Sir Oliver Tressilian, a gentleman in Elizabethan England, is planning to marry Lady Rosamund Godolphin, but her father and brother don't approve. After Rosamund's brother is killed, suspicion falls upon Sir Oliver. Actually, the killer was Oliver's brother, Lionel Tressilian. Fearing that any attempt to clear Sir Oliver's name will result in his own guilt being discovered, Lionel arranges for his brother to be shanghaied.
Well, one thing leads to another, and Sir Oliver eventually becomes a dreaded Muslim pirate known as the Sea Hawk. Now, with his loyal crew of Moorish buccaneers, he can return to England to take back Rosamund and exact revenge on his duplicitous brother.
This film has the examples of:
- "Arabian Nights" Days: The scenes in North Africa have somewhat this vibe, albeit without supernatural elements in this case.
- Boarding Party: Our hero is rescued from slavery on a Spanish galleon when the ship is attacked and boarded by Moors.
- Bridal Carry: When kidnapping Rosamund, the Sea Hawk carries her away like this.
- The Cavalier Years: The setting, essentially. Technically, it's set a little earlier, during Elizabeth's reign, but still, all the relevant tropes are present.
- Create Your Own Hero: It's because of Lionel that Sir Oliver becomes the Sea Hawk, who is something of an Anti-Hero, but a hero nonetheless. When capturing Lionel, he points it out when he describes himself as, "The plundering Corsair your cupidity hath fashioned from a one-time Cornish gentleman!"
- Epic Movie: This was a very expensive film for its day, involving a thousand extras and the construction of real wooden ships. The 1940 version included some spliced-in battle scenes from this film.
- Going Native: Our hero joins with the Moors, assimilating to their culture and converting to Islam.
- I Gave My Word: Rosamund makes Sir Oliver swear that he won't use his sword in a quarrel. He's tempted, but resists. Lionel, on the other hand...
- Mighty Whitey: After joining the Moors, our hero becomes the greatest Moorish pirate ever.
- Mistaken for Murderer: Sir Oliver is mistaken for having murdered Rosamund's brother.
- Parental Marriage Veto: At the beginning, Rosamund wants to marry Sir Oliver, but her daddy and brother say no.
- Press-Ganged: Lionel arranges for this to be done to his brother. No one else in England knows what happened to Sir Oliver, so they naturally assume that he ran away rather than face justice.
- That Man Is Dead: "Not Sir Oliver Tressilian, but the Sea Hawk — the Moslem scourge of Christendom!"
- Redemption Equals Death: Lionel redeems himself... and then he dies.
- Slave Galley: At one point, Sir Oliver is made a galley slave on a Spanish galleon. Later, as the Sea Hawk, he makes his treacherous brother a galley slave.
- Slave Market: The Moors sell all their captives at a giant slave auction, supposedly in accordance with "the Moslem law." Rosamund is so hot that she sparks a bidding war over who gets to have her.
- Splash of Color: The torches carried by Asad's bodyguard are hand-colored.
- Widow's Weeds: Rosamund wears black after the death of her brother.
- You Just Told Me: This is how the Sea Hawk tricks Lionel into admitting his crime.