Review: Captain Horatio Hornblower (1951)

(Note: this capsule review is part of my farewell to the Netflix DVD service. #GetThroughMyQueue)

Okay, so this actually isn’t a film I’ve gotten from Netflix.  I decided to get this after finally rewatching the ‘99 – ‘03 TV movie series — and after the last two entries, I needed some cinematic comfort food.

Right from the get-go, you get Robert Farnon’s rousing score that proclaims you’re in for a ripping yarn. The stakes are high. The Captain’s upper lip is stiffer than a femur bone frozen in a glacier. In the words of author C.S. Forester, he’s “Hamlet in charge of a battleship.” But he’s also played by Gregory Peck, which means he’s charismatic and caring, but not so aloof as to not find romance with the leading lady, Virginia Mayo. Younger viewers may disrespectfully wonder why her last name is a condiment, but steady boys, steady! There’s romance, and derring-do aplenty, seeing as this combines not one of Forester’s Hornblower novels, but three (which also explains why the film feels both packed to the gills and episodic).

In short, it’s a perfectly wonderful Hollywood adventure film. Of course, being over 70 years old, that means it does not escape some problematic bits, for example, most of the Latin American characters being more caricatures. At the same time, the small character bits throughout the film are some of the best parts, such as the quips between two of Hornblower’s lieutenants, Crystal and Bush. You also have James Robertson Justice as Seaman Quist working to steal every scene he’s in — and look fast for an early appearance by Christopher Lee as an enemy captain giving a hint of his elegant villainy to come.

Personally, this is five out of five stars. You just heard all the ways in which I like the cut of this film’s jib, and even with repeated viewing, it stays the course.

Trying to be more objective, I think it’s still four out of five stars. If you’re looking for that classic Hollywood adventure film, you’ll be rewarded.

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