Captain Horatio Hornblower (Raoul Walsh / U.S., 1951):

The telling structure streamlines a trio of C.S. Forester novels and abstracts the action for the benefit of the romance at its center. (Raoul Walsh: "In all my films, the whole story revolves around the love scene.") The frigate lost at sea is like the cowboy’s exhausted horse in a Western, Hornblower (Gregory Peck) is a starched naval uniform to whom a bit of throat-clearing during awkward moments is the height of soul-bearing. "A burning town is a magnificent sight," says El Supremo (Alec Mango), the kind of agitator gift-wrapped for gringo interventionism. (Panama and El Salvador are mentioned, as well they should be.) Warfare is a matter of hopscotching treaties, Hornblower and crew take over a galleon run by a Castilian-accented Christopher Lee only to discover that Spain is now an ally of England. But the movie isn’t about that. The undercover journey into Napoleon’s Paris near the end is staged to adduce a thread from Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, and does it beautifully, but the movie isn’t about that, either. Rather, the swift cannonades and narrow escapes are bravura bookends for the breathtaking moment in which Virginia Mayo looks at Peck (and at the audience) and simply declares, "We are lovers and the world is ours." Mayo’s Lady Barbara Wellesley must leave the ship and return to her fiancée (Denis O’Dea), the camera takes her vantage point as she’s hoisted away from the deck and catches Hornblower struggling to maintain his heroic bearing, ready to collapse from heartbreak (cf. the last view of Olivia de Havilland in They Died With Their Boots On). Later, upon the protagonist’s return home to news of an infant son and a dead wife, the camera roams around the living room’s sundry mementos while the woman’s ghostly laments are heard -- Walsh would return to high-seas adventures (The World in His Arms, Sea Devils), but scarcely again with another sequence fit for Joyce’s The Dead. Cinematography by Guy Green. With Robert Beatty, Moultrie Kelsall, Terence Morgan, James Kenney, James Robertson Justice, Ingeborg von Kusserow, and Stanley Baker.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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