Cast & Crew
In the seventeenth century on a Caribbean island, a group of pirates, headed by the infamous French sea captain Christopher "Kit" Gerardo, who is known as The Golden Hawk for his daring privateering exploits against England and Spain, learn of the approach of Kit's arch enemy, Luis del Toro on the Garza . Without his own vessel, Kit commandeers the fastest pirate ship, the Sea Flower . In the midst of the battle between Kit and del Toro, several women prisoners, led by the renowned woman pirate, Rouge, who is masquerading as Dutch maid Jane Van Corte, break out from below deck on the Garza . Only Rouge escapes, however, jumping overboard and swimming to the Sea Flower . Rouge, still pretending to be Jane, dismisses Kit's insistent romantic overtures, but accepts his pistol as protection. A few nights later, Rouge awakens to find Kit bending over her and shoots him, then leaps from the ship and swims to a nearby island. The first mate, Bernardo Diaz, discovers an unconscious Kit and a note, signed "Rouge," declaring that the shooting was self-defense. Upon recovering, Kit and the Sea Flower continue attacks across the Caribbean and after one engagement take several women prisoners, including del Toro's fiancée, Bianca del Valdiva, who is on her way to Cartagena for the wedding. Hoping to lure del Toro back to sea, Kit keeps Bianca hostage, explaining that he is seeking revenge on del Toro for murdering his mother. Bianca implies she will stay with Kit if he gives up his pursuit of del Toro, but Kit refuses and instead accepts del Toro's offer of 10,000 gold pieces for Bianca's safe return. Kit and the crew of the Sea Flower wait for del Toro on the island of Cul de Sac, where Bianca once again suggests to Kit that they remain together. Del Toro arrives with the gold and after the exchange, Kit accuses him of murdering his mother, which del Toro claims not to recall. Kit questions del Toro about Rouge, but learns little. Kit takes the gold, but upon setting sail, the Sea Flower is surrounded by three of del Toro's ships, who signal for an immediate surrender. Kit waits until nightfall, then takes a raft full of gun powder to the nearest Spanish ship and destroys it. The Sea Flower escapes through the breach between the other ships, which are at anchor. When a British ship closes on the Sea Flower the following morning, Kit is forced to surrender to the Spaniards who have been in pursuit. On board del Toro's ship, the commander accuses Kit of piracy and introduces the captain of the British ship, Rouge. Rouge demands half of the gold pieces del Toro has taken back, then convinces del Toro to spare Kit for saving her life. At Sainte Domingue, Kit receives a request from the king to destroy Cartagena. When he protests that the British naval support based in Jamaica makes the Cartagena attack impossible, the king's emissary assures him that if the pirates raid Jamaica first, the entire French fleet will support their assault on Cartagena and Kit will receive a duchy and great wealth. Kit agrees and the pirates raid Jamaica. As they burn several prosperous British-owned plantations, Kit is startled by the appearance of Rouge. She confesses that her real name is Lady Jane Golphin and that she has been trying to restore her family's wealth, as their British properties were destroyed in the long conflict with France. Kit apologizes for the destruction of her plantation and admits he is in love with her, but distraught over her loss, Rouge rejects him. In Cartagena, del Toro, the new governor, grows upset that Bianca, now his wife, still thinks of Kit. On the Sea Flower , Kit believes that Bianca will willingly provide him with the plans for the Cartagena fortress, which overlooks the harbor. Kit and Bernardo sneak into the city and reach Bianca, but she demands to know if Kit is still in love with Rouge and then has him arrested. Bianca is angry when del Toro refuses to punish Kit, until he reveals that Kit is his son. He explains that as a child, Kit witnessed the accident that caused his mother's death and believed del Toro was responsible. He promises to try to help Kit. At the trial, however, Rouge appears to testify that Kit's raid on Jamaica has allowed the French fleet access to Cartagena, and the tribunal votes to hang Kit that night. Bianca meets with Rouge after the verdict and convinces her that Kit loves her. Disguising herself as a carpenter's apprentice, Rouge helps Kit and Bernardo escape. The French fleet arrives in the harbor and is under heavy attack from del Toro's men in the fortress. Rouge helps Kit set up an explosion in the munitions dump, which halts the Spanish attack. Del Toro is wounded, but gratified that Kit, who has learned about his parentage from Bianca, accepts him. Now wealthy and landed, Kit reunites happily with Rouge onboard the Sea Flower .
