Screen legend Gregory Peck brings to life C.S. Forester's classic nautical hero, Horatio Hornblower. Hornblower battles the French and the Spanish forces during the Napoleonic wars, but also finds time for romance in this ... more »story from director Raoul Walsh.« less
Captain Horatio Hornblower finds love and adventure at sea
Lawrance M. Bernabo | The Zenith City, Duluth, Minnesota | 11/22/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"C. S. Forester certainly began the saga of his Napoleonic-Era naval hero Horatio Hornblower "in media res." Here is Hornblower as a dashing captain, with the stories of his younger days and later glories both yet to be penned. "Captain Horatio Hornblower" actually covers the key events in Forester's first trio of Hornblower adventures, "Beat to Quarters," "Ship of the Line" and Flying Colours." Hornblower (American Gregory Peck playing the quintessential English hero) is sent on a secret mission to the far side of South America where he has to capture a Spanish frigate not once but twice, all because of the problematic delay in having new orders catch up with him in the time of wooden sailing ships. Chance throws Hornblower together with Lady Barbara Wellesley (Virginia Mayo), the sister of the Duke of Wellington. She is engaged to some admiral and he is already married, but there is no doubt that they are meant for each other. Besides, even Fate has to take a backseat to Hornblower's sense of duty. Even when he is captured by the French it is but another opportunity for grand adventure. Like many fans I came to the Hornblower novels and this rousing 1951 film directed by Raoul Walsh. The happy ending falls into place a bit too neatly, but that is what happened in the original novels and not simply a Hollywood decision. The sea battles with the fully rigged ships are as fine as you can find from the good old days of movie-making, but my favorite scene is the touching one when the Captain and Lady Barbara deal with the final moment's of the youngest member of the ship's company. "Captain Horatio Hornblower," like the novels, achieves that feeling that we are truly in the middle of an epic tale, with well-established characters who we readily believe have already had long and glorious histories. I think Lt. Bush (Robert Beatty) gets a lot of the credit for that as the unofficial "narrator" of the tale. So, if you have loved the imported A&E adventures of the young Horatio Hornblower, you certainly need to get around to watching the original film version and reading Forester's novels. If not, you will just be a scurvy dog, matie."
An old film but conveys the Hornblower spirit...
bookjunkiereviews | India | 04/09/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"After starting on Patrick O'Brian, I have also discovered Horatio Hornblower first with the first A&E episode "The Duel" (Ion Gruffyd, Robert Lindsay), and now with the 1951 movie "Captain Hornblower" starring Gregory Peck. I have *not* read the Hornblower books yet, so my review is from the perspective of someone new to naval fiction and naval movies.Gregory Peck is one of my favorite actors, which makes this film an easy choice to watch (for me, at least). However, the character of Hornblower (with his trademark Hmm..mmm) and the events covered by the movie are probably closer to the original series than the recent A&E series. [At least, judging from Parkinson's biography covering the same ground as the novels, this would appear to be the case]. If you are a Hornblower purist, you will probably prefer the Gregory Peck movie version for this reason, even though the battle scenes are more sustained and far more exciting in the A&E versions (judging from The Duel).Captain Hornblower condenses two (or is it three?) books into one - the book in which he is posted on direct orders from the Admiralty, and must round Cape Horn to reach a Spanish rebel, Don Julian Alvorado on the other side of Nicaragua. This feat of seamanship is well-portrayed, with the movie starting at the point where the ship has been at sea for months and has been becalmed. Hornblower takes a wild gamble in assuring the crew and his officers that the wind will pick up that night and that they will sight land within the next day. Amazingly, he pulls this off. In private, his journals reflect his fears and uncertainty, thus allowing us a glimpse at the private Hornblower. The first part of the movie focuses on Hornblower's difficult decisions during this secret mission (when he cannot confide in any of his officers, including his second-in-command Lt Bush). He must decide whether to trust Don Julian Alvorado (who is clearly a madman), whether to attack a much larger Spanish frigate with twice the gunpower, and what to do when political events overtake this little expedition. What is not made clear (at least when I watched the film for the first time) is that Hornblower had really no choice but to go along with Alvorado (or El Supremo) as he likes to call himself. Spain is allied with Napoleonic France, and Hornblower must re-provision his ship. The nearest British port of call is St Helena - on the other side of South America. Hornblower was not simply following Admiralty orders, he was also taking a risk to keep his crew alive. There are several battles, including one major battle when Hornblower's ship loses one of its mast and is nearly wrecked. Fortunately, brilliant seamanship on his part allows him the upper hand.During this first part, Hornblower also develops a love interest in Lady Barbara Wellesley (a fictional character, although she is supposedly the sister of the future Duke of Wellington). She is engaged to an admiral Sir Rodney Leighton, but she prefers Hornblower. He was reluctant to have her aboard at first, but had no choice (she was fleeing yellow fever, it would have been professional suicide to leave her behind, with her connections). Unfortunately for Hornblower, he must reveal the truth after Lady Barbara declares her love for him. He is married. The rest of the voyage is strained, with both anxious to return to Britain as soon as possible. The second part of the movie begins with Hornblower's return to the British Isles, only to learn that he is a widower and has an infant son. From there, he is placed under the command of Leighton (now Lady Barbara's husband). Admiral Leighton disapproves of Hornblower's independence, but our hero's quick thinking and independent ways pay off in a crucial action against some French ships that have escaped the blockade. In the third part of the movie, Hornblower is taken prisoner along with his lieutenant, and is to be sent to Paris to be tried and executed for piracy (sailing under French colors). Of course, he escapes eventually and returns home to discover that Lady Barbara has been widowed.This is a quick summary of the movie, which hardly does justice to many of its finer points. There are some deviations from the book (the story was adapted, by the way, by Forester himself). For example, Sir Percy Leighton becomes Sir Rodney Leighton. [He is of a different social background in the books than in the movie]. Lady Barbara is not engaged to be married at the beginning of the voyage, and she appears proud and haughty to Hornblower. And of course, the collapsing of the three books into one movie means that certain details must be omitted (thus Lt Bush recovers remarkably quickly, or so it would seem). The pace of the adaptation is however just right - the story continues to sustain the viewer's interest. The sea battles are well-depicted, and the story was filmed in real ships (of the period, I think) and mostly at sea. However, the battles are less bloody than in the A&E version (perhaps a nod to 1950s sensibilities), and the ships are certainly cleaner than expected. I thought that the ships would be closer together when they engaged in battle.Despite these minor caveats, this film was delightful to watch. I would recommend this movie strongly to anyone interested in this period (the Napoleonic wars), or anyone interested in nautical fiction. The A&E series covers the very early career of the very young Hornblower, when he is still a midshipman and then makes lieutenant. (At the rate the producers are going, it will take a while before they reach the same events covered by this movie). Even if they do cover this period, watch this movie, if only for Gregory Peck's portrayal of Hornblower as as as Forester's own adaptation of his novels for the screen."
