the flags of Algiers, Tunis, and Tripoli - of 'turning Turk,' adopting the Muslim religion, and of the politics of ransom.

An earlier silent version was filmed in 1924, directed by Frank Lloyd; the Errol Flynn movie, filmed sixteen years later, used footage from the earlier film, including full-sized replica ships in action off Santa Catalina Island, just off the California coast (and not far from where the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels would be filmed some eighty years later). I've not seen the Lloyd version of The Sea Hawk, but it sounds like it was much closer to Mr Sabatini's tale.

I would love to see a remake of The Sea Hawk, one that hews closer to the Sabatini book. In addition to swashbuckling action among the galleys and corsairs of the Mediterranean, it's a remarkable tale about a largely forgotten period of contact and conflict between Christian Europe and Muslim Africa.


  1. Awesome way to spend a day. Despite Errol Flynn's personal issues I still think his movies are some of the best ever. The two you mentioned are among his best (though I still like Captain Blood better than Sea Hawk). They do capture the essence of rpgs.

    And Rafael Sabatini wrote a lot of really good books; at this point I've read most of them including his non-fiction.

    And I love the link for Flashing Blades, a wonderful game I still want to run.

  2. "I would love to see a remake of The Sea Hawk, one that hews closer to the Sabatini book."

    -- Sadly, Hollywood makes very few film stories closer to the source material. But if they did, this is truly one that could be great.

    "Among gamers of a certain age, The Adventures of Robin Hood is akin to a sort of sacrament."

    -- Oh man, it has been too long since I saw that flick. I have to rent it sometime soon and reaffirm my soul :-)



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