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Film / Horatio Hornblower

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Captain Horatio Hornblower is a 1951 historical sea adventure film based on C. S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower series, directed by Raoul Walsh and starring Gregory Peck in the title role, with Virginia Mayo as Lady Barbara Wellesley.

The story is adapted from the first three novels: Beat to Quarters/The Happy Return, Ship of the Line, and Flying Colours. The character of Hornblower is also altered to make him more typical of a Hollywood hero of that era rather than the socially awkward, brooding character of the books.

The film follows Hornblower's adventures on the Pacific coast of Central America and back up to the seas around Europe during The Napoleonic Wars, as he romances the beautiful Lady Wellesey and outwits various Spanish and French villains.

The film provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Abandon Ship: After the English successfully destroyed several French ships by the fortress, Sutherland gets sunk as well. They saved themselves and got captured, but the English fleet was on their way to save them.
  • Adaptation Dye-Job: Dark-haired Lady Barbara is played by blonde Virginia Mayo.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Coxswain Brown becomes Quist.
  • Bridal Carry:
    • Sailor Quist, a giant of a man, carries an injured midshipman below deck.
    • Hornblower takes Lady Barbara in his arms when she gets sick.
  • Beautiful Dreamer: Hornblower has an opportunity to admire the beautiful Lady Barbara when she's ill and feverish, and he nurses her, taking a vigil.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Hornblower and Lady Barbara clearly have feelings for each other but he but rebuffs her as he is married - and on returning to port finds that his wife has died in childbirth.
  • Distress Ball: Lady Barbara falls ill after nursing the wounded, which forces Hornblower into quarantine so he can care for her (this doesn't happen in the book).
  • Dressing as the Enemy: French flag and knowledge of French code was employed when they plan an attack on the French (they changed colours right before the attack), and also Dutch uniforms when they were escaping from France.
  • In Name Only: The basic plot is intact, but major plot elements are changed, new elements and subplots are added, characters are left out completely or turned into The Ghost, characterizations are rewritten (especially Hornblower himself, who makes grand speeches and gives compliments, in direct contrast to his hatred for "unnecessary words"), and at least one thing - drinking to the King's health while sitting down - appears, despite the book actually going out of its way to point out how and why it wasn't done until 1830 following the coronation of King William IV (himself a former naval officer). A complete list of differences can be found here.
  • Let Them Die Happy: Lady Barbara is comforting a dying midshipman, a young boy who thinks he's come home to his mother. She goes with it. He asks her to kiss him, and Hornblower is able to tell her how his mother kissed him when she was telling him goodbye at the port — on his eyes and lips.
  • Mugged for Disguise: As the stay at the Gracays (and the resources they provide to the escape) is left out, Hornblower, Bush, and Quist simply follow three Dutch customs officers into a dark alley and walk back out in green uniforms.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The fact that everyone is British is very much an Informed Attribute.
  • Oh, Crap!: When a Spanish officer brings the happy news that Spain and Britain have been allies for the past month, the look of muted horror on Hornblower's face is a sight to be hold... and it becomes increasingly less muted as the Spaniard chatters happily about how lucky he was to find the Lydia before they could meet the Natividad, which would of course have destroyed the little English ship....
  • Only a Flesh Wound: In Ship of the Line, Bush's foot is shot off by a cannonball and most of his shin is amputated. Here, he's hit by minor shrapnel; after a line about his leg starting to feel better during the coach journey he's walking and running without problems.
  • Plucky Middie: Poor boy, he's used in the film just to give Hornblower and Lady Barbara the opportunity to act parental, then he dies tragically.
  • Race Lift: In the books, Lady Barbara's maid Hebe is black, but in the film she's a white woman, probably supposed to be of Hispanic or Creole origin.
  • Reverse Arm-Fold: Classic Hornblower's position when he's on deck.
  • Running Gag: In the first third of the film, Bush and one officer keep betting on the outcome of their actions. Bush always wagers on Hornblower's success, and he always wins.
  • Sealed Orders: Discussed. At the beginning, the narrator says that Hornblower's ship sailed "under the most secret of sealed orders".
  • Wooden Ships and Iron Men: Somewhat less so than the books, but the genre conventions are followed.

Alternative Title(s): Captain Horatio Hornblower RN, Captain Horatio Hornblower