The House of the Seven Hawks (1959)
Once again teaming with director Richard Thorpe, long time MGM contract star, Robert Taylor, scores a movie role that plays like a five to ten year old discarded script meant for Robert Mitchum over at RKO or maybe even a WB Bogart-Bacall tango. And while Taylor is in fine form, what the film really needed was a leading lady of equal stature. How about a …. Barbara Stanwyck?
Taylor plays an American running a charter boat along the English coastline. From the outset we’ll learn he’s not above running illegal cargo and this will include a man who hires Taylor to quietly take him across the English Channel to Holland, avoiding port authorities for a 500 pound payday. It should prove to be an easy fare but when Taylor nears the Holland coastline he discovers the man dead in his bunk. Around his neck a key, an envelope taped to his chest beneath his shirt and a briefcase full of money.
Taylor settles on removing the money owed him and the envelope before calling port authorities and being whisked off to meet a police inspector, Donald Wolfit, who immediately begins to apply pressure to Taylor concerning what really has happened to the dead man aboard his boat. A man who just happens to be a Holland police detective. Taylor isn’t saying much but knows he’s stumbled into something more than a man’s seemingly innocent death.
Turns out his fare was actually a dead man before ever stepping onto his boat, waiting for an overdose of medicine to take effect. Another mystery Taylor will need to crack is just why a woman (Linda Christian) met him in the harbor aboard his boat claiming to be the man’s daughter only to search the body and quickly flee once confronted by Taylor. The dead man does indeed have a daughter who’s grieiving, it’s Nicole Maurey. It’s Miss Maurey who Taylor will eventually turn to for help as the mystery deepens.
Also turning up in a role I found to be somewhat inspired by Greenstreet’s Gutman is Eric Pohlmann as a man clearly intent on reclaiming the information in the envelope and it’s he who bails Taylor out of Wolfit’s jail looking to strike a bargain for “certain information.” Taylor’s rather amused to see he has a tail keeping track of his whereabouts but less so when he discovers it’s not an officer but a gunsel in the employ of Pohlmann. This culminates in the pair’s first meeting which clearly puts them on opposing sides.
Taylor has no idea just yet what the prize is but isn’t giving into the pressure being applied by Pohlmann or the promise of 5000 pounds for his troubles. After tracking down Miss Christian and learning she knows more about the murder of the police detective then she’s admitting to, he’ll next turn to Miss Maurey and a street smart informer played by Philo Hauser to take over the case himself and clear his name with Wolfit in the bargain.
And let the double crosses begin as the characters race to find the location of Nazi plunder amidst gunfire and murder.
Maybe it’s just me but damned if this doesn’t have a Maltese Falcon feel to it and no I am NOT stating that this compares to the John Huston classic but that it seems to take a certain amount of inspiration from it.
Robert Taylor was still a young man here at just 48 years old but it seemed as if his career was all but over as an “A” list leading man with little box-office potential associated to his name. Maybe that was the case to film goers of 1959 but from my vantage point sixty years following the release of this black and white effort I have to wonder why. He’s agile, stoic and commanding on screen with that perfect profile and authoritative voice. Maybe it’s just that the age of 48 is young by today’s standards (it better be) but less so in 1959 when men Taylor’s age were playing father’s on series television or the fact that he’d been a star going on 25 years by this point and his career had run it’s course. On that note I’ve always been disappointed that Taylor never ventured into a 1960’s western opposite John Wayne. I think the pair would have been well matched on screen either as a team or opposing forces. Straight western or even a comical one.
With all due respect to Miss Maurey, perhaps a stronger woman’s name on the marquee would have served both the film and Taylor better. For those unaware, my Stanwyck comment above is due to the fact that Robert and Barbara were at one time husband and wife. Divorced they may have been but they were willing to work together as they would prove in 1965’s The Night Walker. Fans of sci-fi may know Nicole Maurey best from her leading role in the 1961 cult favorite, Day of the Triffids.
Director Thorpe and Taylor brought their successful run to an end with this release. Among their box-office hits of the 1950’s were the big screen adventures, Knights of the Round Table, All The Brothers Were Valiant and Ivanhoe. While Taylor would pass away in 1969 at just 57 years of age, Thorpe would retire in 1967 following The Last Challenge and live to the age of 95, passing on in 1991.
Looking for a copy of Seven Hawks? Thankfully it’s available via the Warner Archive Collection for us fans of Robert Taylor to fill in our dance card.