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CAPTAIN HORATIO HORNBLOWER R.N. (director: Raoul Walsh; screenwriters: Ivan Goff/Aeneas MacKenzie/Ben Roberts/C.S. Forester/based on the novel by C.S. Forester; cinematographer: Guy Green; editor: Jack Harris; music: Robert Farnon; cast: Gregory Peck (Capt. Horatio Hornblower, R.N.), Virginia Mayo (Lady Barbara Wellesley), Robert Beatty (Lt. William Bush), Moultrie Kelsall (Lt. Crystal), Terence Morgan (2nd Lt. Gerard), Alec Mango (Don Julian Alvarado), Michael Dolan (Surgeon Gundarson), Denis O’Dea (RAdm. Sir Rodney Leighton); Runtime: 117; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Raoul Walsh/Gerry Mitchell; Warner Bros.; 1951-UK)
“A thinking person’s swashbuckler.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A solid 19th-century seafaring adventure classic set during the Napoleonic Wars. C.S. Forester adapts his own novel to the screen. Director Raoul Walsh (“Battle Cry”/”Colorado Territory “/”White Heat”) aims to capture the spirit of the book, keeping in all the chases, escapades and duels, but alters the plot to make it mostly a thinking person’s swashbuckler. Gregory Peck is perfect casting for the fictional Captain Hornblower, the heroic but ruthlessly strict disciplinarian (approves of the flogging of a crewman ordered by the cruel 2nd Lt. Gerard).

In 1807, during the Napoleonic Wars, British Captain Horatio Hornblower sails his ship, the H.M.S. Lydia, in the Pacific Ocean on a secret mission to arm the power-hungry Central American despot Don Julian Alvarado (Alec Mango). Alvarado, now calling himself El Supremo, is all set to rebel against the Spanish (the ally of France), Britain’s enemies. Hornblower captures the Spanish warship, Natividad, in a sneak raid and turns it over to the dictator; however, the political winds shift and Spain is now England’s ally while El Supremo has become the enemy. Hornblower must now take back the more powerful ship for his country’s new ally and to protect his new passenger Lady Barbara Wellesley (Virginia Mayo), the Duke of Wellington’s sister, who has yellow fever and must be taken back to England. A romance develops between Horatio and Lady Barbara, as he tenderly nurses her back to health. But she will soon marry her fiance, Rear Adm. Rodney Leighton (Denis O’Dea), and Horatio, after defiantly capturing a French ship, will be taken prisoner by French land forces. He escapes and eventually marries when his wife dies at childbirth and Lady Barbara becomes a widow.

It retains enough excitement to overcome its sprawling storytelling and dead spots. It’s a more conventional Hollywood action film than Forester’s more imaginative written words were meant to be, but the viewer is duly rewarded with some breathtaking fighting scenes.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”