Friday, January 10, 2014

Yellowbeard (DVD) 1983

Look at this list of actors.

Graham Chapman, Peter Boyle, Cheech Marin, Tommy Chong, Peter Cook, Marty Feldman, Eric Idle, Madeline Kahn, James Mason, John Cleese, Spike Milligan, Nigel Planer, Susannah York, Beryl Reid.

Just look at them. 

With half of the Young Frankenstein crew, the Pythons and Cheech and Chong in there, it has to be hilarious, right? 

Well, it's got all the right actors but it didn't get the right script. The play-offs between American humor trying to be edgy and sheer British silliness doesn't really work, and the plot (loosely based on Treasure Island) is a bit thin. There are a few laugh-out-loud moments, but not enough to offset the stony-faced "is that it?" reactions to some of the worst jokes. 

Yellowbeard is an evil pirate who has built a huge treasure trove from much killing and raping. (There are a lot of rape jokes in this movie, mostly of women being dragged off into bushes with sound effects of the, "No hee hah hah...oooh!" variety. This may have been funny in about 1962, but by the time it came out in 1983, never mind thirty years later, it's a bit wearing.) The powers that be manage to put Yellowbeard in jail for tax evasion but fail to find his treasure. 

His original treasure map has been destroyed to put the Crown off the scent, but his unknown son, the awesomely unfunny and flat-of-affect Martin Hewitt, bears a copy of the map as a tattoo on his scalp. The Crown lengthens Yellowbeard's sentence by 140 years to force him to break out of jail, which he does, and then they tail him hoping he will lead them to the trove. He collects his son and sets off. 

In a parallel plot, two gold-rich Spaniards, Cheech and Chong, have set themselves up as a priestly elite on the South American island that holds Yellowbeard's treasure. (The set designers have done a fabulous job of kitting their palace out as Mayan, with a reproduction of the Bonampak murals on one wall which is very much worth watching out for.)

The agents of the Crown, Cheech and Chong, Yellowbeard's crew and the impressed noble Lord Lambourn (Peter Cook) race for the treasure, buckle their swashes and a certain amount of hilarity ensues. 

Given that the writing is a bit thin, the things that stand out in the movie are the actors who work with their body rather than their lines. John Cleese, as Blind Pew, a man who does not let a little disability get in the way of being the most awesome dude in the room, is laugh-out-loud funny. Peter Cook, who could recite a recipe for Orange Julius and induce fits of laughter, is naturally funny here. (Watch out for him giving the 'three-farthings' urchin her comeuppance.) Marty Feldman merely has to look at his interlocutor with one or both of his eyes and you're already laughing. 

And there's an uncredited cameo by David Bowie - blink and you'll miss it!

It's currently available from Netflix. It used to be available on YouTube but not any longer, so ... edited post. 

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