- Movie Rating -

Yellowbeard (1983)

| June 24, 1983

There aren’t enough pronouns in the world to adequately describe how insuffereable “Yellowbeard” really is. It has no laughs. Not one. None. Nada. Bupkis. Zip. Zero. Not even a smile. The best this movie can muster is stone-faced indifference. The movie begins, actors move around, there are sets, there are costumes, things happen and eventually there are closing credits. Not one scene is the slightest bit interesting. An hour after you’ve seen it, you’ve forgotten it. A week after you’ve seen it, you can’t remember the title. As a comedy, it’s a dead zone. “Sophie’s Choice” had more comic zeal.

Let me give you an example of the comedy at work here. There’s scene aboard The Spanish Main, in which the captain (Tommy Chong, sporting a lisp) rummages through his newfound treasure, repeating “I’m the wealthiest person in the world! I’m the wealthiest person in the world!” He tells his first mate (Cheech Marin) that he intends to keep the treasure rather than turn it over to the king. Just to make sure that his second-in-command doesn’t squeal, the captain orders him to bang his head on the floor until further notice. The first mate does so until a long time has passed and he looks up and notices that the captain has fallen asleep. That scene is actually worse than I’ve described it.

That’s the spirit of this movie. The jokes fall like stones. There’s no structure or energy to it at all. If it has any value at all it proves, at least, that you can’t just throw funny people into period costumes and expect comic gold. They need good dialogue, situations, and interesting characters. The approach here begins and ends with the idea that it’s a comic parody of pirate movies. That’s not enough. Pirate movies are so bizarre in and of themselves that they seem to rise above parody.

The story is so innocuous that it is hardly worth the effort, but for completion sake here goes: In 17th century England, the dreaded pirated Yellowbeard (Graham Chapman, in a blond afro wig) is sent to prison for 20 years for his evil deeds. Once his sentence is up he is given 140 more, so he escapes and goes looking for his loot. That leads to all manner of characters running here and there trying to be the first to find it. Unknown to Yellowbeard, he now as a son. Unknown to everyone, the map to the treasure is tattooed on his scalp. Late in the film there’s a story element that resembles “Mutiny on the Bounty,” but that scene is paced so slowly that you feel as if you’re watchiing amateur night at the Rotary club. Even”Yellowbeard” himself doesn’t work. Chapman is a fine comedian but Yellowbeard, as a character, is more irritating than threatening. He disappears for large chunks of the movie and you don’t miss him when he’s gone.

That’s pretty much all you need to know. And it’s probably funnier describing it then it is watching it. It’s a pretty sad experience watching the best comics around doing scene after scene of what amounts to comic drywall. The cast includes some of the members of the Monty Python troup: John Cleese, Eric Idle, Graham Chapman; Most of the supporting cast of “Young Frankenstein”: Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars. Then there’s Cheech and Chong, James Mason, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook, Bernard Fox, David Bowie, Susanna York, Peter Bull. Yet, it all goes horribly wrong because these people are expected to simply make things happen. They wear garish period costumes and walk around on period sets, and yet nothing of any interest happens. Nothing.

All through this film, I kept thinking of the opening of “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” which features a 17-minute sketch involving a group of elderly office clerks from a small accounting firm rebelling against their corporate masters. The commandeer their office building and run it down the financial district like a pirate ship, raiding and taking over other corporations. That scene had bite. It had wit. And we hadn’t seen it before. There’s nothing like that in “Yellowbeard.” This movie is seen, heard and quickly forgotten.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(1983) View IMDB Filed in: Uncategorized