Monday, August 10, 2009

Classic Rewind: 'Captain Horatio Hornblower' (1951)

By Chase Kahn

Raoul Walsh's epic, romanticized swashbuckler Captain Horatio Hornblower is a classic star vehicle for the great Gregory Peck and one of the greatest swashbucklers ever made -- alongside Michael Curtiz's Captain Blood (1935) and The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938).

Originally slated as a star vehicle for Warner Brothers' in-house, chiseled, dreamy and bankable action star Errol Flynn -- David O. Selznick ended up loaning out Gregory Peck to the studio after Vincent Sherman's Adventures of Don Juan (1948), which starred Flynn, was a box-office failure and signaled the beginning of the end for the former heavyweight Warner Bros. icon.

Based on C.S. Forester's novels, starring the fictional and titular Horatio Hornblower, a Royal Navy captain during the Napoleonic Wars, Raoul Walsh's film is a gorgeously produced, sprawling tale of the captain's escapades and cunning judgements and heroics during this period of turmoil at sea.

Filmed in seamless Technicolor and on a stunning transfer by Warner Home Video (DVD released in 2007), Captain Horatio Hornblower looks better than ever, and there's hardly a blemish in Walsh's numerous actions set pieces.

Transitions between sound stage, models, and exterior oceaning shooting is spotless, and the amound of carnage inflicted on screen is palpable, brutal and real. Never-the-less, the film is certainly a Walsh/WB production from start to finish. A predictable forbidden romance (with Virginia Mayo), a likeable, larger-than-life and strappingly handsome hero (Gregory Peck), and a fictional, idealized reenactment of an historic war-time event.

If your a victim for the Warner Bros. romanticized swashbuckler (like me), where the heroes are square-jawed and stoic and the women, even during bouts of yellow fever, are glamorous and good-natured, and the guy always wins the war and gets the girl, Captain Horatio Hornblower is one of the best.

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