Lackadaisical adventure. Warner Bros.' fun Archive Collection of hard-to-find library and cult titles has released The House of the Seven Hawks, the 1959 mystery meller based on a novel by Victor Canning, starring Robert Taylor, Nicole Maurey, Linda Christian, Donald Wolfit, David Kossoff, and Eric Pohlmann. Too derivative of similar and obviously much better outings like To Have and Have Not and The Maltese Falcon, The House of the Seven Hawks qualifies strictly as meandering time-waster for the authentic Dutch location work, the bored-but-authoritative presence of Robert Taylor, and for those who enjoy their he-man adventures low-key. An original trailer is included in this just-okay black and white widescreen transfer.
American ex-patriot...and suspected smuggler John Nordley (Robert Taylor) is in trouble again with Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. Nordley, an adventurer with a boat for hire, is warned not to stray out of English waters, since his charter doesn't extend into international waters. However, when Dutchman Ansell (Gerard Heinz) hires him for a seven day cruise along the English coast, and then promptly offers Nordley big money to ferry him to Holland, Nordley readily agrees. However, halfway through the crossing, Ansell dies in his bunk. Resourceful Nordley relieves him of his stash of cash as well as a map taped to his chest. When Ansell's daughter, Elsa (Linda Christian) meets the boat at the Dutch harbor, she quickly rifles the body in front of the amused Nordley, looking for something, before high-tailing it out of there. Nordley isn't so amused when Inspector Van Der Stoor (Donald Wolfit) takes Nordley into custody and lays a bombshell on him: Ansell was really Hague policeman Inspector Sluiter, and Constanta Sluiter (Nicole Maurey) is really his daughter, not the shadowy Elsa. Now it's up to Nordley, with the "help" of his shady Dutch contact, Charlie Ponz (Philo Hauser), to navigate these treacherous waters of Dutch crime, presided over by the menacing Captain Rohner (Eric Pohlman).
Reads like a conventional pulp, right? Or maybe one of those men's adventure magazine stories in Argosy or True that were so popular in the 1950s and 1960s? I've never read Victor Canning's work, so I can't judge it, but apparently (from what I've gathered on the web), he was one of those prolific authors from publishing's golden age who had steady readership and respectable reviews throughout his long, successful career, before his now-largely forgotten works were relegated to dusty library stacks and second-hand book shops (or now Ebay, one assumes). During a peak commercial period, quite a few of his books were turned into movies (Panther's Moon into Spy Hunt, The Golden Salamander, Venetian Bird into Bird of Prey, Castle Minerva into Masquerade, His Bones are Coral into Shark!, The Limbo Line, The Scorpio Letters, The Rainbird Pattern), including this minor Metro release, from his 1952 novel, The House of Seven Flies (maybe they changed the movie name so no one would think it was a horror outing?). Taylor, winding up his record-breaking 24 years as a studio contract player, was offered the lead through Coronado Pictures, and filming was done on location in the Netherlands and at Metro's Borehamwood Studios in England.
I don't want to go too negative on The House of the Seven Hawks, not because it merits some kind of unreasonable break (it's really not a very good movie, in the end), but because I don't want my disappointment in thinking about what it could have been overshadow my appreciating its one or two minor pleasures. Scripted by Jo Eisinger (a solid writer who could veer from disparate projects like noir classics Gilda and Night and the City, to Robert Morley's Oscar Wilde, to Charles Bronson's Cold Sweat), The House of the Seven Hawks's basic structure isn't hurt by its over-familiarity; after all, that's what genre work is all about. What does severely hamper the movie is the script's refusal to inject any life into the proceedings (let alone do anything new or innovative with the genre's cliches). It's all much too flat, too enervated, with a paucity of action and an overabundance of dialogue water-logging what should have been a brisk, easy-to-write-and-stage adventure meller. Veteran director Richard Thorpe's distressingly plodding pace doesn't exactly help here, either. 63-year-old Thorpe, with far too many enjoyable titles to even begin to list (he was credited with over 180 directorial efforts), was no doubt approved of by Taylor, having directed the star in several previous well-received efforts, including Ivanhoe, Quentin Durward, Knights of the Round Table, All the Brothers Were Valiant, and Tip on a Dead Jockey. The House of the Seven Hawks, however, is a long way from those more nimble entries, with Thorpe falling back on B-movie cost-cutting measures (simple set-ups, lots of talk, and no time to work out any interesting "business") that put the movie squarely into surprisingly cheapo status.
What does work in The House of the Seven Hawks is the good location work in the relatively unfamiliar (to U.S. audiences, at least) Dutch settings, and what else, Robert Taylor. You know you're watching a bona fide "star" when you stick around to see how a movie plays out long after you've deemed it junk. One may not immediately think of "Perfect Profile" Taylor as a Bogey substitute, but as he (rapidly) aged into these lesser movie efforts, Taylor acquired a flinty, even grim countenance that lent further authority to his already super-smooth, assured style. Here, he does quite well within the faintly criminal/good guy persona, getting laughs playing the flip American smart-ass ("He turned to the wall, belched twice, and died," Taylor deadpans to a questioning Pohlman), and the cynical romantic ("Try the heels on his shoes," a bemused Taylor tells "grieving daughter" Christian as she pats down dead "father" Heinz). By this point in his career, as the important roles in major studio offerings dried up (today we may think his previous year's Party Girl is a masterpiece...but nobody back then did), and television beckoned (Taylor's ABC series, The Detectives, Starring Robert Taylor would begin a successful three year run in '59), Taylor developed a hardness of face and demeanor that worked well in Bs like The House of the Seven Hawks...no matter how minor the final effort. And that ability, despite this movie's thoroughly routine nature, is enough to recommend at least a look at The House of the Seven Hawks.
The anamorphically enhanced, 1.78:1 black and white widescreen transfer for The House of the Seven Hawks looks constrasty in lots of spots, with occasional grain and debris. Sharp image, generally.
The Dolby Digital English split mono audio track is fine, with little hiss and decent re-recording level. No subtitles or closed-captions.
An original trailer is included.
Far too laid back for its own good, The House of the Seven Hawks needs a healthy shot of action and director Richard Thorpe spinning his hand, yelling, "Speed it up!" Still...you have to admire Robert Taylor for his grim determination to make the most of this thoroughly familiar outing. A rental is best for fans of this genre and star.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published movie and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.