28 February 2010 | Electrified_Voltage
Some really funny bits and a talented cast make this an underrated pirate comedy to some extent
I found a copy of this 1983 pirate comedy nearly three years ago and rented it. The cast features Graham Chapman in the title role, and also includes Eric Idle and John Cleese, all former Monty Python actors, which was how "Yellowbeard" captured my attention. It was also released the same year as Monty Python's final film, "The Meaning of Life". When I first watched this film, I found that it was really funny for a while and then dwindled a bit, but overall, while it was no classic, I thought it was reasonably satisfying as a comedy adventure. This month, I rented it again, from the same video store and probably the same copy, and I don't know if I can describe it exactly the same way now as I did the first time, but if not, it still wasn't much different.
In the late 17th century, the infamous Yellowbeard (based on real-life pirate Blackbeard) is a violent, murderous pirate who is skilled in the art of pillaging around the seas! He is arrested for tax evasion and imprisoned for the next twenty years, but despite years of torture, he refuses to tell anyone where his vast collection of treasure is hidden. One day, his wife, Betty, comes to talk to him and finally tells him that he has a son named Dan who is now twenty years old. Yellowbeard is disappointed to hear that his son has turned out to be nothing like him. Instead of being a murdering, raping pirate like his father, Dan is actually a true gentleman. The British Navy decides to have Yellowbeard's sentence increased by 140 years so he will escape and go for his treasure. The ploy works, as the pirate soon makes a violent escape and rounds up old crew members of his to find it. The only place his treasure map can now be found is on his son's head. Yellowbeard, his crew, Dan, and the British Navy all set out to sea to try and finally find the loot!
I think there were quite a few times when I laughed hard both times I saw this film. One memorably funny part I remember from both viewings is the first scene with the mouthy parrot, and there are so many other highlights, such as the lead character trying to behead his son for the treasure map when they first meet! When I first watched the film, it seemed like I could give it an 8/10 for a while, but in the end, I couldn't give it any more than a 7. There were times early on when it seemed like an 8/10 for me the second time as well, but once again, it was a 7 in the end. It's not always that funny, and the gags, plot, and cast can't carry the film consistently throughout.
Not only does the cast of this movie feature three former Pythons, it also includes three people who appeared in Mel Brooks' smash hit Universal horror spoof, "Young Frankenstein". These three cast members are Marty Feldman (who unfortunately suffered a premature death during the filming of "Yellowbeard"), Madeline Kahn, and Peter Boyle (the latter two have since died). It also features comedy duo Cheech & Chong, and I'm not too familiar with them, believe it or not. With all these cast members, one might expect this pirate comedy to be a work of comedic genius, but it's not, even though the cast in general put on decent performances. "Yellowbeard" is not exactly what you would call a popular movie, and it apparently bombed at the box office. Also, John Cleese apparently hates it, but as much as I admire him, I'm going to have to disagree with his views on this film. Personally, I think this film is better than "Splitting Heirs", "George of the Jungle", and "Shrek the Third", all films Cleese had a part in, though I certainly don't hate any of those films, either. Well, no matter how despised this 1983 flop may be, MUCH worse comedy films have been done, and I have no problem admitting that I've found a number of scenes memorably funny here.