A classic movie of adventure and victory at sea!
Roger J. Buffington | Huntington Beach, CA United States | 06/12/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a 1951 big-budget film adaptation of three of C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower novels. Specifically, this movie combines "Beat to Quarters," "Ship of the Line," and "Flying Colors." It necessarily condenses the latter two novels, but does a good job in doing so.These are great novels, and this is a great film. Gregory Peck does a stellar job as Captain Hornblower, and Barbara Mayo puts in a fine performance as Lady Barbara. At the time there were some complaints that both leads were Americans, but the film justified the casting choices both in the eyes of the critics and at the box office.For those unfamiliar with the Hornblower series of novels, these stories are widely considered to be the greatest novels ever written dealing with the British navy during the Napoleonic wars. Captain Hornblower is a fictional British sea captain, who is blessed with high intelligence and competence, but humble origins of birth, which mattered greatly in those days. In the film his ship is ordered to make a 7000 mile voyage to Spanish South America, for the purpose of inciting rebellion among the Spanish colonies, as Spain had recently allied itself with Napoleon against Great Britain. Complications immediately develop, and this is a fabulous and engaging story about a brave age of hardship and adventure. I literally cannot imagine anyone not enjoying this film or this story.The movie features fine acting and quite good battle scenes. The A&E series actually had better special effects in my opinion, but the film hews closer to the actual stories in the novels. Both are well worth watching and owning. My only complaint is that this film is not yet available on DVD. Hurry!"
Perhaps my all-time favorite movie
Alan R. Holyoak | 05/08/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This Napoleanic era British Royal Navy yarn presents a wealth of action, loyalty, bravery, a glimpse of self-doubt, and even romance. Captain Hornblower, played exceptionally well by Gregory Peck, is a competent, intensely loyal and obedient British naval officer. He is a master teacher to junior officers and a leader of his men. We get a glimpse, though, of self-doubt that he carries with him (note the scenes where he writes in his diary).During the film he carries out an ultra-secret mission for the admiralty. In the course of that assignment Hornblower finds himself obliged to conduct a running ship to ship battle protrayed via top-notch movie footage. During the months it takes for Horblower's ship to return to Portsmouth, romance is nipped in the bud because of Hornblower's great integrity. The temptation is there, presented by the beautiful Virginia Mayo, but Hornblower doesn't buckle.Early successes bring advancement and notariety to Hornblower as the movie progresses. If you are inclined at all toward great tales of the sea and the men who sailed them, this movie will provide you with a grand adventure. Top notch, 5 stars all the way."
Forester's legendary hero in fine form!
Alan R. Holyoak | 08/29/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Most of you have probably heard of or seen the "Horatio Hornblower" miniseries that was done by A&E, but if you want to see Gregory Peck in one of his finest hours (and who wouldn't), then you should see this also! Here, three of C.S. Forester's novels are condensed into a movie well worth watching as Hornblower, an English naval captain during the Age Of Sail, does battle with the French (England's main adversary), the Spanish, and a power-hungry dictator. Forget about what you may have heard about Peck being a touch sober to play the title role; in the Forester novels, Hornblower is brave, modest, sober, and Peck plays him to perfection down to Hornblower's trademark "Ha - h'm!" He's so brave that even cannon fire doesn't make him flinch, but when the impeccably exquisite Lady Barbara Wellesley sets foot aboard his ship, Hornblower finds that he's not impervious to Cupid's arrows. This movie may not have the swash of "Captain Blood" or "The Sea Hawk", but it does have just about everything else, packed into a gem that runs just under 2 hours! The filmwork is excellent, the sea battles are edited and shot to perfection, Robert Farnon's musical score is imbued with the bold spirit that characterized the English navy during the period, and the supporting cast is perfect! Peck should have received an Oscar for his performance, but one can't overlook the lovely Virginia Mayo as Lady Barbara, the charismatic Alec Mango as El Supremo, or any of the other cast members - everyone does a fantastic job here! All in all - a definite recommendation to all who are devotees of Hornblower and/or the Age Of Sail, and definitely worthy of a 5-star rating. The only suggestion for improvement I would make is to release it on DVD in a collector's edition in widescreen, 5.1 stereo sound, and with all the trimmings! In fact, since it was made in 1951, it should be released on DVD this year to commemorate its 50th Anniversary - no better time like the present!"