Daring PRIVATEER Meets Notorious LADY PIRATE!
No one would likely confuse Sterling Hayden with Errol Flynn- at least not in Flynn’s prime- but that didn’t stop studio heads from casting the less dynamic Hayden in his share of costume dramas. Most notably among these is 1954’s Prince Valiant where Hayden is Sir Gawain in a supporting role to Robert Wagner. Earlier, in 1952, he tried carrying The Golden Hawk a mid-line swashbuckler from Columbia costarring Rhonda Fleming.
Hayden acquits himself fairly well, though emoting his lines fails him utterly. Here he is (of course) French pirate Kit, the Hawk himself. He’s in the middle of a decades long feud with his nemesis, the Spaniard Captain Luis del Toro (John Sutton). While chasing him around the Caribbean, the Hawk captures both Blanca de Valdiva (Helena Carter) and Rouge (Rhonda Fleming). The former turns out to be the fiance of del Toro and he ransoms her off to him. The latter, Rouge, is a bit more complicated. Though not disclosed at the time, Rouge is actually a notorious English pirate. Her rather convoluted backstory is that she’s also a lady who lost the family’s fortune and has turned pirate to regain it.
Rouge escapes and though Blanca’s fallen for the Hawk, he isn’t interested as he’s now smitten with the still unexposed Rouge. Ultimately Rouge and Hawk reunite, with Rouge coming clean on her past and confessing her love for the Hawk.
The only real flaw in the picture is Rouge herself. She’s not only well played by Fleming but is also the key character in the story and by far the most interesting. For the first half of the picture, she’s mysterious but very driven. A female pirate isn’t that common on the big screen and here’s one with a fairly interesting background! However, once she falls for Hayden this all seems to go up in smoke and all that drive and independence becomes completely subservient to her man. So much so that she even comments as much in the film.
Other minor challenges are Hayden’s delivery, which seems focused more on diction than showing any emotion. Though again, this is a trait present in most of his roles. Also the plot is a bit clunky and even includes a fairly major twist in the final scene which seems to explain away most all of the picture as the result of a mild misunderstanding.
Otherwise The Golden Hawk is a good and solid (if unspectacular) film. It’s far from a classic but still a fun way to spend an hour or so. Filmed in wonderful technicolor, the film look great and features wonderful cinematography. There’s plenty of action with most of it being extremely well done, considering the heavy (and normal) use of miniatures and models. The climatic fleet assault on Cartagena is definitely a highlight.