Poppy A. Del Vando
Robert E. Kent
William V. Skall
The Golden Hawk
The Golden Hawk wastes absolutely no time in establishing its pirate movie credentials; within just the first ten minutes of running time the viewer is treated to scenes that were even then thought of as clichés of the genre: a barroom full of privateers drinking rum and singing a "Yo Ho" song, the male lead bedding down a local dignitary's daughter, and a swordfight! The story is set against the 17th Century war between France and the alliance of England and Spain, and deals with the pirates of the Caribbean that took advantage of seas crowded with merchant ships and vessels transporting the spoils of war. In the pirate-run island port of Basse Terre, French "privateer" Capt. Kit 'The Hawk' Gerardo (Sterling Hayden) and his crew are aground, their ship having just been sunk. Kit stirs up his men to commandeer an English vessel, the Sea Flower, to attack the gold-laden Spanish ship Garza, captained by his arch enemy, Luis del Toro (John Sutton). In spite of being outgunned, Kit attacks the Spanish ship and during the melee a female captive dives from the Garza and swims to the Sea Flower. She claims to be a Dutch prisoner, but soon reveals herself to be Captain Rouge (Rhonda Fleming), a notorious pirate. Rouge wounds Kit and flees, knowing that they will meet again. In a later attack, Kit picks up Bianca de Valdiva (Helena Carter), who is on her way to wed del Toro. Kit tells her, "my regrets, Senorita one day I shall have to make you a widow," for del Toro has killed Kit's mother.
In 2009 Rhonda Fleming told TCM that The Golden Hawk was "...a wonderful film about 'pirates' and I played a very feisty one!" Fleming felt that her co-star Hayden was "...a very tall, good-looking man and although he was not as agile as an 'Errol Flynn' he was a very good actor and very nice to work with." It is initially startling to see Hayden, the sturdy, no-nonsense lead of such urban Noir classics as The Asphalt Jungle (1950) and The Killing (1956), here topped by a curly blonde hairdo and decked out in period garb. Fleming's memory is correct Hayden engages in only a couple of fleeting swordfights and does not appear very light on his feet. He has an imposing presence, though, and can get away with some very clunky dialogue, as when Kit tells the hungry Rouge, "Since you prefer not to feed my vanity, I shall be delighted to feed your stomach."
Swashbucklers are often enlivened by the villainous roles, and The Golden Hawk features John Sutton, a long-time veteran of such parts. Born in British India, Sutton's style of costumed villainy had already been on view in such films as Captain from Castile (1947), Adventures of Casanova (1948), Bagdad (1949), Thief of Damascus (1952), Captain Pirate (1952), and Lady in the Iron Mask (1952). Author Jeffrey Richards, in his book Swordsmen of the Screen, from Douglas Fairbanks to Michael York, writes that Sutton's "...best performance was as Don Luis del Toro in The Golden Hawk... He played an ageing Spanish grandee and made touching by his restraint scenes with a much younger wife he suspects of infidelity." The striking actress playing Bianca del Valdiva, Helena Carter, had a much shorter career than Sutton. After appearing in 13 films during a span of six years, she retired following production of the science fiction favorite Invaders from Mars (1953), in which she memorably played the leading scientist, Dr. Pat Blake.
Sam Katzman, the prolific producer in charge of Columbia Pictures' serial and B-movie units, had his name on no less that a dozen projects released in 1952. That year there were three Katzman-produced serials, two entries in the Jungle Jim series starring Johnny Weissmuller, a couple of westerns, and several pictures with titles that indicate a globe-trotting film crew: A Yank in Indo-China, Thief of Damascus, and Last Train from Bombay. Costume pictures were very popular with audiences in the early 1950s, and Columbia in particular became very adept at turning out colorful, semi-exotic-looking programmers on a very low budget. The trick was to employ mostly contract players instead of stars, construct foreign locations on studio soundstages rather than travel, and fill out epic scenes with stock footage or special effects photography. The budget for The Golden Hawk was probably the biggest that Katzman had to work with that year; the film gets by with a minimum of stock footage and the miniature sea battles are well done and appear to be specially designed for this film (the special effects are credited to Jack Erickson). In addition, there is a mid-film island dance sequence that is wildly authentic, which is unusual for a studio film from this period; the dance (set on Cul de Sac) is erotic and genuinely Caribbean-flavored.
Very little critical attention was paid to The Golden Hawk and what appeared was not very enthusiastic. In the New York Times, Bosley Crowther felt that "pushovers for the swashbucklers may experience a feeble shove from The Golden Hawk," and that "...the sort of blood and thunder that is standard in sword-and-romance films is spewed in this Technicolored gee-gaw turned out by Columbia." Crowther said that the film's cast "...all do their best to make something of this slap at a Frank Yerby yarn, but the product is rambling and confusing, just people milling around in bright costumes."
Producer: Sam Katzman
Director: Sidney Salkow
Screenplay: Robert E. Kent; Frank Yerby (novel)
Cinematography: William V. Skall
Art Direction: Paul Palmentola
Music: Mischa Bakaleinikoff
Film Editing: Edwin Bryant
Special Effects: Jack Erickson
Cast: Sterling Hayden (Kit 'The Hawk' Gerardo), Rhonda Fleming (Captain Rouge), Helena Carter (Bianca de Valdiva), John Sutton (Captain Luis del Toro), Paul Cavanagh (Jeremy Smithers), Michael Ansara (Bernardo Diaz), Raymond Hatton (Barnaby Stoll), Alex Montoya (Homado)
by John M. Miller
The Golden Hawk
The film's title card reads "Columbia Pictures Corporation presents Frank Yerby's The Golden Hawk."